WE ARE PIONEERS.
For sixteen years, Geri and Penni have been "sisters" on a mission to bring mindfulness for mental health to people who cannot easily access it or afford it. They grew a grassroots idea and effort into a critical national mental health movement that is perfectly positioned to speak to this very moment in history: the post-pandemic mental health crisis.
While struggling with debilitating social anxiety, Geri Topfer was introduced to the healing power of mindfulness and yoga. Linking breath to movement allowed her to begin to address her childhood trauma and find a daily practice that moved her toward peace.
Geri received a spiritual awakening; navigating her own vulnerability and the importance of resilience, she found her purpose. Geri was inspired to help others find their own path to healing. Her contagious motivating energy and her heart for serving people were the seeds from which Kula was born.
Geri Topfer and Penni Feiner
Starting with New Jersey's Children’s Aid and Family Services (CAFS), Geri launched Kula's first program: no-cost mindfulness and yoga classes for children who had been removed from their families due to sexual, physical, or emotional abuse. The youngest children were bussed to a yoga studio, and Geri traveled to the group homes to work with the teens.
Not long after, Penni Feiner arrived to substitute teach at Woodlea, one of the group homes for teen girls. She had heard about the work Geri was doing with at-risk teens and remembered that while growing up with loving parents, her own teens were fraught with self-doubt, confusion, and a feeling of not being good enough.
Twenty-odd years into recovery, in her early 50s, Penni discovered yoga and mindfulness and felt like she’d been wrapped in a warm blanket of self-compassion. She wanted this for the Woodlea girls, so she jumped on the mat with them, embodying hope and possibility, and showing up week after week. Penni shared mindfulness tools to regulate their nervous systems and emotions, to help them understand how trauma expressed itself in their bodies, and to open their hearts to self-love beyond their circumstances. They practiced together for 4 years.
Their “kula” kept expanding to schools, addiction recovery treatment centers, juvenile detention centers, crisis centers, job training programs for the impoverished homeless, jails, prisons, and group homes for at-risk youth.
Geri was a pioneer in recognizing the power and impact of mindfulness on both physical and mental health. She gave presentations at 5:00 AM at hospitals to all staff that would listen. Using her front-line experience and passion, she convinced physicians to write patients prescriptions for yoga.
Geri scaled Kula's programs in hospital systems throughout New Jersey and Florida. Often mopping the cafeteria floor before putting down her pile of yoga mats, she knew that if only one person showed up, seeds were planted, and the class was successful.
Together Geri and Penni locked arms and followed their dream, putting one foot in front of the other, seeing obstacles as opportunities, and believing in themselves and in those who no one else believed in.