Shifting Hearts, Minds and Spirits, One Leader at a Time   

Just steps away from San Francisco’s iconic Land’s End Trail and its beautiful labyrinth, the sweeping views of the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Marin headlands across the Bay lies a special retreat destination with a singular mission: to offer a haven of peace, reflection, and restoration for leaders facilitating social and environmental change here and around the world. 

Although the past tumultuous year has offered some of us opportunities to slow down, we live in a culture where being in a constantly busy state is often seen as an indicator of importance or success. Jennifer Carolyn King and husband Timothy Fredel founded The Retreat: SF in Sea Cliff and its sister property, The Retreat: ME in Kennebunkport, Maine as sanctuaries for body, mind, and soul, where guests can breathe, embrace the surrounding nature, and turn inward to mindfully realign with purpose. Through what they call “Day to Breathe,” a curated day of contemplation and renewal, they have welcomed a range of impact influencers to their spaces—from diversity and inclusion pioneers at major companies and B Corp founders to documentary filmmakers, authors, and climate champions, among others. We spoke with Jennifer about the inspiration for these day retreats, the impact leaders they serve, and what is on the horizon for them.

HL: I had the honor of experiencing my own “Day to Breathe,” not only as writer sharing your story with our community, but also as a professional dedicated to working in the social impact space. I can tell you that I had a lot of very jealous friends and colleagues who saw my pictures from that day and had questions about how to book an immediate visit. This is obviously not a day spa or typical retreat experience, but the mindful nurturing and building of a community of purpose. Tell us more about how you started this journey—on not one, but two, coasts.  

JCK: I’m so glad that you had the chance to experience your own “Day to Breathe!” As you discovered firsthand, we have a very different model from a spa or most retreat experiences. It’s a special and unique offering to a specific community, one deeply grounded in our own personal journey and mission. Tim and I, together with our now adult children, Jessie and Nik, have been philanthropists for a long time. We have not only financially supported causes and efforts with which we are aligned, but we have also functioned at both the trustee level and as founders of nonprofit organizations.  

In 2006, we converted our previous home in San Francisco’s Western Addition into The Thrive House for Youth. It provides a safe space for the city’s at-risk youth and their mentors to connect and cultivate life skills. This was incredibly important work. Through our experiences, we had an epiphany that the best way for us to really impact change on a larger scale was to focus on serving the leaders and changemakers who are committed to a greater purpose and working toward solutions for social/global challenges. 

We are incredibly blessed to have two beautiful properties to offer, which we call our “sanctuaries for the soul.” These are Casa al Mare in San Francisco (The Retreat: SF) and Asante Sana in Kennebunkport, Maine (The Retreat: ME). We’ve curated, in both west and east locations, “Day to Breathe” experiences for leaders, designed to nurture heart, mind, and spirit in environments we like to call “rugged elegance,” which is, incidentally, the name of our umbrella company and our foundation. Both properties offer stunning architectural and design details with luxurious amenities, while providing grounding warmth and comfort and access to the beauty of nature—water, trees, light—which inspire decompression, restoration, and realignment for passionate champions of change.  

HL: You were just getting started with Rugged Elegance programming and initiatives at The Retreat: SF at Casa al Mare when the pandemic hit last year. How has this last year impacted your approach?  

JCK: First, we want to acknowledge that the pandemic has created so much loss and suffering for so many. It hasn’t been without challenges for us, but we are grateful for the opportunity to pause, pivot, and turn more deeply toward our own commitment to change and the core issues we want to focus on in our work with leaders.  

Prior to COVID, we had started planting the seeds and testing our model, using our venues as hubs for programs and events addressing social impact and global change. We held workshops, receptions, and gatherings for discussion and inspiration, centered on important global issues, particularly climate change. It was a beginning and offered some key learnings for us around how to more deeply reach and engage leaders. We realized that engaging minds and hearts was an important starting point, but deeper alignment with purpose happens when you reach the spirit, as well. In our busy world of distractions, that requires self-care and a quiet space, time, and gentle guidance to make that level of shift.  

Due to the health protocols and realities of COVID, we had to move away from the group-focused activities we were previously hosting and re-envision a retreat for individual leaders designed to renew hearts, minds, and spirits around purpose. We launched a pilot program early this year in which we invited a small number of guests—individuals or couples—tied to monthly impact themes. In February, we partnered with Mwangi Mukami of MLIFE Foundation to do a deep dive on racial equity while serving BIPOC leaders in honor of Black History Month. In March, together with Deborah Greene, “The Peace Traveler,” we hosted a dozen extraordinary women leaders in celebration of Women’s History Month. In April, we offered “Day to Breathe” to brave, bold, BIPOC leaders who deserve to be honored for their role during April’s Sexual Abuse Awareness Month and every month of the year. In May, we honor mothers, doulas, and Mother Earth. In June, as parents of a transgender son and as members of City Church, SF, an inclusive and welcoming church, we are proudly serving 10 leaders in our community in celebration of Pride Month. 

Each guest has had the opportunity to experience the day or an overnight alone or with their partners. We learned that we can provide a powerful experience with just three retreat team members: a meditation guide, our private chef crafting delicious and healing cuisine, and an intuitive energy healer. Outside of planned activities, our guest’s time is open, with suggestions offered for enhancing personal centering—including journaling, walking the nearby labyrinth or hiking trails, yoga and movement, rest, or a bath in our divinely luxurious tub. The feedback and results have been profound.  

HL: What does the future hold?  

JCK: As health mandates allow, we will begin to open our spaces to small groups looking for an enriching, impact-driven leadership team or collaborative group experience. We will also continue to provide these opportunities for select individual leaders seeking that deeply personal opportunity to realign, renew, and recharge. We’re also excited about a new synergy with a strategic impact partner and group of investors, which will lead to the launch of a global online network of aligned leaders: a worldwide soulful movement committed to effecting significant and positive change.  

HL: How can people connect with you?  

JCK: Please visit us online at theretreat-sf.com or theretreat-me.com for more information and to send any questions or queries. We look forward to hearing from you and hope to host you for time for renewal and impact. Thank you for this opportunity! 

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