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Leticia Gonzalez-Reyes, 109 World
Leticia Gonzalez-Reyes, 109 World

Leticia Gonzalez-Reyes thought she would spend this year building her nonprofit. Instead, she is building her resilience.

Leticia Gonzalez-Reyes started 2020 with so much hope. “So many of us thought that 2020 was going to be THE year,” she says. She started the new year at a gathering in Vancouver. “I am not a New Year’s resolution person. But at the start of every year, I choose a word for that year. My word for 2020? BUILD.”

Leticia started her nonprofit 109 World five years ago. Like any startup, they have had their struggles. “For 2019, my word was FOCUS. That really helped 109. It felt like, in 2020, I was going to harvest all the fruits that I planted the previous year. In short, I thought the soil, the foundation was finally strong so I could start building my organization the way I always envisioned. That’s why my word for 2020 is ‘build.’”

109 World hosts retreats for people to renew themselves and to join in service projects. “What is self-care without a chance to put that into service in the world? On every 109 experience, we partner with local grassroots organizations. We positively impact communities and environments. Volunteering with them allows us to put our hands in the soil, break bread together, and truly gain perspective of our place in the world. In five years, we have supported over 400 alumni in adopting more sustainable and mindful ways of living.”

Past volunteer opportunities include clean drinking water projects, women and girls’ education, animal welfare, the refugee crisis, food security, and disaster relief. 109 World has partnered with over a dozen local grassroots organizations across 11 countries.

February of this year found Leticia visiting her family in Brazil. It was Carnival time. “Everybody was happy and looking forward to what 2020 had in store for all of us,” she remembers. “Coronavirus was not that big, that scary. It was not yet a global crisis.”

Survival Mode

Then came Friday, March 6. The Coronavirus halted international travel.

“My phone had 22 WhatsApp messages, and seven missed calls. The 22 WhatsApp messages were follow-ups from 22 extremely rude emails in my inbox. People were freaking out that 109 World had not issued a statement about the pandemic. People wanted to know what our community should do.”

Community members had put down deposits. They wanted to know about refunds.

“I entered survival mode. I called my board to come up with an emergency plan.” With the board, Leticia decided to refund all deposits. She then called the hotels and other service providers, whom she had pre-paid. Unfortunately, they were not willing to repay her.

Leticia spent the rest of the day on the phone with upset customers, assuring them that they would receive a refund.

Bankruptcy Within and Without

“Giving the refunds, and not being able to get refunds ourselves, we only had one month of survival left.”

Leticia felt a sense of overwhelming fear. “I had palpitations, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, nausea, and dizziness.” Her sister, who is a doctor, told Leticia, “I think you are having an anxiety attack.”

“I am someone whose work is to help people live a more mindful life. So, stress, anxiety, and business don’t continue to control their lives. And, for them to avoid burnout. Yet, here I am having my first anxiety attack. Honestly, I felt like a complete failure. I felt like I let my community down. I let my business down. And, I let myself down.

“We curate these experiences to teach people practical tools. The reason we call them practical tools is, we want them to know how to apply those tools in any situation. So, for me to know that I had been preaching and teaching this, and I can’t do it myself. This does not feel right or good.”

Build A Home Within

So, Leticia went back to her word for the year, build. “Honestly, that felt like a joke for me. I wanted to find a new word. But, when I sat down to think of this, I had an intuition. So, I searched on the internet, and I came across the etymology of the word ‘build.’ It comes from Proto-Germanic, and it means ‘house.’ And, it clicked for me. I thought it was not about building my nonprofit. I need to build my home within.

“I feel like I’ve only been taking energy and resources from within myself. I have not been nourishing that place. I have neglected that for so many years.

“I have built schools. I have built sea turtle sanctuaries and water harvesting systems. I have built an incredible community. I have even built a curriculum about self-care and building a home within. And, here I am, without a home within me.

“There is research from Imperative. Burnout, stress, and dissatisfaction happen more often for individuals working for impact-driven organizations. Day-to-day, we are helping. We’re working hard to create change. We think that work will automatically fulfill us and heal us and recharge us. It turns out it doesn’t.”

Leticia began to practice everything in the 109 World curriculum. “Honestly, I look like a lunatic,” Leticia explains. “I sit on a couch, and I feel my entire body. Since that first anxiety attack, I can now see it coming. And I can control it. Having awareness helps so much.”

Lessons Learned

Even though 109 World is still suffering financially, Leticia is beginning to glean lessons from her experience. “We can’t always control our circumstances,” she says, “But we can control how we respond to them. And, we are all less able to handle the challenges that come our way when we are already depleted by physical and emotional exhaustion.

“Physical exhaustion is so easy to identify because we have invested so much in that. We got to know our bodies. But emotional and mental fatigue is like a dark room. Before I had my anxiety attack, I would never say I am mentally or emotionally exhausted. But the anxiety attack was a consequence of exhaustion.

“We are more resilient and able to handle life’s challenges when we are feeling our best mentally, physically, and emotionally.”

In other words, we are at our best when we build our home within.

Learn More About Leticia Gonzalez-Reyes and 109 World: