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Nov 09
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Residency Helps KCL Close the Budget Gap

KCL Director Betsy Railla blesses the offering during a lhasang for new residents.

By Mike de Give

Karmê Chöling has lowered its monthly deficit substantially by following through on plans to host a Residency program, a financial snapshot compiled last week shows.

“Residency has reduced a $10,000 deficit per month to $2,500, which — with our cash reserve — is a manageable amount,” said Betsy Railla, executive director of Karmê Chöling.

Friends of Karme Choling are invited to Help Close the Budget Gap with an ongoing or one-time donation, Railla said.

When Betsy was seated as director in November 2019, Karme Choling was emerging from of a season when program participation had dropped significantly. Some staff members had already been laid off, and the center was experimenting with a “winter session,” closing the house to all but in-house and cabin retreats

With these measures, the coming summer program season was conservatively forecasted to end 2020 in the black.

Then COVID-19 arrived, and the season was canceled. Karme Choling had to find a way to bridge its budget gap.

One option was to fall back on a “caretaker model,” which would mean shutting down entirely and using its cash reserve to pay the mortgage, with only a couple of staff members hunkering down to care for the property.

In talking with members of the surrounding sanghas, Betsy heard ideas about KCL returning to its roots: Getting off the programs merry-go-round and becoming primarily a residence for Shambhala practitioners.

In April, Betsy announced plans for Karme Choling Residency, offering the land center’s acreage, shrine rooms, garden, history, magic and living spaces to people who want to join a kind, supportive community centered on the practice of meditation and a recognition of each other’s basic goodness.

“When I came on as director, the situation presented to me was that the treadmill-program model wasn’t working here,” Betsy said. “People can go to programs anywhere, including Zoom — there are a lot of different options. But we can offer something else. We’re answering to a new time.”

Residents gather for an Election Day lhasang.

The first wavelet of three residents arrived in August. In September, one more arrived, and in October there were eight more. Later this month, more new housemates will bring the resident population to 17. There are also 14 housemates who are either staff members or volunteers.

Residency turned out to be a way to serve the sangha and stabilize KCL’s finances, Betsy said.

“We have completely changed our program model and our revenue-generating model over the last six months,” Betsy said. “We can’t sit back and kick up our feet. But we don’t have to wring our hands.”

The Land Center will close the books on 2020 with expenses exceeding revenue by around $127,000. Thanks to Residency, the annual deficit is forecast to drop by more than 75 percent in 2021, to just $30,000.

Karmê Chöling is forecast to end 2020 with $391,363 cash on hand, which includes $308,000 in repurposed Capital Campaign funds.

While it’s true that Residency’s numbers fluctuate (with some residents ending their stay after three months, March’s population is expected to drop to 12), new applications are being processed even now that could materialize into more than enough new housemates to close the gap.

The Dining Room is noisy once again at Karme Choling.

As the staff was making the shift to residency, it was assumed that the new model would appeal mostly to people who had retired. But far more of the new residents are working from home. The latest arrivals include an acharya, a student, a computer programmer, a veteran and a health care worker on leave. Some are staying for three months, some for six, some for a year or more.

While programs are not a significant source of revenue for Karme Choling, the Programs Department continues to offer a wide range of programs, from Shambhala Path programs to Mudra Space Awareness and Lucid Dream Yoga. In fact, participation in Path Programs has risen with the adoption of Zoom.

Acharya Dan Hessey arrives for his first day of Residency.

Acharya Dan Hessey, who arrived with the latest batch of new residents, is already on the events calendar. He just finished teaching Shambhala Training Level 5, and is now getting ready to offer “Gentle Bravery” — a shamatha retreat for the post-election mind — and the continuation of a Shambhala Online course titled “The Third Noble Truth: Freedom from Suffering.” Because that last program will be produced at Karme Choling, residents will be able to attend in person, instead of on Zoom.

For summer 2021, Betsy is considering a plan that would create residencies around long-term programs or paths of study.

For instance, Acharya Suzann Duquette, Practice & Education Director Marian English and Betsy are working on curriculum for a months-long Hinayana program integrated into residency, which would include path programs, reading and study groups .

“We hope to be able to start advertising topics soon,” Betsy said. “What we’re looking at isn’t books about the Hinayana, but study topics. The program will be stretched out over time, so it won’t be a month of Hinayana, it will be like several months of Hinayana, which meshes perfectly with Residency.”

Similar programs are being developed for Mahayana and Vajrayana practitioners, as well.

“We’re working on curricula for all of those, and that takes investment. We have to manage investments very carefully.”

Residents hit the porch for Household Picture Day. Click to expand!

Mike de Give is the Director of Communications for Karme Choling.

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2 responses to “ Residency Helps KCL Close the Budget Gap ”
  1. Call me old-fashioned, but I would have preferred the teachings to have been “realized” by considerably more decorous behaviour by Shambhala’s leaders in dealing with women’s bodies and in their reactions when it was pointed out how far short their behaviour had fallen in that respect.

  2. Nick Wright
    Nov 13, 2020

    In a time of contraction, it makes good sense for our land centres to become small Shambhala Abbeys — practicing, realizing and preserving the teachings as a fluid community, and offering them to the larger community.

    Well done!

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