Uplands Changemaker Retreats: fostering strategic work, resilience and sustainability

Uplands Changemaker Retreats: fostering strategic work, resilience and sustainability

Located in the rolling foothills of the Western Catskills, The Uplands Center hosts non-profit organizations seeking to advance positive change in the world. Whether for retreats of staff, leadership or board members, funder and grantee convenings, trainings or networking gathering, the space is conducive to a balance between focused, productive work and restorative time.  

Groups engaged in collective reflection, analysis and planning enjoy a range of spaces available for solo reflection, breakout groups and plenary discussion. Participants may nestle in the plush couches of the living room around a fire, gather around flipcharts in the sunlit meeting room or connect via a brief movement practice in the yoga studio. Outdoors, the east-facing stone patio allows participants to sit overlooking the sweeping hill; or in a circle formulation under the shade of black cherry trees in a grove behind the main house. The west-facing patio allows groups to observe colorful sunsets by a calming fire pit.

Needed breaks from focused work come in both savory and sweet forms. Participants can refuel and restore their energies  with unlimited tea and coffee, home made snacks and fresh fruit. Farm-to-table meals sourced from our organically-grown garden are enjoyed in the spacious dining hall, panoramically surrounded by the landscape and the expansive sky.

“[T]he beautiful location, caring support and delicious food went a long way towards creating the conditions for a successful and meaningful retreat. ” (Holly Bartlett, Worker Justice and Dignity Fund, January 2023)

Uplands retreats tend to yield strong meeting outcomes and concrete progress toward broader aims, supported by conference amenities, such as a large smart TV to a strong wifi connection, mobile whiteboards and a drawer full of facilitation materials. Facilitators can draw on a variety of modalities to deepen and strengthen collective thinking; from art and creative processes to physical movement to wellness practices, enhancing their discussions with new angles or framing. Outdoors, a series of trails and sites for reflection across the 290 acres of sprawling woodlands, meadows, ponds and creeks invite participants to immerse themselves in the natural environment, calming the nervous system and clarifying thinking.

While changemaker retreats allow for a tight focus on the work, abundant spaces and modalities are offered for processing and integration. The sweeping landscapes surrounding the work spaces serve to catalyze cognitive or somatic connections, as participants spend time reflecting on, and digesting, programmatic content. A contemplative rest in the garden, a scenic walk to the Vista shed, detoxing in the infrared sauna or soaking in the pool can represent a valuable step in the process of deepening into the work ahead. Wellness practices led by the Uplands team, such as a yoga class, sound bath, nervous system self-regulation practice or bonfire under starlit sky all help participants to ground as they advance their work. Deep rest, in luxurious bedrooms with custom-made mattresses and silky linens, restores energies for the work ahead.

“I don’t think we have ever had a more productive retreat and at the same time felt so relaxed and nourished and cared for.” (Participant, Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice, July 17, 2022)

The Uplands is also a good space to foster and deepen interpersonal connections: one-on-one or small group sharing, opening up and lowering the guard in community with others. Whether via a whispered conversation on the Anam Cara bench, a sunrise yoga class, harvesting vegetables in the garden or joining a silent night walk, retreats often strengthen bonds between co-workers, fellow changemakers and organizational members. For more structured activities, a variety of teambuilding activities, whether facilitated by Uplands staff or group leaders, might entail a tour of the garden or guided hikes along any of a series of trails; games in the horse paddy, facilitated art projects or simple space for shared reflection.

The Uplands often partners with the leaders of retreat groups to plan and carry out their agenda, grounded in a commitment to social, environmental, racial, gender and economic justice, and appreciation of what is required to advance positive change. Facilitation support is available for behind the scenes planning and, at times, coordinating group conversations. Recognizing that non-profit leaders have assumed a commitment both to their organization’s mission and to the wellbeing and success of their colleagues and teams, efforts are made to understand the needs of retreat leaders and ensure that they are fully supported in the lead-up to, and during, their retreat.

“The care, planning, and love of the Uplands Center team and the beautiful immersive experience in the forests and fields of upstate New York supported and magnified our mission and objectives… In a place like The Uplands, it is easier to envision a new world and a new way of being; it is easier to imagine what your contribution to that world may be; and it is easier to surrender to the inner momentum of transformation. And, on a simpler note, to be nourished every day by food that was prepared with love from the surrounding land, and to rest every night in a beautiful room… created a more expansive experience than we would have had in a different setting.” (Michaela Cisney, Program Director, Byron Fellowship)

Changemaker retreats support the longevity, and sustainability, of those who have committed their work to a cause that requires fighting for others; reducing attrition, building morale and introducing tools for self-regulation and overall resilience. Wellness practices help participants reconnect with their source of energy and personal capacity to replenish and safeguard energies; offering permission for, and an obligation to, self-care as an integral part of their commitment to advancing their organization’s mission. Recognizing that changing the world for the better requires grounding and self-care, shared conversations, connection and personal growth, The Uplands is proud to support the resilience of those who serve others, and the sustainability of that work, over time.


Interested in hosting a changemaker retreat at Uplands? Visit our Co-create a Retreat Form to get started!


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