Studio wants to help Charles Villagers live well

Plans community meeting to talk about Wal-Mart and other issues

August 23, 2011|By Larry Perl

Normally, news of a community meeting in Charles Village is hardly unusual. The neighborhood is well-represented by groups ranging from the Charles Village Civic Association, which will host a forum for political candidates Aug. 30, to the Charles Village Community Benefits District, a special taxing district, which will discuss its supplemental services at a public meeting Sept. 10.

But one upcoming community meeting, billed as a chance for residents to discuss everything from crime to a planned Wal-Mart, is taking community leaders by surprise, not for its topics, but for its unlikely sponsor, the owner of a local yoga studio called The Living Well.

On her website,, Maurissa Stone promotes The Living Well as a city-designated, multi-purpose neighborhood center and "a living arts studio devoted to soulful expression, conscious expansion and optimal wellness."

Stone, the studio director and founder of its parent business, Iona Concepts, Inc., a training and change management consulting company, will host a forum, entitled "Community Building and Organizing Hot Topics," on Aug. 29, from 6 and 8:30 p.m., at the studio, 2443 N. Charles St.

"Our goal is to build community," says the studio's website, It also states, "With the pending Wal-Mart development, the dynamic of the community will change."

The site says the purpose of the meeting is to bring together community "stakeholders" to share their ideas and efforts to improve (Charles Village's) overall community conditions."

Those stakeholders include residents, merchants, services providers, civic associations and faith-based organizations, the site states.

The site promises participants "an interactive exercise to share their ideas, interest and goals in addressing hot topics. We look forward to the opportunity to network, enjoy food from the (nearby) Terra Cafe and to work together for a safer, cleaner and greener community."

But the website acknowledges that Charles Village groups already are "working diligently on addressing opportunities and challenges in the community."

It goes on to say, "Many of the safety, sanitation and facade improvement efforts in the Charles Village community are being addressed through a variety of initiatives, organizations and individual commitment to change."

And there's no lack of community groups and centers, from the civic association and benefits district to smaller groups, such as the community association of Old Goucher.

That's not to mention the Village Learning Place, which has positioned itself as a community library, as well as a center for student and adult activities.

So where does The Living Well fit in?

"I've always had a dream of having a space to build community," said Stone, a management consultant by training. She sees the studio's outreach as a way to help foster economic development, too.

Stone, 50, of Canton, is director of faculty and staff training for the University of Maryland in College Park. She started The Living Well at 21st and St. Paul streets as a sidelight to her day job about two years ago, but moved to her current location last year and has spent $28,000 of her own money renovating the 1,000-square-foot studio, in hopes of making it a full-time job, she said.

Working with yoga and program director Michelle Stafford, Stone's goal is to link the studio's living arts, including yoga and pilates classes, to more community-oriented programs, ranging from drumming circles to a seminar about politics and media and a support group for women professionals.

"We're working to build that link," she said.

One example is a "Yoga Happy Hour" at the studio Friday evenings.

She also rents out the space for small weddings and parties, as well as baby showers and private events.

And she said that the Old Goucher Community Association plans to use the studio as a regular meeting place.

She readily admits, "You've got so many entities operating in a small catchment area."

But she thinks there are so many well-meaning groups that "nobody knows what anybody else is doing."

She hopes as much as anything, the upcoming community meeting will fill people in on "who's doing what" on issues such as crime and trash.

She envisions her studio as being an "urban oasis" and "a neutral place" for everything from "soulful expression" to "self-help stuff," like home ownership counseling.

Stone said she has no plans to host political forums and that she turned down one candidate's request to use the studio as a campaign headquarters.

But she would like to use it as a site for voter registration, she said.

And above all, she wants to use it for community outreach and brainstorming. "Everything we do, we talk about how do we build community?" she said.

"I hope people don't see it as stepping on their toes," Stone said. "We're not trying to form an organization. We're just trying to bring everybody under one roof."

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