Get to know the expert facilitators that lead programs like nutrition, yoga, retreats, creativity, and more at Smith Center for Healing & the Arts.
Our wonderful facilitators come to us from recommendations by program participants, our staff, and our friends. We spend time getting to know each of our facilitators before we invite them to teach or lead activities here.
Stress Reduction (Yoga, Meditation, Movement)
Kiersten Gallagher, RYT 200, Certified Herbalist, has studied yoga for over 25 years. Over the last decade, Kiersten has developed yoga programs and has provided a place for healing in the cancer community, in underprivileged neighborhoods, for special needs children, for teens and adults with drug addiction and for those struggling with body image. Kiersten invites you on a journey of healing to help guide you to a place where yoga will make a real difference in your life. Kiersten’s goal for you is that you feel better mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually when you leave class.
Yael Flusberg, C-IAYT, E-RYT500, RMT, MS first came to yoga hoping she could get rid of stuff, namely the ways life’s stresses and traumas had become painfully embodied. Fifteen years and thousands of layers of release later, yoga continues to teach her how to make strategic, creative, and life-nourishing choices. Trained as an integrative yoga therapist, Yael’s classes blend active with receptive states of being, and are both insightful and lighthearted. Off the mat, she is a coach, writer and energy therapist. Since 2005, Yael has taught yoga classes at area hospitals, libraries, workplaces, schools, and yoga studios. As an integrative yoga therapist (E-RYT500) she facilitates both group and individual yoga therapy sessions, working with people dealing with a variety of conditions including cancer, digestive disorders, diabetes, eating disorders, fibromyalgia, hypertension, mental health challenges (including depression, anxiety, grief and trauma), rheumatoid arthritis, scoliosis, and sports injuries. She currently teaches a weekly therapeutic class for people living with cancer and their caregivers on GW’s campus. More info: www.yaelflusberg.com
Beth Lawrence, RYT 500, discovered yoga in early 2002 as a mother of six-month-old twins. She was looking to get back into shape after their birth. In yoga, she found far more than she anticipated – an age old practice designed to help people relieve both mental and physical stress. After a few years of regular practice, she knew she wanted to share her positive experiences with others. She has been leading yoga classes in the DC area since 2007 after completing her 200 hour yoga teacher training at Nth Degree Yoga with Martha Rosen. In 2011, she went back to earn her RYT 500. Her personal practice is inspired by Integral Yoga and Sivananda Yoga, both of which incorporate body and mind into the practice.
Cooking and Nutrition
Kara Garrett is a health-supportive chef based in Washington, DC. Following her breast cancer diagnosis in 2013, she embraced the challenge of finding a balance between her foodie lifestyle and eating well with cancer. She has adopted a flexible diet plan that focuses on plant-based, sustainable whole foods, but does not restrict indulgences of things she loves. She is passionate about working with others to encourage healthier food choices that energize the body and the soul. Kara graduated in August 2017 from the Chef Training Program at Natural Gourmet Institute in NYC and spent one month as the sous chef at The Ananda Ashram Yoga Society of New York in Monroe, NY. She is currently enrolled in the Developing Healthy Communities: Nutrition, Behavior, and Physical Activity graduate program at Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.
Cathryn Pethick, AYS, teaches yoga and Ayurveda in the Washington, DC metro area, and is a long-time professional chef. She is an Ayurveda Yoga Specialist through the Himalayan Institute, teaching the self-care basics of the traditional Indian science of Ayurveda and Ayurvedic cooking to groups and private clients. Since 1997, she has taught both traditional and gentle hatha yoga classes for adults and children, therapeutic classes for seniors and special-needs students, and restorative yoga. It is her deepest desire to offer tools that bring balance and well-being into the lives of those she touches.
Laura Pole, RN, MSN, Chef, has served as Smith Center’s head chef and integrative oncology nurse consultant since 1997. She is an Oncology Clinical Nurse Specialist and Cancer Guide with 25 years experience in caring for people with serious illnesses. She is also a Certified Health-Supportive Chef, professional musician and Nia body-mind fitness instructor. Her popular cooking class series, Eating for a Lifetime: Cooking for People with Cancer, introduces participants to the Eight Principles of Food Selection, along with truly tasty and healthy recipes. Laura is the founder of “Eating for a Lifetime,” a consulting business dedicated to teaching individuals and professionals about health supportive eating and food preparation. In addition to Laura’s work with nourishment, she is the co-coordinator of Smith Center’s Patient Navigation Training in Integrative Cancer Care. Laura also serves as coordinator of the “Media Watch Cancer News That You Can Use” listserv.
Erika Cleveland is an artist, writer, and healer trained as an art therapist at NYU. After working clinically for many years with children and adults in settings such as the International Center for the Disabled in NYC and Boston Children’s Hospital, she studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Her current focus is on the ways in which changes – big and small, cataclysmic and celebratory – force us to grow and reinvent ourselves. In addition to offering healing doll workshops, she makes commissioned healing dolls. She is an Associate artist at the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, VA, where she makes and shows her dolls. She can also be found in her new studio at the Jackson Art Center in Georgetown, DC. When not at the Torpedo Factory, Erika can be found working in her tiny DC home studio.
Susi Wyss is a public health professional, author, and therapeutic writing facilitator. Her public health career has spanned more than 25 years, most of it addressing women’s health in Africa. The author of The Civilized World, a novel set in Africa that was named “A Book to Pick Up Now” by Oprah Magazine, Susi’s writing has twice been recognized by awards from the Maryland State Arts Council. In addition to maintaining her own lifelong journaling practice, she has led writing and journaling workshops at the DC Rape Crisis Center and at Crossings Healing & Wellness in Silver Spring.
Elise Wiarda has been leading the poetry writing sessions, Speaking Our Truth, at Smith Center’s weeklong cancer retreats for many years. You could say that poetry is in her blood. She grew up in the Netherlands. Her mother, who died at the age of 101, knew more than 150 poems by heart in four languages, and read poetry to her children all the time. Elise’s daughter is a published poet and a tenured professor at Barnard. Elise has a long history in the art world, and for the past thirty years has been a mind/body therapist. She has a private practice in her home in Cabin John.
Rebecca Wilkinson, MA, ATR-BC, and Gioia Chilton, MA, ATR-BC, are co-founders of Creative Wellbeing Workshops LLC, which provides training, consultation, and clinical therapy designed to reduce stress, prevent burnout and increase life satisfaction and wellbeing. Rebecca and Gioia are both Registered and Board Certified art therapists with twenty years of experience in mental health, training and workshops. They serve as adjunct faculty at George Washington University Graduate Art Therapy Program and provide continuing education and development through the Potomac Art Therapy Association. They facilitate supportive workshops for those affected by life-threatening illnesses and the professional providers working with them.
Saaraliisa Ylitalo is a textile artist based in theVirginia suburbs of Washington DC. She studied with Walter Nottingham and taught various fiber arts before spending 25 years of travel on four continents – living, teaching and exhibiting in Costa Rica, Japan, Peru and South Africa, with stops in the United States. During her five years in Japan, she fell in love with washi paper, and apprenticed with a master papermaker in Kyoto. Paper remains her chief passion, but she combines it with many other textile techniques: knitting, crocheting, weaving, spinning, dyeing, tatting and sewing.
Joanne Assarsson has extensive experience working with individuals, families, and groups whose lives are impacted by a cancer diagnosis. She graduated with a Master’s degree from The Catholic University of America and is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker. Joanne also maintains certification as an Oncology Social Worker and is a member of the Association of Oncology Social Workers. Joanne works with people throughout the continuum of care from diagnosis, treatment, survivorship, advanced illness, and end of life care. In partnership with patients and families, her practice is focused on thoughtfully assessing and maximizing quality of life.
Jennifer Bires, LICSW, OSW-C, is a rising star in the psycho-oncology field. She comes to this position with almost a decade of experience as an oncology social worker, most recently at George Washington University in DC where she helped create the cancer support program. During her tenure at GWU she created a number of deep and impactful programs for families, young adults and patients and helped to ensure program success by defining and tracking outcomes. Jennifer received the 2017 Oncology Social Worker of The Year Award from the Association of Oncology Social Workers.
Moreover, Jennifer has been a longtime partner with Smith Center. She facilitates the young adult cancer support group as well as a general cancer support group for the Smith Center community. Jennifer has intimate knowledge of the DC cancer survivorship landscape and deep appreciation for Smith Center’s unique art and healing approach to this important work.
Cheryl Ann Hughes, LICSW, creates a safe and supportive environment from which individuals can define their goals as well as the means by which they can be achieved. Cheryl infuses her work with mindfulness-based techniques to assist her clients in recognizing their own ability to create a reality that will lead to a satisfying and fulfilling life. Cheryl received her master’s degree in social work, with an emphasis on clinical and medical social work, from Catholic University. She is employed at the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center in Washington, DC, where she works with cancer patients and their families as they deal with the increased stressors caused by cancer and its treatment.
MARY ANNE COOK is a spiritual director, focusing primarily on grief and life transitions. Working with both individuals and groups, she uses a flexible approach tailored to individual needs, drawing on her background in counseling, mindfulness training, and the creative arts. Mary Anne studied at New York University’s School of Social Work, has a diploma in Spiritual Direction from the San Francisco Theological Seminary, and is trained as a teacher of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. Mary Anne recently moved to DC from San Francisco where she worked as a spiritual director and grief counselor for over 10 years, and was on staff at the Interfaith Counseling Center and the Mindfulness Care Center. In addition, she provided grief support at Glide Memorial Church, served as a volunteer at Hospice by the Bay, and worked with bereaved children and their families at Josie’s Place. In Washington she works at the Wendt Center and with homeless women at the N Street Village.
About Larry Kanter: My late wife, Alex Todorovich, passed away in 2009 from breast cancer. My work with the Smith Center began in 2007 when Alex and I attended the Center’s week-long retreat, which marked a turning point in our understanding of what it means to really live, to love life, and to live in the embrace of a healing community. After Alex’s passing the Center’s Hisaoaka Gallery mounted a show of Alex’s art entitled “How to Leave a Well-Traveled Road” which documented her life, her fears, her loves and the path she chose at its end.
Larry Kanter is a graphic designer living in Washington, DC and is a Smith Center friend and an ardent supporter of Center’s work.
Jenn McRobbie is a young breast cancer survivor, life coach and author. Following her diagnosis and treatment, Jenn published her first book, Why is She Acting So Weird? A Guide to Cultivating Closeness When a Friend is in Crisis. Why is She Acting So Weird? was borne from her experiences interacting with friends after diagnosis and during treatment. Jenn believes that friends are critical to successfully navigating a crisis, so she developed the resource she wished existed for her friends when she was diagnosed. It is her treatise on empowering friends to rise and lift each other during crisis. Jenn is now settling into a new role as an advocate for breast cancer survivors, their friends, and family.
About Wendy Miller: Moving here many years ago from the SF Bay Area, my relationship with Commonweal led me to Barbara Smith Coleman. I am proud to have been part of an early group of people with Shanti Norris who met with Barbara to envision the cancer retreats, a healing center, and gallery for Smith Center. Years later when my late husband Gene Cohen was facing metastatic prostate cancer, he went to Commonweal for his cancer retreat. The gift of community support, reflection, and care guided the choices we made through the many years of living with cancer in our family body. I became a widow in 2009.
Wendy Miller is an expressive arts therapist, artist, and writer living in Kensington Md. In 2016, she published the book, Sky Above Clouds: Finding our way through creativity, aging, and illness, about her life and work with her late husband. It is a spiritual treatise on love and creativity during life’s major transitions.
Carole O’Toole serves as Smith Center’s Director of Integrative Navigation. She designed Smith Center’s innovative model and for cancer navigation which she has shared with hundreds of healthcare professionals nationally through lectures and an annual training program. Prior to her work at Smith Center, Carole was a Patient Navigator at Suburban Hospital and ran a private integrative cancer care navigation practice. Carole has been a survivor of advanced cancer since 1994. She has written two books on integrative cancer care: Cancer Community Healing Network and Healing Outside the Margins, and continues to work with individual clients at Smith Center to guide them through their treatment and survivorship in a holistic and comprehensive way.
Erin Price serves as Smith Center’s Young Adult and Psychosocial Support Programs Director and has a solid background in Direct Marketing fundraising for nonprofit organizations. During her years as a fundraising consultant she did work for a variety of causes from women’s organizations and animal welfare groups, to health and environmental nonprofits. Receiving numerous awards for her work over the years, she was most recently honored as the 2011 Rising Star by the Direct Marketing Association of Washington. After Erin’s diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer in 2011, she decided to devote her time toward cancer support organizations and found her place at Smith Center for Healing and the Arts. She graduated from the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, VA, and holds a B.S. in business administration. Outside of work, Erin continues to enjoy creative outlets: dance, cooking, painting and pottery. She can also be found volunteering for various breast cancer organizations in the Washington, DC area.