Center of Community
five years on, wellness hub’s founders find themselves surrounded by loving grace
Everyone needs a place like The Center.
I certainly did on a recent Thursday afternoon.
I was rushing around after a late lunch, trying to check items off my to-do list. I had just dashed home to let the dog out, and he was relatively uncooperative considering the frigid weather. Back on the road, I mistakenly took the wrong exit and cursed myself when I realized I would be late for my next appointment.
Fortunately, the place I was headed was The Center – an oasis of peace just outside Eau Claire. Once I made the turn off Highway 12, parked amid the trees, and strolled up to the door of the 82-year-old stone cottage, I was already breathing easier.
And, even more fortunately, my interview subject was forgiving of my late arrival. If there’s anyone who appreciates unexpected, circuitous journeys, it’s Scott Daniels, who calls himself the “lead host and accidental comedian” of The Center. Scott – an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church – founded The Center in 2013 with his wife, Anita Norha. They describe The Center as “a community wellness hub dedicated to feeding the soul, mind, and body.” At last count, 42 practitioners – offering everything from ayurveda to Zumba – offer classes and appointments at The Center. There are licensed counselors, yoga teachers, reiki masters, potters, and art therapists. These practitioners and their students, clients, family, and friends have formed a strong community at The Center.
“It’s got its finger on the pulse of something important – this idea of really living from the heart,” Daniels said of The Center. “And learning what helps you to do that, and it’s a little different for everybody. I kind of believed that before, but now I’m really seeing it.”
While Daniels comes at spirituality from a Christian direction (albeit a rather liberal one), The Center is open to those of any religion – or none at all. A Buddhist sangha meets there, as do adherents of the Bahá’í faith and a Christian spirituality group.
“The only real rule is respect,” he adds, “to respect each other on that journey.” In addition to his time in the ministry (he’s still ordained but no longer serves a church), Daniels’ journey has included owning several retreat centers with his wife. While these retreats are aimed at scrapbookers and other crafters, about six years ago, Anita and five friends created a vision board for a different sort of retreat – a place they dubbed “The House of Belonging.” Their ideas evolved into The Center.
Much about The Center has exceeded the couple’s expectations, in material and spiritual ways. Last year, the couple’s teenage daughter had a recurrence of cancer, which led to the amputation of her leg and eight months of chemotherapy. The medical crisis forced Scott to step back from The Center. When he did so, something incredible happened: Others stepped forward.
“The community here got us through that. They were amazing. Unreal,” he said. Practitioners volunteered to take care of The Center. Others brought meals for the family. “We finally had to say, ‘Stop, our freezer’s full,’ ” he said with a smile.
The family’s personal experience has inspired them to put their weight behind making The Center even more successful. Now, they own five and a half acres, including The Center, an adjacent home (which they are moving into), and forested land that tumbles down to Otter Creek. They plan to create trails and encourage more outdoor activities at The Center.
“I don’t know if this will ever be a big business, because people outgrow us,” Daniels said, noting several local wellness businesses – including Tuning Tree and Latitude 44 Yoga Studio – had their roots at The Center. “This is just a spot that’s trying to help people live the lifestyle and see where it goes.”
And while The Center has formed a community, it’s ultimately a place for people to pursue their own paths – paths that many of us have difficulty taking the time to discover. In such a hectic, always-online era, how do we find the time for mindfulness, meditation, prayer, or any other practice that nurtures our inner selves?
“You start small,” Daniels advised. “Five minutes in the morning, just settling in with the creative life force that’s inside. To me, when I go into meditation, I’m actually being the most honest, because I remind myself that I didn’t start my heartbeat. I don’t make each breath happen … I can take control of them, but that doesn’t tend to be even a good idea. And so it’s being honest that actually the most important things in my even being alive, they were given to me as a gift. There’s something else supporting me in that. And I call that a connection with God.”
Daniels understands that the word “God” can be problematic for some people, especially in a world where institutional religion often serves as a wedge, not a bridge. “It’s just so loaded, and I get that,” he said of the word. “Just insert ‘love.’ Love behind it all.”
For those seeking a spiritual life outside – or in addition to – the confines of a traditional congregation, The Center is a warm, loving destination.
“It’s like a church without a religious framework – just a belief in the goodness of the heart,” Daniels said.