By Jondi Gumz
Melissa Manning Collins had worked in the healing arts for 26 years, yet when COVID-19 arrived, it threw her calmness and wellness for a loop.
Collins, 51, of Aptos, is the founder of Livity Rising, a community service organization that has organized more than 60 free pop-up clinics in Santa Cruz County and beyond offering holistic healing modalities such as Acupuncture, Acupressure, Orthopedic Manual Therapy, Massage, CranioSacral Therapy, Qi Gong, Reiki and many others.
“I was inspired by the Healing Clinic Collective, a group I volunteered for in the East Bay,” she said.
With 20 years of experience as a yoga practitioner and teacher and a decade as an energy medicine and Reiki practitioner, she volunteered for the East Bay Healing Collective, caring for underserved and traumatized populations, then started Livity Rising in 2013 to bring holistic clinics to Santa Cruz County.
“Healing is not a privilege,” she said. “It’s everyone’s right to feel good in their bodies, to feel safe and supported.”
To offer the clinics, “we partner and ally with nonprofits and other community service organizations,” she said, such as the Walnut Avenue Family & Women’s Center, Homeless Garden Project, the Resource Center for Nonviolence, the Tannery Arts Center (traumatized in 2015 by the slaying of 8-year-old Madyson Middleton), Bear Creek Fire relief, Second Harvest Food Bank and Project Homeless Connect.
“Last fall, we went up to Paradise,” she said.
The invitation came to collaborate with the Permaculture Action Network after the town was devastated by fire. Collins cold-called healing practitioners from the surrounding areas to participate, creating a healing team of 20 practitioners and support staff.
More than 300 volunteers came to build compost bins, remediate soil and create a community garden at the site of the former Paradise Guild before enjoying a concert by the Rising Appalachia band.
Livity Rising outreach came to halt because of the shelter-in–place order in mid-March to slow the spread of COVID-19, the contagious coronavirus.
“I felt a bit of paralysis for few months,” said Collins.
Then she saw a way to pivot, with practitioners offering virtual free community wellness workshops and classes such as yoga and meditation, such as TRE (Trauma Release Exercises), Self Acupressure, Qi Gong, and meditation via livityrising.com and also posting a plethora of self-care tools, such as a way to tone your vagus nerve and the Sanskrit practice of alternate nostril breathing to calm your nervous system.
Other practitioners created videos on “Easy Self Foot Massage” and “Flowing Body Warmup” on Livity Rising‘s YouTube channel.
“Everything is structured toward beginners,” Collins said. “We know it’s intense out there. We want people to access calmness and wellness despite the craziness.”
When the CZU Lightning Complex fires forced 77,000 residents in the county to evacuate, she felt people craving in-person compassionate care and connection.
But could an in-person healing clinic be safe? What would it look like?
Inner Light Ministries, founded in Soquel by Rev. Deborah Johnson, had hosted and collaborated with Livity Rising clinics before COVID-19, and she gave her blessing.
The large courtyard, surrounded by trees, provided fresh air, space and shade.
Collins reached out to Acupuncturists Without Borders, a nonprofit that has been offering disaster relief mobile clinics during COVID-19, which agreed to participate.
In a month, Collins along with the Livity Rising organizing committee and their participating practitioners created a safety protocol: Temperatures taken, Covid symptoms screening, proper sanitization, mandatory masks, no linens, and stations under shade tents spaced apart.
On Sept. 27, more than twenty practitioners offered services in acupuncture, energy work, reflexology, Reiki and massage.
There were classes with Carla Brown on grief yoga, Core Trauma Repatterning with Sarah Cruse and Qi Gong with Dr. LeTa Jussila and Beth Freewomon
Susan Willats played the harp, Michael Louge played the flute and hand pan and Kaitlin Jones played classical guitar.
Renegade Apothecary served organic tea and Michael from Inner Light served hot soup.
More than 30 volunteers assisted during the four-hour event, which was attended by 70 people.
“I was a bit nervous, but it was safe and beautiful to connect with people in person,” said Collins. “If we are careful and thoughtful, we can do this.”
She expects Livity Rising will return to Inner Light in the spring for another healing clinic.
As for the future, Collins wants to raise $10,000 to $20,000 to buy a large van or small shuttle school bus to retrofit as a mobile unit on call to serve people in times of disaster and those for whom transportation to and from clinics is burdensome.
“They don’t have to come to us — we can come to them,” she said.
Livity Rising would like to be able to hold mobile clinics up the North Coast, in the Santa Cruz Mountains and in Watsonville where she has a strong heart connection from the 10 years she spent as a Spanish immersion teacher in the Pajaro Valley. She hopes to serve the farmers and campesinos who work so tirelessly in the fields in Watsonville.
“They deserve respect, gratitude, and nourishing holistic care,” she said.
Maria Fernandez • Sarah Cruse • Dr LeTa Jussila • Carla Brown • Christina Gustafson • Kelly Meyer • Kamala Taft • Lara Noel • Primavera Hernandez • Corey Miller L.Ac. • Dr Stephanie Smith • Dr Marilyn Mariposa Bernstein • Jessica Powell L.Ac. • Wendy Robb • Jake Medvidovich • Joanna Burrows • Alexandria Hays • Mohini Bierbaum • Michael Chorvat • Amanda Loveland • Courtney Musser • Frederica Craft • Dylan Simpson • Tenaya Halley • Suzy Brown • Beth Freewomon • Acupuncturists Without Boarders
Inner Light Staff
Rev. Deborah Johnson • Donna Star • Ashley Rose Blanchette • Timote Peterson