Stories and Testimonials from Call and Response Foundation


Behind Bars

The Foundation’s partnership with Mindful Yoga in Salem Oregon has connected our Behind Bars program with 4 correctional institutes in the Pacific Northwest.  Mindful Yoga’s volunteer teachers offer regular meditation, yoga and chanting events to minimum and  maximum security institutions.  In 2012, the 4 man ensemble of Gaura Vani, John de Kadt, Benjy Wertheimer and Purusartha Dasa offered a live chant event after successfully cleaing the extensive background check and entry restrictions.  Comments after the event included: “This is the first time I’ve felt free behind bars after 25 years in prison” and “this was the best day I’ve had on prison”.

Another inmate stated, “I was there at Oregon State Correctional Facility when you and the rest of your kirtan group The Hanumen came – and also when Benjy and his wife came in February. Both of those times were moments where I completely forgot where I was and felt as If I wasn’t captivated by the state but rather by the joy and interest I gain from music and my spirituality. Thank you so much”.

“Please know how grateful I am that our whole Nashville community continues to be blessed by your presence. Thank for your humble & tireless service and dedication to awakening & mercy in this world. As individuals, you are such beautiful men and amazing talents and together, as a unified force, you are a super power…of Healing, Joy, & Love”. -A. B.

Even more inmates have voiced their appreciation:

“I’m always hesitant when volunteers come in and tell us that they want to make this a ‘safe place’. I am very suspicious about ‘safe places’. I’ve been hurt in ‘safe places’. But I’ve come to realize that the weekly yoga class really is a safe place, somewhere I can let the walls down and be me. I orient my week around the yoga class; it is where I get recharged for the next week, and I can tell it in myself if I miss a week or a class is cancelled. Thank you for being here.” – C.

“The prison is never quiet. There is always the sound of the slamming doors, the shouting officers, the ever-present whoosh of the HVAC system. It is never quiet. I went to yoga thinking it was nothing but stretching, and as a runner I needed a good stretching routine. What I found was peace and quiet. I don’t mean it was quiet in the room…it was, but it is never quiet…what I mean is that I found a place on the mat in the poses that was peaceful to me. I found the moment. I found a connection with my breath and my body that I carried with me each and every day of the week. That helped me so much. The prison is never quiet, but I can find a space inside me that is now. I’ve never had that before. You don’t know how much it means…you really don’t.” – J.

Mahashivaratri … the perfect time to chant, where the already extraordinary power of the Shiva mantras. We have the utmost gratitude at our Kirtan Monday at Oregon State Penitentiary … our experiences there have always been powerful, but this last time moved me incredibly. All the men really gave themselves to the practice, and, at the end, a man who would probably fit many of our stereotypes of a classic maximum-security inmate came up to me with tears in his eyes, throwing his arms around me in a great loving hug. “From the moment we started singing, I knew I just HAD to hug you, man … Thank you, thank you, thank you for coming to be with us and share this love.” – Benjy Wertheimer

Scholarship Recipient

Call and response foundation provided me with a scholarship to attend a weekend Kirtan retreat with Devadas in New Hampshire. I was new to Kirtan but felt extremely drawn to it and wanted to learn more. The weekend was an absolutely amazing experience. Chanting made me feel so alive and connected to the divine, it was like nothing I had ever felt before. I bought a harmonium and within a couple of months started playing in yoga classes. I love sharing this with people in the yoga community, some who have never seen a harmonium or experienced call and response chanting. The Foundation has continued to be great supports for me on this journey. They have made this all possible for me and are doing amazing work! – Jesalyn Eatchel

Microsoft Mantras

In the spring of 2013, the Foundation received a grant for a new website through New England Give Camp and Microsoft.  At the resulting tech conference in downtown Boston we met for 40 consecutive hours with a team of graphic designers, web developers and technicians who donated their time and expertise.  Our lead designer was a kind, energetic web designer whose family heritage connected with our mission but who had never chanted himself.  Over the 3 days of Give Camp we discussed the roots of the bhakti tradition, the message and vision, and the contribution that chanting offers for peace, personal health and transformation.   For weeks after the camp we continued to receive volunteer services from him to finish our website project.  One day an email came from him asking about the possibility of attending one of our events.  I found this request particulary inspiring as the opportunity to chant had been available to him throughout his life through his family, but it was the contact with Call and Response that awakened his interest.  We gifted tickets to our web developer and he went to his first chant event!  He enjoyed it and continues to be invested in the Foundation.

Brenda McMorrow, Participating Musician

I have been given the great honor of having been able to share Kirtan with inmates at two Oregon State Prisons with John de Kadt this week. I have been deeply moved by this experience. The men who attended our Kirtan, especially in the facility that houses many who are in for 25 years to life, are deep practitioners of yoga and meditation, who live their practice in a way that is humbling and inspiring to be in the presence of. I bow down with gratitude to the Call and Response Foundation (Jennifer CanfieldEd Ritz and Susan and staff) who make it possible for myself, John, Heather andBenjy WertheimerShantala, The Music of Heather and Benjy Wertheimer,Gaura Vani Buchwald and Purusartha Dasa and more to visit these prisons. And to Sean Johnson, Gwendolyn and Alvin Young of Sean Johnson And The Wild Lotus Band for helping to raise funds for us to be able to do this.

Reflections from Brenda and John DeKadt visit to Second Spring Psychiatric Facility: It was a very sweet experience for us to be welcomed to sing with the residents and staff of Second Spring. It was wonderful to see people interested in and engaged in what we were sharing, often singing and clapping along. One resident shared that he felt very inspired by John’s poetry to revisit his own creative pursuits. This made us very happy! There were a lot of smiles and appreciation from the residents and from ourselves as we prepared to leave. Thank you, Call and Response for making this possible!

Personal Letter

This is an excerpt from a letter written by a board member, Edward Ritz to our of our participating musicians, Gauravani.

“Listening to chanting by the musician Gaura Vani, I hear what sounds to me like the Finale of a Broadway musical!!  It is like the story of awakening from illusion. In this song all the parts and other songs come together for the Grand Finale. It has everything:  there is the Gospel Choir, the R&B diva, the chorus, and the kirtan wallah leading call and response. It has everything to lift the soul to remember what we were born for: to worship God, to worship Love. So wake up and take the medicine that will wipe out illusion.  Thank you for bringing this into the world so we can all be inspired and encouraged to Love”.

John de Kadt, Participating Musician

Thanks to all the hard work of Jennifer Canfield and The Call and Response Foundation, Brenda McMorrow and I where able to play two kirtans at two Oregon State Correctional Institutions which are full on prisons. The men who came …many of them in for 25 years to life…are all practicing yoga and mediation and are amazing beings doing incredibly deep work on themselves. I can’t express what an honor and heart opening experience it was to be with them in song and bhakti. This work is all made doable by The Call Response Foundations vision and hard work.

A Group Writes About Chanting at a Maximum Security Prison

Thank you all so much for your courage, presence and sincere participation in our Friday night Kirtan, a brand new experience for most of you.  I continue to be in awe & wonder at the art & practice of Kirtan, the mysterious and practical/scientific way that it helps to open our hearts and clear our minds, returning us to a deeper state of pure feeling.  Even in our doubts and unknowing, singing these Names, these mantras, have a way of opening and delivering us to an inner connection with our true nature, which is love; a welcome blessing in the midst of the constant challenges of daily life, whatever our outer circumstances happen to be.  One of you said, “Tonight, this place was not a prison.”  I got chills when I heard this.  For me, those words are a testament to the journey within, to yoga, to the inner freedom that is always available to us, as we have the courage to breath into our hearts and call out, sing out from that place deep in the heart of longing, for peace, for connection, for love, for union with all of life.  We hope to return to Riverbend and sing some more, to continue our exploration and practice of Bhakti Yoga Kirtan.

Organizers of Chant Events Offer Gratitude to Musicians

On behalf of Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh and other Dharma & Yoga Fest organizers, I would take this opportunity to express our sincere gratitude to you. Bhakti Yoga track would not have been the same without your participation. We all loved your kirtan and the love and bliss was felt and quite visible when everyone was immersed in Bhakti Rasa.
To one of our participating musicians, Gaura Vani: “I was really touched by your service attitude and sense of selfless gratitude at the chant event in DC”. – S.M.
“Last night’s kirtan was wonderful. Everyone appreciated it very much and it all worked out perfect. I am very grateful to you for making this happen. I sincerely appreciate your efforts in giving kirtan to the nation and to us in the Tampa Bay area.” -U.S.

A note from Abby Tassel, Assistant Director at the WISE Program Center: “I wanted to thank you for facilitating Pure Kirtan’s visit to WISE this past Saturday. It was absolutely beautiful.  We were so happy to welcome women and men who have been longtime friends of the organization as well as new connections.  A sense of joy, love and peace infused the space. We had 12 people attend and there was someone else who wasn’t feeling well and was resting in another room nearby.  When I asked her if she heard the chanting, she said she did and could feel the tug of the bright energy and said it sounded “fun”, and that being there, even in another room was worth it”.

“I saw the Hanumen at Freedom Yoga last night for the first time. It was a life changing experience! It made me realize that I had been searching for something for a very long time and finally found it. There are no words to express how I felt during the experience and after. I am forever grateful!”


Retreat Participants

The 2013 Hanumen Retreat was one of the most moving experiences of my life.  A three day weekend spent totally embraced in love with dear souls, great friends, and family on a stunning property.  The freedom of camping outside, coming and going with no place to go and really nothing to do except be.  Time to savor food.  Time to sing.  Time to meditate.  Time to heal.  Time to swim.  Present enough to have substantive conversations.  Time out of time.  We were continually struck by how everything happened so organically, so seamlessly, and so sincerely.  It was a lot like being at a wedding that you really want to be at and don’t want to be over.  The Houlihan family, of 6, is so deeply grateful to the our Maine hosts, the Hanumen and the Call and Response Foundation for making this event possible.

Thank you again for organizing such a warm and wonderful retreat. Everything was above and beyond and exceeded any expectations I might have had! Between the people, the food, yoga, chanting and more, I couldn’t have had a better time. Looking forward to the next! -D.C.

Never in a million years would I have expected to nourish & express my soul (and sing “I love you” out loud) at work, let alone at a management retreat. You do great work. Thank you!