Mind Body and Soul
By: Krysta Kearney
Gem Rhodes is a cultivator, a purveyor of spreading and promoting the many talents that the people of her community have to offer. Her compassionate attitude and strong nature has helped her successfully create one of the largest expos in New York State, known as the Mind Body Soul Expo which takes place every year in Saratoga Springs. It’s an event to discover, explore and experience a unique variety of wellness, health and holistic exhibitors. As a woman who gathers and sow’s various vendors of her eclectic community, she has managed to forge a network of people that has transcended to a much larger capacity than she ever imagined. In reality, there really is no capacity, every year the event succeeds her expectations and she attributes this to everyone who is part of it, not just herself. Rhodes is in it for the good, for the community. She is one of the most selfless people there is. Her events are made for all ages and all people, there is diversity and offers something for everyone.
“I think it's amazing and awesome when you have people coming together from all walks of life (different backgrounds, different upbringings, different belief systems) when you bring them together in that environment, people love being there together. We are like a ray of sunshine coming out of the city center, it’s all positive.”
During a traumatic time in her life, a mentor helped lift her up through the dark times, guided her with strength and the ability to get to a better place. When she asked how she could repay them, they said, ‘When you are able to (and you’ll know when the time is right) I want you to pay it forward.’ Rhodes always took that to heart and says it feels good that she can contribute, that she now has this large expo helping 1000’s of people. It’s always been important to her for people to feel the connection that Mind Body Soul (MBS) can bring, that it encompasses so much more. The event in itself is a connector, it has power. All the participants, the vendors, performers; everyone plays a part. They create a microcosm in itself, a community space that captures something that is much larger than the construct of it’s walls. It’s a place where people share, learn and educate one another.
This past year Rhodes has had her tribulations, as with everyone has amidst the Covid-19 Pandemic. The expo was scheduled for April 11, 2020 at Saratoga’s largest event space, their City Center. There were going to be 150 vendors, exhibitions, music and so much more but it all came to halt, was postponed and then ultimately cancelled. It kept getting pushed back as the pandemic persisted.
“This whole past year was just so horrible for everyone…it affected everybody, (it’s not like it was going on somewhere else) the whole entire world was involved, it was so insanely surreal, the whole situation.”
The pandemic hasn’t held Rhodes back, as a self starter she realized she needed to adapt and create something. She recognized how it’s a time where people need creativity and community the most so she conjured up some creative ways to maintain a community and spark conversation. Rhodes created a Mind Body Soul Facebook group, an online version of the expo where people can go and share their ideas, collaborate, discover and explore wellness, health and holistic themed topics. It’s a safe space for like minded individuals to find freedom and a place for self expression. Eventually the online expo took on it’s own character and became something bigger than she ever foresaw, with its members being the driving force. Now, there are upwards of 2,000 members, all who are there with intention, seeking community during a time when it is needed the most. In addition to the online virtual event space, Rhodes (once CDC allowed) created a series of smaller outdoor events in efforts to support local crafters and bring much needed creativity to the community.
“It was hard to practice mindfulness and staying in the moment because my wheels turn constantly. I learned a lot of patience through 2020. This is how it is and you have to do it one day at a time.”
Rhodes has always considered herself to be adaptable, it’s one of her strong suits. With successful event planning, there is no other way. What the common person sees happening at an event is not what happens behind the scenes. You have to adapt, accommodate and improvise. Through life she has always had to think on her toes. In talking with her about various work trades, she relates to all of them as always having to be open to pivoting especially during the hardest and most intimidating times.
She attributes her ability to do this starting with her childhood, as she had a positive and strong upbringing. Her parents not only encouraged her to try everything from music to sports but they also supported her in what she wanted to do. They always told her she had to work hard in order to get what she wanted and looking back on it now, she recognizes it as one of the most valuable lessons in life.
“My dad always said, ‘If you put your mind to it you can achieve anything.’ Earlier in life it didn’t really make sense to me. Now being a part of the expo and learning the different modalities and mediation, mindfulness, manifest…(all encompassing) it all makes sense.”
Rhodes started working at fourteen in the restaurant industry and continued through her teens and early twenties. In high school, she sometimes didn’t recognize the value, as her friends were off doing fun things while she was working but if she wanted something, she earned it. She knew early on what working hard gets you.
“If you work hard you can get what you want, if you put your mind to it you can get what you want, don’t sell yourself short because you don’t have an education or a college degree, don’t think that you can’t get what you want.”
Rhodes doesn’t have a college degree, most of her skill set is based on life experience and determination. She’s always had a charisma that pushes her. Eventually she started to seek fulfillment somewhere else, the restaurant industry just wasn’t cutting it anymore, it can be so hit or miss and unstable. She found herself in a place where she wanted a more consistent paycheck and job security and began working at a local pharmacy at an entry level position. Rhodes attributes her customer service success from having worked in restaurants for so many years. It was a complete career pivot but she knew she could prove to herself and to others that she could do it.
Starting as a cashier, she quickly realized there was more opportunity and decided to . become nationally certified as a pharmacy technician. She studied day and night and passed the certification test. This career advancement led her to moving out of state, to New Hampshire to another pharmacy where in a short amount of time she was promoted to a lead technician position, based on her unparalleled work ethic. She then observed various pharmacies around the region where her primary focus was recognizing weak spots and errors within the businesses and would take action to remedy them. This led her to become a pharmacy trainer, where she watched over nine regional pharmacies training a consistent flow of over ninety employees.
“It was made for me. I worked hard, I was motivated to do what I did. The position was awesome. I believe this is where my experience in event planning began. I was having to break things down, (understand) loss prevention, I figured out foot traffic, workflow…and (all of it) just made sense to me. I didn’t have a whole lot of training, I just looked at it and it made sense.”
After being at the pharmacy for two years, the company expanded and there was an opportunity in Hawaii to train new staff. She was one of the select few chosen to go out and train technicians. This experience was honorable and exciting. Once she came back from a few months in Hawaii, she and her husband decided that their relationship wasn’t working anymore. The relationship was short, it only lasted a couple years.
“I was in my 30’s when I got married but I was still young minded, and he was too. I think where we were at, at the time was good for us, but I think we grew apart and that’s fine. I wouldn’t have met my hubby now, and he is my life, my best friend.”
After they split, she moved to Utah for a bit and did some soul searching. The time made her realize she wanted to be closer to her family again. She discovered through her travels and after having been away for so long that family was more important than she had accredited it to be and felt the desire to move close to them. In 2012, she packed a car and drove back east, to Saratoga Springs. Soon after, she met her now husband (well they have been with each other for eight years and are engaged, but she calls him her hubby) and couldn’t have found a more amicable partner in life. They actually met through mutual friends during high school but don’t remember each other from that time period.
“I love Saratoga, this is where my heart and soul is. There’s so much here, between the mineral springs, SPAC, the track…there’s so much here, why would you leave!?”
Amongst all the highlights in Rhodes’ life, she has also experienced a lot of trauma. These negative experiences she prefers not to speak about in detail publicly as they have had such an impact on her life. She is a PTSD survivor.
“Those experiences have created the person that I am today, so it’s hard to say I’m thankful for those things but had I not gotten through the situations and dealing with those dramas and what not, I don’t think I would be who I am today.”
She coped with a lot of life’s tribulations with the use of alcohol, and during a time in her 20’s she sought help and had ten years of sobriety. At some point, she broke her personal pact but then again in 2016, she and her husband, together supported each other in their personal quests and became sober together. To this day, neither of them drink alcohol. She used alcohol as a way for her to escape her past traumas but in reality, the mind altering substance would actually bring a lot of the emotions back up so in turn it was doing the opposite effect to her that she initially would drink for.
“With my PTSD, I have bad anxiety and panic attacks but they become tenfold when I drink, so I found when I drink it would trigger my PTSD, and I don’t want to live that shit again. So it didn’t make sense to drink, I was like ok, it's not for me.”
PTSD is so broad, there are so many reasons someone may have it and alcohol and drug use can be contributors to it and also inhibit the memories to become more vivid and real again. Rhodes says unfortunately not everyone realizes how those chemicals can trigger that. It has really helped to have her husband go through this journey with her. The support system not only helped both of them initially but helps with everything they both do in life and in moving forward.
“The two of us have been through a lot since we met in 2013. We both lost our fathers, I lost my brother, he’s had medical issues, I’ve had medical issues, then you add the Covid pandemic on top of that and it’s like holy crap, really?!”
Rhodes can’t stress how important it is to have that best friend, to keep them close. They see you at your worst and best, and they love you anyways.
“That unconditional love is something you need in life, if you don’t have it, I’ll be there until you find your best friend. (Haha)”
When Rhodes initially moved back to Saratoga, she started helping build her husband's company where he supervises water systems for various communities. She also created her own business called Oooo Love it, crafting ornate headpieces and movement scarves and would travel to various local markets selling her creations. Then in 2017 she was diagnosed with Avascular necrosis, which is blood loss to the bone, which basically kills your bones. Her hip collapsed and she had total left hip replacement surgery in September of 2017, then her right hip was on the verge of collapsing so her orthopedic surgeon said she needed to replace that one as well, so she then had back to back total hip replacements.
“Talk about pain. I thought I experienced bad pain in my life, it wasn’t until that collapsed hip…not being able to walk, the whole recovery process took over a year.”
During this awful time of recovery her brother passed away at the age of 47 and it just crushed her. It was like a part of her own self was gone. Both her physical pain and emotional pain presented an incredibly difficult and challenging time for her. All the grief and mourning led her to want to create something positive, a way to uplift herself and others. Prior to all of these challenges, she started to form a vision of becoming an event coordinator. During her time going to craft shows with Oooo love it she recognized that there were some incredibly well run events and also lots of poorly organized ones. She took her bed ridden time to think a lot about event coordinating and what she wanted to do, how to contribute to the world and realized she wanted to create an event like no other. So here she was spending all this time thinking about events, now she just needed to do it.
“I was like, you know what, I'm gonna do this. I'm gonna honor my brother's legacy and just do it.”
Her brother was the type of person who everyone loved. She figured, what better way to honor him than through creating a positive experience for others, just like how he did on a daily basis. This is when the Mind Body Soul Expo was born. With all the physical and emotional trauma she had gone through, she knew that having the resources for herself, like a health and wellness expo would be beneficial so it could only be even better if she gave these experiences to other people too.
“Because we wanted something that was deeper and more human than a trade show, we coordinated classes, presentations, and performances to inspire, nourish, and entertain. The Mind Body Soul Expo is a unique event designed to help you discover, explore, and experience many forms of holistic, health, and wellness. With two events per year, hundreds of exhibitors and thousands of people through the doors we are the area's premiere expo for those looking for something new, something different, something unexpected.” - MBS Website
Mind Body Soul Expo has something for everyone. There are opportunities to learn, there are businesses looking to recruit people, meet mentors and trainers...talk to a variety of professionals. You can learn about gemstones and their uses, yoga, acupuncture; there are all sorts of educational experiences. You can also go there just to have a good time, watch some performances and be free. There is something for all ages and there is no discrimination. For Rhodes it is important that all of her events are FREE and open to the public. There is no need to pay, no need to register, no email sign up at entry, this event is totally accessible.