(Reprinted from the East Hampton Star, May 2002.)
More than two decades ago, when Lorraine Simone was teaching times tables to fourth graders in a New York City public school, she said she had a different calling.
"I had this vision of providing people with a more holistic and healthy life by helping them create their own personal relationship with the earth," said the owner of Moonfire Meeting House, a center in Southampton that provides a variety of "earth-based" services, including women's circles, spiritual retreats, drumming sessions, and products for sale.
Ms. Simone, who has a master's degree in environmental science and education, said she had some serious soul-searching to do before she left her full-time teaching job.
"I asked myself, do I stay at this cushy job that traditionally we're encouraged to go after, or do I pursue something that's less secure but more of personal value?"
With savings from her 12 years of teaching set aside, she left education, and in the early 1980s, with the help of a partner, she opened a store in Manhattan, Planet Earth, where they sold such products as solar-powered toys. At that time she also started attending and teaching women's circles, and on weekends during the summer she came out to the East End.
In 1990, after she and her partner closed their store, she "followed a calling," moved out to Southampton full time, and opened Moonfire Meeting House. She decided she would still sell products as she did at Planet Earth, but her focus would be teaching holistic, earth-based classes.
Without a partner this time, Ms. Simone worked from home, struggling to keep Moonfire open even part time. With hardly any money coming in initially, she supported herself primarily by teaching Board of Cooperative Educational Services classes.
"I kept Moonfire open with great difficulty and a lot of work. Every nickel I made doing BOCES went to pay rent and buy groceries and . . . pay for spaces for women's circles for Moonfire," she said.
To attract customers initially, she did not charge a lot for her classes. For example, at that time the going rate for a women's circle in Manhattan was $10, so she charged $5. Many of her clients both then and now are people who visited the East End from the city, so these reduced prices were attractive to them, she said.
Today she charges $20 for a circle, about $5 less than what you'd pay in Manhattan. "But I can't live on the classes," she said.
What turned her business around and enabled her to open a commercial space on Montauk Highway in Southampton in 1994 was Moonfire's School of Women's Ways, which evolved from the women's circles. The school is a nine-month program during which women meet one weekend a month at a cost of $200 per weekend, and through discussion, singing, sculpting, and cooking, focus on issues including self-esteem, creating holistic lifestyles, and learning to honor themselves.
"You learn a lot about life when you have a group of women in the kitchen together," she said, emphasizing the cooking aspect of the program.
Ms. Simone also offers weekend retreats that focus on other issues, many of which are open to men as well as women. In fact, men have increasingly become a part of her clientele, which prompted her to begin a men-only circle recently.
"The circle was an outcry from husbands and boyfriends who saw changes in their wives and girlfriends and they wanted to know how they did that," she said.
Moonfire Meeting House
1691 County Rd. 39
Southampton, New York 11968
phone / fax 631-287-9000