Giving Back

How A Little Extra Planning Helped a Meeting Give Back

From yoga at an executive summit to a wellness program at a public high school, how a simple group activity is helping create a healthier community.

Like a challenging yoga sequence, the wellness program started in one place and came to rest some where else, and stretched everyone involved. Wilsonwest, an event-marketing agency based in San Francisco, was organizing a leadership summit for a client — a health-care investment bank — and looking to do something with its spouse program that went beyond the usual spa and fitness offerings.

The summit was “a high-touch, C-level event” for about a hundred attendees plus guests, according to Cindy Wilson, founder and president of Wilsonwest, held at a Napa Valley resort a few months ago. “We’re building the social program and the agenda,” Wilson said, “and thought, let’s come up with a wellness program that will appeal to this sophisticated audience.”

So Wilsonwest reached out to the Chopra Center, in Carlsbad, Calif., to help create a mindfulness program that would include yoga as well as a variety of other mind/body wellness activities. Wilsonwest’s client bought 60 or so yoga mats and other materials for the program. “And then it was, what are we going to do with these supplies after this event?” Wilson said.

She thought immediately of Gateway High School, a charter school in San Francisco. A few years ago, Wilsonwest worked with Gateway — which Wilson’s now college-student son attended — on a new fitness center, arranging for the St. Regis San Francisco hotel to donate “an incredible amount of almost-new exercise equipment.” Now Wilson thought the school might appreciate the yoga mats — and use them as the jumping-off point for an entire wellness program.

Wilsonwest’s client donated the mats to Gateway after the summit, and the Chopra Center threw in additional materials. “And they also connected me with a woman who has a company where she started out establishing wellness programs in public schools in Manhattan,” Wilson said, “and now does that in San Francisco. It’s definitely going to have a greater impact than delivering yoga mats.”

Mary Sullivan, an executive producer for Wilsonwest who worked on the summit, added: “They’ll be training some of the teachers, so if there’s not funding for an additional instructor, some of the existing staff can volunteer to do guided meditation with these kids. These are inner-city kids,… and it’s a nice way for them to start their day centered and in a new space.”

The idea, Sullivan said, is to figure out “how can we really engineer this so it’s lasting?” Wilson said: “The kids are now working out in this gym. The teachers are working out in this gym. The kids see the teachers working out. The yoga program, we’re hoping, is going to be something where kids can earn [physical-education] credits. They’ll see their peers doing that.”

And, Wilson said, the wellness program will further Gateway’s primary mission as an educational institution. “There’s a lot of data out there on why these types of programs are really, really beneficial” in terms of fostering learning, she said. “And these kids would not otherwise be exposed to it.”

Not only has the wellness program benefited Gateway, Wilsonwest feels the positive effects as well. “Companies that incorporate social impact as part of their business strategy,” said Wilson, “will build a stronger brand, attract more committed employees, and develop stronger relationships with their customers and partners…. So it’s baked into the strategy from the beginning, and you look to create activity that is in sync with your customers’ larger social and corporate initiatives. There’s a value to this beyond the act of just donating something.”

Christopher Durso

Christopher Durso formerly was executive editor of Convene.