Sky Lake Innovations

Type of Innovation: Governance (Collective Leadership Model), Community Communications

Date of Contact: March 4, 2022 (Barbara Wolkowitz)

Contacts: Irene Woodard, Pam Ross, Heather Paviak 

Description of Center: Sky Lake provides Shambhala and similar programs in a woodland setting north of NY City. It also has a presence in the local community to whom it provides open meditation sessions and classes. There are about 50 local members. As a small land center, Sky Lake is directly owned by Shambhala USA. 

Description of Innovation: In 2020, after departure of the paid director, Sky Lake went to a collective leadership model. The Governing Council is comprised of 3 non-paid leaders.  While major decisions are made collectively by consensus,  each leader focuses on a particular area of responsibility: (1) arranging programs and inviting teachers, (2) handling onsite logistics and facility management and supervising part -time paid staff (resident operations manager, housekeeper, handyman) and (3) finance (chadzö), and contact with a paid accountant. The three leaders meet weekly to coordinate activities and make decisions.  

Evaluation of Innovation: Sky Lake leaders reported high satisfaction with their experience and the effectiveness of the model. Each of the three leaders feels a strong heart connection and commitment to Sky Lake. The three leaders work well together and splitting duties avoids overburdening a director who cannot easily handle all of the diverse functions.  It also avoids conflicts between a paid director and a governing body.  Under the new model, there has been a greater sense of opening up to community input. Without paid directors, Sky Lake is modeling volunteerism, but the community needs to step up for Sky Lake to be sustainable. Also, as Sky Lake becomes busier, further administrative and operational staff will be needed. 

Other Pertinent Information: When the pandemic started, Sky Lake’s income disappeared, and it was in danger of closing. It received a grant from Shambhala USA and worked closely with Shambhala Global Services and the Board to stabilize finances and develop an income stream through retreats and online offerings.  During the pandemic, Sky Lake was still able to raise $20,000 to insulate the attic. 

Other Background:  Sky Lake benefits from the support of senior teachers: Eva Wong (qigong), and former Acharyas Arawana Hayashi and Eric Spiegel. These individuals teach and provide advice when asked. Sky Lake does not have a formal Practice and Education Dept.  

Other innovations: Sky Lake instituted monthly outdoor lhasangs for its local community which built support and kept people connected. Sky Lake also instituted and kept up with monthly online community meetings. These included “listening sessions” for community input, including gripe sessions. It held a hybrid retreat in December at the holidays. Frequent musical and artistic events also build connections with the local community. 

Sky Lake has also been active in ecological innovations, including reduction in fossil fuel use.