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User Spotlight: Mariah Gruner, Chrysalis Institute

Get to know Mariah Gruner, Program Coordinator at Chrysalis Institute.

“I love seeing people feel able to share their thoughts, beliefs, and deep questions without fear of judgment or dogmatic response.”

Tell us a little about yourself and your work. 

I graduated from Tufts University with a degree in anthropology and a deep interest in how people find and sustain meaning in their lives. I’d characterize myself as a seeker, and when I happened upon Chrysalis Institute through a series of serendipitous events, I was immediately drawn to the organization’s focus on inclusivity and exploration, providing people with opportunities and resources to expand their spiritual horizons. 

There are a growing number of people looking for some kind of personal fulfillment, meaning, and community outside of the structures of any traditional faith and Chrysalis Institute has risen to meet that need. We offer workshops, lectures, and practice groups on a variety of issues related to spiritual and personal development, all aimed at providing people with experiences that invite a deepening or expansion of their spiritual path. 

How does ConnectVA’s mission align with your work and how do you leverage ConnectVA to achieve your mission?

Chrysalis is all about giving people the tools to take charge of their own spiritual path. We bring together experts in science, philosophy, psychology, and religion and draw upon that assembled knowledge to provide people with tools for their own spiritual growth. There is no Chrysalis creed or dogma; there is simply space, resources, and a community of fellow seekers. To me, the ConnectVA mission of both empowering individuals and strengthening community gets to the very core of Chrysalis Institute. 

I love that ConnectVA makes me feel a part of a nonprofit community, both by simply showing that a community already exists and by actively working to strengthen and sustain it. I think it’s safe to say that many people working in non-profits, even if their specific missions are different, share both the common goals and struggles. Through ConnectVA, we feel revitalized about our mission by seeing the work of those around us and seek to mitigate the burdens that being a nonprofit often entails — working with scarce resources and the daily realities of organizational management. I particularly love the item exchange section of the website and the tools to help people find pro bono services. And I’m always checking the community events calendar!

What do you find most rewarding about your work?

The sense of community and openness that springs up in our programs is always amazing to me. It is so easy for people to move through the world without connecting with strangers, but I have found that the people that come to Chrysalis programs somehow become willing to drop many of those walls. Time and again, I’ve been humbled by a participant’s story or by the kindness of the person next to me. I love seeing people feel able to share their thoughts, beliefs, and deep questions without fear of judgment or dogmatic response.

What’s next for your organization?

Having just prepared the fall program plan for our website, my brain is still steeped in that material! I’ve been researching our keynote speaker, Dr. James Gates, and I find his work fascinating and his resume beyond impressive. Dr. Gates teaches physics at the University of Maryland, serves on the Presidential Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, won the 2013 National Medal of Science, and is a frequent guest on PBS’s NOVA. 

As part of our fall programming theme, Science & Spirituality: Living with Uncertainty, we are partnering with the Science Museum of Virginia to bring Dr. Gates to Richmond to talk about new research in Superstring Theory and the relationship between spiritual and scientific exploration. I’ve always been interested in the particular ways in which science and religion both seek to answer profound questions about the human experience and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to hear Dr. Gates’ perspective as a theoretical physicist and man of faith.

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