Toivo team members and facilitators bring our knowledge, passion and experience to every offering.
Sara Balkun (she/her)
Holistic Health Coordinator
Sara is a 500-hour yoga Teacher, Reiki master, sound facilitator, intuitive artist and Reggio inspired educator. She has been sharing her most beloved tools for healing for over a decade in schools, studios, shelters, rehabilitation centers and psychiatric hospitals across Connecticut.
Sara spent a long time stuck in survival mode. Her experiences left her living with the underlying belief that she was simply unworthy of love and support. This root belief dictated her every thought and action. It affected how she breathed, moved in her body and connected with herself and others. This constant stream of stress took its toll on her overall health and wellbeing. She felt disconnected, anxious and struggled with what seemed like an endless series of injuries and illness. Through the practice of yoga, along with the exploration of nature, sound and creative art processes Sara has found tools for empowerment and whole-body healing.
It is Sara’s life purpose to share this healing and provide support to those who have felt unworthy of being seen, heard and valued. Sara’s mission is to create safer community spaces so individuals can bravely explore the root cause of suffering and practice bridging the gap between mind, body and heart.
Jessica Goldman (she/her)
Jessica first experienced what it felt like to be in community at her synagogue. These early childhood experiences shaped her understanding of how profound community and connection are to her own sense of support and well-being.
Throughout Jessica’s teenage years, she spiraled into a time where her own thoughts and emotions became overwhelming, paralyzing, and isolating. After seeking traditional mental health treatment that provided temporary respite, Jessica stepped on a yoga mat. The inner awareness that she discovered through yoga opened the doorway to nurture her body, mind, and soul.
Her education in Community Engagement, combined with her professional and professional experiences navigating the fields of mental health and holistic healing create a unique perspective that Jessica leads from. Throughout her life, Jessica has been drawn to community as a haven to heal. It is her most heartfelt hope that you feel this sense of homecoming within yourself, and among community when you walk into Toivo.
Linda Lentini (she/her)
Director of Healing from Within
Linda Lentini is the Director of Healing From Within (HFW) at Toivo. HFW is a program that began as a SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) funded project, and is now fully self-sustaining. The goal of HFW is to integrate mind-body wellness practices with clinical services and teach these practices to individuals receiving services and staff on inpatient psychiatric units in Connecticut. She is trained in Breath Body Mind, Aromatherapy, and a certified Louise Hay trainer. She shares her personal healing journey with others to share hope and resiliency.
Baylei Manning (they/them)
Baylei is a Black, Non-Binary, and Queer individual that has a deep-rooted passion for the more unconventional ways of living. Baylei grew up being told that they should pursue a certain way of living but as they entered their early adolescence, deep down they knew that they were not meant to conform to the traditional ways of living.
Baylei struggled with anxiety and depression all throughout high school and their very short-lived college career. They discovered holistic healing modalities in 2020 after dropping out of college and have been invested in expanding their knowledge and integrating these practices such as yoga, tarot, astrology, and crystal healing into their life. Despite still being a novice in many of these practices, they are deeply passionate about spreading this knowledge and making it accessible to marginalized groups of people who are being negatively impacted by the current state of our society.
Jennifer Tirado (she/her)
Alternative to Suicide Statewide Coordinator
Jennifer is a long-time Peer Support practitioner, Peer Educator and Coordinator for Connecticut’s Alternatives to Suicide network. The Alternatives to Suicide approach originated in Holyoke, MA and is an emerging network in CT. It’s a Harm Reduction program which focuses on mutual peer support groups to provide spaces for people with suicidal impulses to talk openly about urges and thoughts without fear of being hospitalized.
Shortly after stumbling into adulthood, Jennifer had years of feeling a lack of purpose and disconnection. She sought help from the traditional psychiatric model but found it mostly confirmed negative messages she had heard before. Jennifer found herself on a winding path of self-discovery. Jennifer credits her knowledge of Carl Jung and Existentialist philosophy as a buoy during these times. She began to uncover her sense of purpose through discovering Buddhist philosophy and the practice of Co-Counseling. Soon after, she attended Toivo as a participant. Her journey of healing included getting certified as a Recovery Support Specialist with a focus on mental health alternatives, such Hearing Voices Network approach and Intentional Peer Support (IPS). Jennifer has spent years as a Peer Recovery Specialist supporting others individually and through facilitating a wide array of groups. Jennifer identifies as Latinx and Neurodivergent.
Jennifer is a writer and uses her lived experience in her written work. She is currently deepening her study of Yoga.
Heidi Viener (she/her)
Heidi has reshaped her life by incorporating holistic healing practices since first walking through the doors into Toivo in August of 2015. After years of struggling with mental and physical challenges because of years of physical, emotional, mental, and sexual traumas which began in young childhood, she found peace and healing when she started to transform herself from victim and survivor into a thriver. Participating in a variety of holistic healing modalities, rethinking her thinking, sharing her own lived experiences, and facilitating her own wellness workshops at Toivo have allowed her a new direction along her life journey. The wellness workshops she facilitates and co-facilitates are all designed to help others explore and incorporate new holistic healing venues into their own healing journeys as well as continued healing for Heidi. Heidi has a BS degree in Education with a minor in Special Education, is a certified Laughter Yoga instructor, Intentional Peer Support Certified, and a certified Alternatives to Suicide Support Group facilitator. Heidi considers herself a forever learner and enjoys expanding her knowledge base and the services she can offer the community for healing, learning, and growth. Heidi looks forward to bringing her holistic healing knowledge to Senior Centers, hospitals, recreation departments, business offices, parks, as well as schools within the community. She is an active volunteer in her community for the CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) volunteer organization since 2013, where she holds a Leadership position in their Education and Emergency Preparedness Awareness Programs, is certified in sheltering, first aid, CPR, Mental Health First Aid, S.T.E.P. (Student Tools for Emergency Planning), search and rescue, traffic management, and food service. Heidi loves to share her love of teaching and learning with all, nurturing others along their own life journeys as well as her own, loves animals, spending time out in nature, caring for the environment, and values family and sharing time with her son.
Olivia Ballinger (she/her)
Olivia Ballinger is a self-employed mom of 3 kids. Olivia is an artist and self-published author, and she is an advocate for self-love and self-expression, two concepts that have been extremely transformative in her life. Olivia has been through many struggles including a toxic marriage and a difficult divorce, as well as depression and attempting to take her own life. Olivia has built herself back up from struggle time and time again, using her passion for self-expression through art and writing as a healing tool, and her commitment to self-love as a way to create a life that is fulfilling and worth living, and she just wants to help others to do the same. These passions are reflected in her self-published books and social media pages where she continues to share about her journey, as well as her classes which foster self-care and freedom of expression.
Anne: is a visual & performing artist ranging from mix media, spoken word to song arrangements. Before she could even write her name, she was creating art. She is a proud Hartford native committed to uplifting the community through self-care expression & safe spaces. She is determined to fortify the importance of veracity & altruism. For her, art & helping others comes innately like breathing. Life itself is the ultimate inspiration and she is a vessel.
Bryan Escobar (he/him)
Hello! I’m Bryan Escobar, and I live in Hartford, CT. I was born in Guayama, Puerto Rico and raised in Hartford, CT since the age of three. I speak Spanish and English fluently. Fun fact, my first language is Sign Language because I did not speak until the age of five due to speech development. I grew up from being houseless with my mom and sister until 4 years old. The person I admire the most in my life is my mother. As a single mother who raised five kids, she did everything possible to give us the life we have today. I’ve been a ZIN™ Member since Sep 2019 and I absolutely love teaching Zumba classes! When I was younger, my sister and I used to be competitive dance partners. This experience became a big part of who I am and has inspired me to keep enjoying the music and dancing with my community. Zumba will take you to a whole new world where you don’t need to be shy or embarrassed about how you feel about yourself or whatever makes you feel out of place. I look forward to dancing with you!
Jen Griffin (she/her)
Jen Griffin is a certified personal trainer and yoga teacher. Her main goal is to provide a safe and fun space just to MOVE!
Catherine Hansen (she/her)
Releasing childhood trauma, cultivating self-awareness of inner most thoughts, bodily sensations and reactions is the theme of Catherine’s self-healing journey. Realizing she held the key to her healing is the main reason why Qigong has resonated and impacted her life so profoundly; for Qigong has a way of allowing people to simply notice and become in touch with their inner worlds. When Catherine first walked into a Qigong class she had no idea she was about to take steps toward a new and more healed life. Catherine was already cognizant of how energy feels as it travels through the body being an energy healer and having been taught different types of shamanic practices. However, this was the first time she had experienced it through such an accessible form of moving meditation. By simply recognizing Qi as it manifested in her hands and heart-center she had instantly, and inevitably, begun to transform her life. Through the refinement of her Qigong practice, Catherine soon began to feel “in her body again.” This alone immensely aided in easing somatic responses and unchaining herself from traumatic events that kept her from being fully present. Witnessing her life change before her eyes, Catherine knew she had to incorporate this practice into the healing she wanted to offer the world and soon began training how she can teach this life-changing practice.
Cynthia Hoag (she/her)
Dragon Rising Wellness
Cynthia and George have been practicing tai chi since 1994. Fresh in recovery, they looked for different ways to connect with others in a healthy way.
Tai chi was the perfect fit as a martial art, but it also served as a meditative modality that worked to help them ground in their sobriety. These early years in sobriety, and participating in healthy activities were a foundation, for many longstanding healthy relationships with groups and individuals. They have been practicing tai chi for almost 30 years and have studied under Master Malee Khow along with other renowned teachers. Cynthia and George have participated in many tournaments as competitors and National Judges. They continue to upgrade their skills in different forms, teaching and meditative practices.
For a full bio, please visit dragonrisewell.wixsite.com/home
Nzima Hutchings (she/her)
Nzima Hutchings is an award-winning author, poetess, artist advocate, and literary art wellness, coach. She is a newly appointed board member of the Enfield Culture Arts Commission. The visionary, owner, CEO, and program director of Hartford’s L.I.T., as it moves into five years of bringing a Hartford Book Festival to Hartford annually and other community literary programming. Nzima is the Cultural Literary Arts Advisor of the nonprofit organization, Ujima African American Alliance in Enfield, CT.
Nzima is an active member of the National Association for Poetry Therapy. In addition, she is the founder and sole owner of Every Kinda Lady Co., helping women to use writing as a healing tool from trauma. She has written several custom journals for various organizations. In addition, she is the curator, editor, and author of two bestselling poetry anthologies. (Every Kinda Lady and Her Sisters Pages 2020 and 2022). Thus, publishing over thirty women a year to share their unedited truths. As a literary artist advocate and teaching artist Nzima has facilitated and taught spoken word for social justice and writing to wellness, at Hartford’s Arts Academy in partnership with ActUp Arts Theater Academy, Buckley High School, Mount Holyoke College, Toivo Wellness Center, Advocacy Unlimited, Trinity Health of New England and the Connecticut Alliances. She hosts a monthly creative writing workshop virtually.
As one of the 2021 Independent Artist Fund recipients, Nzima was able to take two dozen women to a Literary Art Wellness Weekend Retreat, and launch a new seasonal magazine LAWR. Currently, Nzima is working in partnership with Elm City Lit, Possible Future Bookstore, and a team to launch the Fred Hampton Project and Poetry Contest in New Haven Connecticut, and a youth program for girls with, A Queen’s Narrative, LLC of Massachusetts.
Published works are on BN.com, Amazon.com, New York Writer’s Coalition, Freshwater Literary Journal, Poets For Haiti, BMA, and When Women Speaks .
Contact Nzima at: email@example.com
Jodene Minnis (she/her)
Connecticut native Jodene Minnis is a self taught visual artist. Jodene has spent most of her life using expressive healing techniques, such as art, crafting, poetry, and dance as a therapeutic release of emotional trauma. With the transition of her parents, Jodene felt lost, and developed codependency and abandonment issues. Finding help in the community and given a spiritual foundation, Jodene was guided to a healthier lifestyle which aided in her struggles of self-love and self- worth. Jodene’s path of wellness has lead her to the love of crystals, astrology, herbs, and a deeper connection with nature. As Jodene continues to grow, she utilizes her growth to help others gain confidence, self security, and emotional freedom, opening new pathways of creative healing.
Hilary Rudenauer (she/her)
Hilary Rudenauer is a 500-Hour Kripalu Yoga Teacher, Reiki Practitioner, Postpartum Doula, owner of The Mindful Mama and proud member and founder of the Toivo community. Hilary’s approach to facilitation is born from her own lived experience and rooted in trauma-informed principles, accessibility, and relatability. She is grateful for every opportunity to create spaces where real conversations, healing, and transformation can occur.
Mark Zarrillo (he/him)
Mark Zarrillo is a versatile drummer, percussionist, drum circle leader and sound therapy practitioner. He holds an M.A. in Humanities from SUNY at Buffalo, has traveled to Guinea for a drumming and culture intensive, and is a trained HealthRHYTHMS® facilitator. Mark draws upon his rich knowledge of West African music and culture, as well as over forty years of drumming wisdom, when creating community and helping others express their own individual rhythmic spirit. Mark has been organizing rhythm-centric events throughout Connecticut since 2005.
Craig Norton (he/him)
Craig Norton started “Hands on Drumming” in 1998, offering community drum circles throughout CT. Over the last 20 years, Hands on Drumming has played for hundreds of thousands of people of all ages and abilities in schools, libraries, wellness centers, hospitals and community events throughout the Northeast. Craig specializes in participatory drumming as a wellness activity, combining musical expression, community connection, multicultural awareness and physical activity. He is also a professional photographer and filmmaker and directed “Rhythms of Life”, a documentary about the wellness of drumming, coming out in 2019. He is endorsed by Remo Drums. This is not a job or hobby for Craig. It is his life’s passion to share the power of the drum with everyone.
For more information please visit www.handsondrumct.com.