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Spotlight On… Joy Center: Interview with Owner Helen Haskell Remien

Joy Center Ishpeming MI, creative sanctuary, U.P. holistic business, U.P. wellness publication

What is Joy Center?

It’s a charming cottage in the woods in Ishpeming that is so much more than a cottage. It’s a creative sanctuary for people in our area and elsewhere to come and play and dream and expand. People can come and participate in various workshops and yoga and dance and energy sessions, and they also can simply pay a small fee and be on their own, or be with other people, and feel safe to explore their creative dreams.

Joy Center opened twelve years ago and continues to expand what it offers. If there’s yoga, you can come early, peruse the books, create a piece of art…. It’s a beautiful place where you can connect with your biggest, highest part, and also connect with the community.

Why did you start Joy Center?

I had a seed of a dream in me thirty years ago. At that time I was wondering if I wanted to be part of the academic world, in an institution, and teach writing, or part of a place in the community where things such as writing workshops could be held in which everyone could be included.

I wrote in my journals in the early ’90s that there should be a place in the community where we can drum and sing and dance and have writing workshops, and have events like ones I loved when I went to Omega Institute and Kripalu, and that I would love to be a part of something like that.

About twenty years ago, I began encouraging people to find their own creative paths. Then in the spring of 2007, I started to feel a dissatisfaction in me, a sense of something growing, that it was no longer enough to teach writing in my house, and yoga in the basement of my husband’s dental office. And in a flash of two weeks, I spoke with my financial advisor to see if it would be possible to create something like Joy Center. I realized, “Oh my goodness, I have land behind my house, separate land on which we could build a cottage house, and it could be that place in the community.” But even then, I didn’t know that it would be the kind of place it would become.

How did you go about creating it?

It was really about claiming my power because I think my husband was scared of doing it. And I said, “I really need to see if we can do it.” Our financial advisor thought it could work, and be an asset, and he added, “I have a builder for you. He doesn’t know how good he is yet. He’s built a garage for us, and he’s awesome, and he’s never built a house yet.”

It was such a fun process working with this young man who put his heart and soul into it, and brought in his younger cousins and brothers to help. We worked together on the design. I learned so much, step-by-step in that process. It was scary to build something I knew in my soul would really be a big thing for all of us. At every step, I couldn’t settle. Though not extravagant—it’s a cottage—it was important to make the place welcoming. And it’s beautiful.

It was important to me to not settle for less than what felt like the right, soulful thing, and I think also to the builder. “I’ll make the counter tops,” he said, working late into the night. “I think you should have them. And you can collect your own beautiful rocks to put in them.” We really co-created together, him doing the actual work, and me doing the dreaming.

Why do you think Joy Center has expanded in the ways it has?

When I built it, I kept expanding my mind. “This will be a place where I will teach yoga. I will teach writing and creative workshops. And other people can offer other creative things. It will extend our home in some way when our kids come back to visit.” I think both I expanded and it expanded. I realized, “Oh, my gosh! There are so many awesome dreams people are having in the community!” And at that point twelve years ago, there weren’t the places available now offering yoga and energy work and so on.

For example, Amber Edmondson and Raja Howe knew they were poets, but didn’t know they were book binders yet. They sold a book at Out Loud, our open mike night, then began offering book-making workshops at Joy Center. And now they have their own shop in Marquette. Kerry Yost had never sung in public until one night at Out Loud, and she just blew everyone away.

People who have a dream can feel safe offering a workshop, singing a song at Out Loud or playing with something they’ve always wanted to do, and maybe later decide to offer a workshop and expand what’s offered at Joy Center, and what people do in this community, and people would love it. Early on, Joy Center took on its own life to be a safe place where people could take a seed of a dream, like I did, and allow it to blossom. Sometimes their offering stays at Joy Center, and sometimes it flourishes far beyond. And I get to play with people that way, and be the person who holds the space and is a cheerleader for peoples’ dreams.

What do people seem to like most about Joy Center?

I think people feel something when they walk into the physical building because it’s really welcoming and beautiful, and is that creative sanctuary. It was built with a really positive, high vibration. In its twelve years, I can’t think of anything that’s gone on there that isn’t high-vibe, so it just keeps building. So many kinds of things are welcomed there, so that energy just keeps growing. People feel safe to really be brave and find parts of themselves they haven’t felt before, or to love themselves more deeply than they’ve loved themselves before. I feel strongly about keeping the boundaries there safe, to keep it clear in that way.

What do you like most about running it?

Truly, it’s all of it. There is a part of me that loves all the things that are offered, and that I can participate in them. It’s brought community to me. I love being the cheerleader. It’s a soul calling. And I love playing at Joy Center. I get to go play in a playhouse!

What do you find most challenging about running it?

The marketing part is not my thing. I’d rather promote by word-of-mouth. So I found a way that feels easy to me and true to who I am with additional support from others. I spend more of my time cheering people on, encouraging them to maybe do a workshop. I may give my dear friends Stephanie Lake and Stacey Willey at Globe Printing the rough draft of Joy Center’s next brochure, or the idea of a poster, and they’ll lay it out beautifully. Stacey helps to get the word out on Facebook. For a long time, my daughter-in-law did a beautiful job of helping with that. And I love my Health & Happiness ad, and the support I get to help me with it. It’s the only place I advertise–it’s perfect for Joy Center, and goes out all over the Central and Western U.P.

What future plans are in the works?

As we hunker into our homes, and aren’t able to go to the creative sanctuary physically, my curiosity and challenge is “How will this time affect Joy Center since the place itself is such an important part of it? How can I use Zoom to make an Out Loud, and then find some richness that Joy Center does beyond these walls, or a poetry workshop by Zoom like U.P. Poet Laureate Marty Achatz did? How will this propel us into the future? Will there be a time that Zoom comes into Joy Center?

I feel like I’m in the middle of the cocoon, and I am learning. Parallel Play–we all did it at the same time and texted and sent photos of our creations simultaneously afterward. It felt like deep connection. So Joy Center has been continuing. I’ve been working on the space, giving it loving physical care. And I’m learning about technology and connecting that way, and how to still have the feel of Joy Center. It’s a beautiful space, and it’s the people and the energy, and that no walls can hold in.

How can people find out about upcoming events taking place?

They can check Joy Center’s Facebook page, and they also can contact me at helenhaskell@yahoo.com about events or if there’s something they’d like to offer here. And they can join our mailing list to receive a brochure on what’s going on, and a letter I write every two months.

Excerpted with permission from the Summer 2020 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2020, Empowering Lightworks, LLC.

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