Yoga for the USO

“It really bothers me that we’ve been at two wars for 10 years and the direct impact for seeing it in our community isn’t there.”

Karen Citow, owner of a Chicago-area yoga studio, is willing to go to the mat for our troops and their families. The 34-year-old mother of three was looking for a tangible, meaningful way to show her support, so she decided to donate all her profits for the year to the USO of Illinois.

“My husband and I are in complete awe of the bravery and dedication of the men and women who volunteer for our armed forces,” she says.

Karen in action

Citow, a former licensed clinical therapist, believes that yoga makes people kinder to themselves and others, resulting in an outpouring of goodwill and good deeds.

This taut, toned and relentlessly optimistic entrepreneur opened Breathe…A Yoga Oasis in 2010 as an entirely philanthropic venture. She draws no salary, and each year, she picks a different charity to receive any studio profits.

Leslie Wooten, associate director of development for the USO of Illinois, thinks the idea is “totally new and totally awesome.”

“It’s about paying it forward and supporting causes that matter in the world,” says Wooten.

But Citow knows she has skeptics. To date, her business hasn’t actually generated any revenue beyond its operating expenses, so she’s had to come up with other ways to raise money. Once a week she teaches a Dedication Class, with all the revenue—usually more than $100 per week—going directly to her chosen charity.

In 2011, that amounted to nearly $5,000 for a local cancer foundation. In 2010, Citow raised more than $13,000 for UNICEF, with a boost from a successful Halloween, trick-or-treating fundraiser.

She hopes to come up with new fundraising ideas this year, and she believes her business will finally be in the black, allowing her to give even more generously to the USO of Illinois.

Citow chose the USO because of its reputation for supporting active duty troops and military families. She worries that too many Americans have no connection at all to the men and women who defend our freedom.

“I try to make sure that our kids are really aware this is happening, and to be grateful and thankful … that people are sacrificing and serving.”

Citow knows that most other small business owners can’t forgo their salaries or give away their profits. She calls herself fortunate—her husband is a successful surgeon, so she doesn’t have to work. Her studio allows her to use her time and talents to promote the benefits of yoga, while giving back for all her blessings.

“I hate to say I wanted to make the world a better place, but it’s true!” she admits with a laugh, “I’m proud of what I’m doing… and I love yoga and believe that if more people practiced yoga the world could be a healthier and kinder place.” – Malini Wilkes, USO Director of Story Development

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