Desire for lifestyle change prompted The Light Center
Robin Goff and her 8-year-old granddaughter, India Alstrin, and two guests sat Friday at the end of a long table, soaking up the warmth from a wood-burning stove.
The coziness of the space in the Light Center about 12 miles southwest of Baldwin City belied its origin as the ground floor of a horse barn and its appearance when Goff first saw it 18 years ago. At that time, it would have provided little shelter even for livestock with its missing siding and a failing roof.
But Goff saw the potential of the barn, which was still structurally sound, and the adjoining farmhouse on 35 wooded acres along a creek.
When she bought the property, Goff was a hospice chaplain with a background as a registered nurse, living in Johnson County. She was looking to break away from her urban lifestyle but also wanted a place she could continue to teach the healing touch and meditation-centered stress-management techniques she used to calm those in hospice care.
“My idea from the start was to have a healing place of meditation,” Goff said. “My idea was to have a place to teach people about natural and holistic healing.”
Other like-minded people she knew had voiced interest in joining in the venture but were unable to make the commitment when Goff bought the property.
“I had some people interested in starting something, but when you buy a place in the county people say ‘I have kids in school,’ or ‘I have a job in the city,” she said. “I did it pretty much by myself.”
“It was a three-year renovation. It’s still going on. It will be going on forever.”
Goff found help in the innovation when she married her husband, Richard Goff, a Topeka mail carrier, just as she started the renovation. Although he was also busy remodeling a farmhouse he had just purchased at Lake Perry, he did provide advice as her vision took shape.
“He taught me a lot,” she said. “I had never lived in the country. I just jumped in and got started. I had no idea what I was doing.”
Goff said she now can handle a chainsaw. Although her husband cuts a majority of the firewood, she, too, helps satisfy the center’s appetite for wood needed for campfires and its sweat lodge.
The remodeled barn is now the heart of the Light Center’s activities. The ground floor provides a part-time residence for Goff when she is not at Perry Lake or on one of her yearly trips to South Africa. It is also available for overnight or weekend stays.
Although thoroughly remodeled, the upper floor remains an open loft, perfect for classes or group gatherings.
“We’ve had United Methodist Women here, Jewish, Quaker and Native American groups,” Goff said. “You name it. We’re very accommodating. Any group can use this space.”
The grounds include the sweat lodge, fire pits, campgrounds and walking trails for those enjoying a weekend retreat or attending drum circles, fairy fairs or other events.
The Light Center’s isolated wooded site aids in those “transformational” experiences, Goff said.
“That’s why I came here to this sacred place,” she said. “I wanted to be here teaching rather than in a hospital meeting room with no windows and fluorescent lights. I did that for years.
“People come here to get away from the city and to feel what it’s like to be part of nature and to experience the night sky.”
Goff said caretakers Berrigan Willmott and Kaitlin Curtis, who live in the property’s farmhouse, have pointed the Light Center in the new directions of sustainable agricultural and energy.
They are practicing with a sustainable garden and hoop house and by making the farmhouse and remodeled barn more energy efficient, Goff said. The Light Center also will spread the message through classes and lectures, she said.
“We’ve hooked up with people all over the place,” she said. “People on the same path of learning to live differently on this earth.”