Geller Center creates interfaith community for over fifty years

The Geller Center's sign and sculpture in front of the Center on Howe's Street. The Center is a place for students and residents of Fort Collins to gather and talk openly about spirituallity.
The Geller Center’s sign and sculpture in front of the Center on Howe’s Street. The Center is a place for students and residents of Fort Collins to gather and talk openly about spirituallity.

The door sticks as you step inside, but there is a welcoming presence that can’t be denied.

The Geller Center, located on 629 S. Howes St., offers a safe space for CSU students and the surrounding community to ask big questions without an agenda.

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“I do believe this place changes lives, and I’ve seen it happen, but I’m not about to go chase you down on the plaza,” said Laura Nelson, assistant director.

The Geller Center was founded by Bob Geller, who is now 93, in 1962 as a Presbyterian campus ministry, but has since developed into an interfaith identity.

“We’re not Christian, Christianity is our roots. We take seriously what Jesus told us to do in terms of doing justice, caring for the poor, being welcoming to everybody, no agenda,” said Nelson.

Sesugh Solomon, junior studying cultural anthropology, has been interning at the Geller Center since January, after taking a CSU philosophy class on spiritual development run by the Geller Center’s Director, Peggy Christiansen.

“I think the one thing that’s super dope about the Geller Center is that they don’t put any beliefs on you,” said Sesugh Solomon, a junior cultural anthropology major and intern at the center. “They let you express your beliefs. It’s something being put into and not taken out.”

Part of the vision of the center is intergenerational community, something missing from many college students lives, according to Nelson.

“Most of us live far from our parents and grandparents and have very little access to generations beyond our own,” Nelson said. “We’ve found that when college students have that safe space, they want to engage with adults.”

One of the programs offered to CSU students is “Food For Thought,” held every Wednesday night from 5-7 p.m. where there is free dinner and discussion with CSU students and members of the community.

“It’s not your typical discussion,” Nelson said. “It’s what we call deep listening, which is listening to the whole of what someone wants to say, without judgement and without jumping in.”

The discussion is described as a container where one person puts their thoughts into a container that can’t be taken out and another person puts in theirs. Some topics include the meaning of life, what it means to be human and how people should live.

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“Interfaith historically meant people from this tradition and that tradition sitting around a table talking about their specific traditions and here it’s much more about, ‘Let’s talk about being human. Let’s be okay with wherever everyone else is coming from,’” Nelson said.

Along with Food For Thought, free counselling and healing touch services are offered by Director Peggy Christiansen, as well as an internship program for students who wish to deepen their spiritual quality and leadership skills.

The internship can be as short as a semester, where students live at the Center, and agree to work eight to ten hours a week running the place and an individual project throughout the term.

Johnny Roos, junior soil and crop sciences major, who has been interning at the Geller Center since August, has run the quarter acre vegetable garden.

“We’re just trying to do urban agriculture and whatever that entails,” Roos said.

His focus is to improve food security and sustainability, composting food and turning it into soil.

Interns in the past have graduated and moved on to be members of the clergy, the Peace Corps, environmental educators, teachers and counsellors.

The old house has five bedrooms, two kitchens and three bathrooms.

“It’s been so old that things have been replaced one at a time so it’s all different; nothing’s homoegenous,” Roos said. “I like the vintage feel that you get here.”

The Geller Center is also home to a 47-year-old book club, started by Bob Geller, for community members that’s held on Friday mornings at 7 a.m.

“Bob Geller is a good community member and friend of mine,” Roos said. “He’s still kickin’ it. He’s still as spirited as ever. He totally has his mind which I equate to all the spiritual practices that he’s done over the years.”

The Center is a non-profit which exists through the funding of individuals, the Fort Collins Interfaith Council, the donation-only artisan and craft Emporium located downstairs in the Center, as well as two annual fundraisers, one held on Mardi Gras which raised $5,987 with a turnout of 120 people.

Students typically hear about the Center through word of mouth, or after being invited to Food For Thought.

“The Geller Center creates a space that is open to people of all traditions, but also people of no tradition who aren’t looking for one,” Nelson said. “But who still want to ask big questions about the meaning of life and want to do it with other people.”

Collegian Features Beat Reporter Hannah Hemperly can be reached at news@collegian.com.