by Barbara Sherf
In the late 1990s, a colleague sent local licensed professional therapist and Blue Bell resident Elizabeth Venart a magnet that’s still on a filing cabinet by her desk with a quote from Kobi Yamada that reads: “Sometimes you just have to take the leap and build your wings on the way down.” (Kobi Yamada is the President and creative mind behind Compendium Inc., a custom publisher, creator, and distributor of inspiring, sustainable gifts and greeting cards.)
Venart continues to find inspiration in that quote. At the time she received the magnet, Venart was working for others in a non-profit and had a vision to create a community of holistic practitioners. After a decade of plotting and planning, she founded The Resiliency Center in Ambler, where colleagues, family and friends recently held a fifth anniversary celebration.
“I’m still flapping my wings as it’s growing. I am resilient,” Venart said with her trademark giggle that is infectious in the “Laughter Yoga” classes she leads on Monday mornings for $5 of unadulterated fun. The center is also offering a host of free classes throughout the fall.
“We live in a stressful world, and it’s hard not to have anxieties and traumas in our lives. Discovering how to be resilient is how we help,” said the red-headed, 44-year-old innovator who had a vision that continues to thrive. Located in an historic building at 602 S. Bethlehem Pike that still feels like the home it once was, the center sits in the anchor of the Ambler Professional Center at the intersection of Bannockburn Road.
Venart is one of three full-time holistic health practitioners and seven part-timers who share the homey space while working to heal the whole person. “I realized early on that there was no one path toward healing, and to have practitioners from all different modalities under one roof was always the original vision,” Venart said.
One of those practitioners is Jodi Schwartz-Levy, PhD, a somatic (body-oriented) psychologist. A pioneer in the field of somatic psychology, Schwartz-Levy creates a dialogue in which the language of the body makes her an expert in mind/body integrative health. The Flourtown native and Mt. Airy resident, whose late mother founded the Carol Schwartz Gallery in Chestnut Hill, and whose father, Elliot, continues to run the business, has been with the center from the start.
“There have been a lot of shifts, but this place has been resilient. It’s still in process, and I feel honored to have been in such a warm, safe environment watching it grow,” she said during the anniversary reception in a shared meeting room, a space where visitors are asked to remove their shoes before walking on the rose-colored wool carpet as it is used for laughter yoga, meditation, writing workshops, QiGong, and other healing arts. It is also home to a monthly group of two dozen holistic practitioners who come to network. The monthly meeting is free, but there is typically a waiting list to join.
In the beginning, apartments made up the second floor, but now it is space for practitioners, including a toy closet full of toys where Kathleen Krol, a licensed clinical social worker and registered play therapist teaches play therapy. Dean Solon, retired from the IRS, leads free twice weekly open meditation groups at the center on Monday mornings and Thursday evenings.
“There are so many beautiful, lovely, kindhearted people who have sat with me here,” said Solon, a Blue Bell resident. Asked whether he sees himself there in another five years, he answered, “May it be so. I bow to the will. If it happens, it is icing on the cake and cream in the coffee.”
Shannon Haughey came back for the celebration after being certified at the center to do infant massage therapy. “I love that they have this web of people all in the healing arts,” she said.
Venart’s husband and parents were on hand to mark the occasion. Her mother, Sue, was beaming. “I’m so proud of her. She wanted it for so long and made it happen.” Her father, Neil, nodded in agreement.
Venart had the vision for a healing space for a decade and brought in fellow full-time practitioner Jeffrey Katowitz, a licensed marriage and family therapist who co-facilitates a support group with Venart for male survivors of sexual abuse.
Chestnut Hill resident Tracey A. Smith-Diggs, M.Ed. CTRS, a wellness educator, trainer, and recreational therapist, started out at the center. “It’s such a good feeling of support when you come through those doors,” she said, adding that she is able to talk openly about issues facing African Americans with Venart.
Venart said to the 50 attendees of the anniversary celebration that she hopes to continue to grow the center until she is of retirement age and then leave it in capable hands.
For more information about The Resiliency Center and its free events, go to www.theresiliencycenter.com.
Barbara Sherf is a writer and personal historian who can be reached at CaptureLifeStories@gmail.com.