Shadybrook plans a fundraiser to help the Serpentine Project

Reposted from the News-Herald in Ashtabula, OH.

The News Herald (, Serving Northern Ohio


Shadybrook programming helps explore spiritual traditions, personal growth

Monday, January 14, 2013

By Janet Podolak

With deep roots in Lake County dating to more than a half-century ago in Kirtland Hills, Shadybrook has perhaps come full circle as a place to explore spiritual traditions and achieve personal growth.

Times have changed since the Layman’s Retreat Association in the post-World War II melting pot world sought to help people learn and thrive from their differences. That was in 1955, when the group began to meet at Shadybrook House, one-time Kirtland Hills home of the Arthur Baldwin family that later became headquarters for the Lake County History Center.

Learning from their differences remains the mission among the Shadybrook members and friends who now meet at a church for programming drawn from faiths ranging from Buddhism to Catholicism, Hinduism to spiritualism.

But Shadybrook is by no means a religion.

“Finding joy in life is something we embrace,” said Laura Christian Imbornoni, a professional-level yoga instructor and retired longtime director of the Mentor Senior Center.

She’s a member of Shadybrook’s board of trustees, along with her husband, Steve Imbornoni, an ordained spiritualist minister, who is a psychologist practicing in Beachwood and both a licensed hypnotherapist and massage therapist.

Another trustee is Dean Williams, an ordained Zen Buddhist priest and leader of Shadybrook’s current series of meditation workshops. Other board members include an attorney, an educator, a mental health professional and an Internet technology professional.

The diversity of the board reflects not only the diversity of Shadybrook’s membership but its programs.

“Since it’s where we meet, we tend to be joined at the hip with East Shore Unitarian Church,” said Williams, who says he has seen greater and greater numbers of that church’s members among those attending his meditation workshops. He tells folks that Shadybrook is welcoming to all spiritual seekers.

“Culturally, we’re Jewish, agnostic, atheist, Catholic, pagan, Protestant and none of the above,” Laura Imbornoni said.

That would seem to make Shadybrook a good fit for many folks.

A recently released Pew Research Center study found that one in five Americans, or 33 million adults, is religiously unaffiliated — a 5 percent increase in just the last five years. But, that nationwide survey found, 46 million adults describe themselves as spiritual in some way. More than 55 percent said they felt a connection with nature and the earth and 68 percent professed a belief in God.

“There’s no obligation for anyone to agree with something that’s presented,” Steve Imbornoni said.

Last year, for instance, he presented a program based on hypnosis-based regression therapy, taking hypnotized subjects back to childhood and even to the time before they were born,

“It’s a fascinating therapeutic application,” he said. “Although Zen Buddhists like Dean and others don’t believe in past lives, but belief is not necessary for this program to have validity.”

Buddhist priest Williams said he may not subscribe to all the practices presented, “but I’m not dismissive of them either. The intention of all of them is to be beneficial, and people find what is of benefit to them.”

Intention is something fostered at Shadybrook, whose members are increasingly forging partnerships and raising money for other organizations intended to serve the greater good.

“Right now we’re planning for a Spiritual Spa Day on March 23 that will give people the opportunity to try out a variety of alternative healing modalities,” said Beth Bracale, Shadybrook’s director of operations and programming. “Beneficiaries will be Forbes House in Lake County and Serpentine Project in Ashtabula.”

Chair massages, Reiki, drawing and various meditation techniques will be showcased, and practitioners also will take their skills to Forbes House to administer them to the abused women living there. There will be a nedra yoga healing experience, and drumming for healing is being explored.

Herbalist Leah Wolfe, founder of the Serpentine Project, will be on hand with healing herbs. The Serpentine Project is dedicated to preserving and protecting native plants, learning about their uses and why it’s important to protect them.

“The Spiritual Day Spa is a good example of us presenting options and possibilities of different avenues toward healing to help make people aware and to see if there’s something they wish to explore further,” Steve Imbornoni said. “If there’s sufficient interest we sometimes have follow-up experiences.”

He said Shadybrook’s careful stewardship of an endowment received many years ago allows for it to have the funds to hire employees such as Bracale and not concern itself with constant fundraising efforts to stay afloat.

“We are really blessed in that way,” he said.

“In December we had our first fundraiser to benefit Angel House in Strongsville,” he said. “They work with the Girls and Boys Club of Cleveland and Girls and Boys Hope of NEOhio to bring in teens and their counselors to experience a day of healing and working together.”

Some Shadybrook members expected the eye-rolling response they’d seen before from teens but were delighted to see how instead the young people embraced learning to manage stress and empower themselves.

“They learned journaling, and that was just one tool that has allowed them to share things with their counselors that they’d been unable to talk about,” Bracale said.

The experience resulted in several Shadybrook members becoming more closely involved with Angel House and even signing on as volunteers.

Williams says he sees Shadybrook’s intent to reach out with support for other organizations as a game changer.

“To me it’s such a joy to be able to find out about and learn things in ways that would have been almost impossible before this,” Laura Imbornoni said. “We are in such a fast-paced information age that Shadybrook’s wide open posture of listening is even more worthwhile now. We give people the chance to sit and focus and spend time looking inward so then they can reach out again.”

Shadybrook House


Dancing in response to the Kirtan devotional chanting by the group Enchanted Hearts, shown today, will take place again in April.

Shadybrook programming takes a winter break until March because weather becomes an issue. But Dean Williams’ meditation sessions take place from 7 to 8:30 p.m. the first Monday of each month at East Shore Unitarian Church, 10848 Chillicothe Road, Kirtland. Fee is $10.