True Refuge Companions
Find a True Refuge Companion
To find a Companion, review the biographies below and choose someone whom you think would be a good fit.
If you have other questions about the program, please contact Jill Drew, True Refuge Companion Program Director.
Step one: choose a companion
Joe Baillie - Washington, DC
I’ve been a meditator since 2006 when I was first introduced to meditation in the halls of Narcotics Anonymous while in early recovery from opioid addiction. My intimate experience with that suffering and its causes became an inroad into the acceptance and letting go into kindness and compassion that comprise the path to the end of suffering. I’m a retired therapist and addiction counselor turned meditation teacher. Clinically trained in Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention in 2017, I have been teaching a modified version at local Kolmac clinics since 2018. I graduated as a certified meditation teacher in 2021 in Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach’s MMTCP Program. I’m a grateful husband, father, grandfather, uncle, great uncle, and brother, and it would be my privilege to support you on your life journey.
Patrick Bidigare - Arlington, VA
I’m a dad of two daughters, and an owner of a small business with a societal mission. I lost my dad when I was young and went through a few very difficult years as a parent starting in my mid 40’s. Those experiences taught me how transformative loss can be when I’m willing to make the journey into my grief. I have been a daily meditator for the past four years and have been journaling daily for two. I regularly read, practice yoga, ride my bike, hike in the woods, and spend time with my family. I’m very active in IMCW’s Center for Mindful Living. I aspire to be an empathetic, non-judgmental listener who affirms the feelings and experiences that others share with me.
Tara Beech - Washington, DC
I co-facilitate IMCW’s Sangha for People with Dis/Abilities and Deaf People. I am also a mindfulness teacher in a rehabilitation program for individuals with physical disabilities, such as spinal cord injury, stroke, traumatic brain injury, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, cerebral palsy, and spina bifida. I am a certified mindfulness meditation teacher through the Engaged Mindfulness Institute (300 hours).
I have practiced mindfulness and Vipassana meditation since 2012. I have utilized my practice to cope with and manage chronic illness and pain caused by fibromyalgia and hypermobility syndrome. Using self-compassion and self-inquiry, I have developed approaches to my practice that work for me and I teach from this perspective.
Julie Childer - Pittsburgh, PA
Raised in Northern Virginia as a Unitarian Universalist, I have been drawn to Buddhism since my teen years. Formal involvement in a sangha came in the 1990s through the teaching of Thich Nhat Hanh and the Washington Mindfulness Community. I have drawn inspiration from a wide array of Buddhist teachers, including Charlotte Joko Beck, Pema Chodron, and Gil Fronsdal, as well as the Christian writer Henri Nouwen. One of my professional roles is as a palliative care physician, so I am comfortable with a variety of difficult medical and caregiving challenges that sangha members may experience. I also have personal experience with grieving and working with mental health challenges. My communication style is grounded in motivational interviewing, which I practice and train others in.
Jo Cooper - Washington, DC
Mom of three sons, writer, creative director of my web design studio, and former landscape designer, I’ve been meditating with IMCW since 1998. I helped found, guide, and substitute teach for the sangha-led Center for Mindful Living. My favorite teachers are Ayya Khema, Sharon Salzberg, Dipa Ma, and Alexis Santos. I focus on present awareness and Metta both on and off the cushion. I’m experienced with aging, illness, dying, and caregiving—having cared for two of my sons with serious health issues; had serious health issues myself, and cared for and sat by the side of four most beloved relatives as they passed away—a sacred space. I would be so glad to be with you. May you be held in the heart of lovingkindness!
Jill Drew - Sharon, CT
I have practiced Vipassana meditation since 2010, building on more than two decades of yoga practice and more than three decades of Jungian-influenced psychotherapy. I taught mindfulness meditation and yoga at the DC jail and at Rikers Island. I participated in Jonathan Foust’s Year of Living Mindfully (2011-12). I helped establish IMCW’s True Refuge Companion Program. My personal practice is deeply influenced by Bhikkhu Analayo’s Satipatthana: The Direct Path to Realization and four of my favorite books are Small Boat, Great Mountain by Amaro Bhikkhu, No Self No Problem by Anam Thubten, Joseph Goldstein’s One Dharma, and The Trauma of Everyday Life by Dr. Mark Epstein. I’m married with an adult son.
Hanno Eigenbrod - Nadd Hessa / UAE
After leaving the Metropolitan Police Service I retrained as a Mindfulness Meditation Teacher with Mastermind Meditate. I am proud to play a frontline role in bringing a broader consciousness of mindfulness to my communities and world. I hold certificates in advanced trauma-sensitive mindfulness (Treleaven), Empathy and Emotional Intelligence at Work (Berkeley), The Power of Awareness (Greater Good Science Center), The Science of Happiness (Berkeley), u.lab (MIT), Buddhism through its Scriptures (Harvard). I am currently getting trained to become an Insight Life Coach, a Shiné Meditation Teacher, taught by Tulku Lobsang Rinpoche, Managing Happiness (Harvard), to become a Breathwork facilitator with Alchemy of Breath, and starting a PG Advanced Diploma in Presence Orientate Psychotherapy with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.
Marie Gordon - Atlanta, GA
I have practiced mindfulness and meditation for 15 years. Before beginning this path, I practiced progressive and contemplative Christianity and was trained as a pastor and spiritual director in that tradition. I am currently a hospital chaplain and volunteer. I became interested in companioning people facing hard things when my mother underwent a terminal cancer journey 25 years ago. We weren’t able to talk about it in our family, so it was an even more difficult passage. I became further committed to this type of availability when I underwent a trauma and some resulting mental health challenges. I want to help hold space for people facing hard things, to talk if they want to, or to simply sit silently, safely in another’s kind company and know that they’re not alone.
Sarah Howell - Seattle, WA
I’ve been a meditation practitioner and a student of Buddhist dharma for about thirty years. I grew up in New York State and now live in Seattle with my wife and our 12-year-old son. I enjoy learning from my teachers Jill Shepherd and Mary Aubry and practicing with sanghas in Burlington, Vermont and Auckland, New Zealand. I would be happy to be a meditation companion for anyone who might be feeling that life’s challenges are getting in the way of keeping a regular practice. I always appreciate having company during meditation, and my schedule is flexible.
Marcie Katcher - Bethesda, MD
My meditation practice spans over thirty years with training in Mindful Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Zazen, Metta, Vipassana, Mantra, Visualization, Movement and Guided Mediations. My involvement with IMCW includes yogi volunteering at River Road, training in the True Refuge Program and a member of two IMCW spiritual groups. I look forward to the privilege of virtually companioning those seeking support in the True Refuge Program. In deep gratitude to many teachers especially Jon Kabat Zinn and Thich Nhat Hanh who instilled in my heartscape a meaningful desire to ease suffering and help others. I developed the art therapy program for caregivers at the Smithsonian Museums and work as a remote workshop facilitator with graduate degrees in creative arts therapy and fine arts. May all beings find peace, connection and support.
Deb Lantz - Portland, OR and South Kingstown, RI
I’ve been an eager student of Vipassana meditation since 2019. I came to meditation through yoga and Mindful Eating practice. I’ve participated in two week-long silent retreats with IMCW and various other retreats with Jonathan Foust and Pema Chödrön. I study and meditate daily. My desire to be a True Refuge Companion comes from my own experiences with chronic pain, the sudden death of my brother at a young age, and my father’s illness and death. I don’t have answers, but I want to sit beside you, with metta and presence, so you are not alone. My wife and I enjoy traveling, delicious food, walking in nature, and biking. I am willing to work with you in the best possible way for us to be present together virtually.
Lisette Palley - Culver City, CA
I extend my hand and my heart to you as an invitation to share your experience, no matter what arises. I know firsthand how isolating it can be to feel through the unfamiliar, the challenging, the unthinkable. I will share the silence with you or receive your thoughts and feelings with an open mind and heart. Come as you are. You are not alone. I am an almost life-long meditation practitioner, practicing Vipassana meditation for the past fifteen years. My father died when I was very young. I lived through my mother’s addictions and her early death. Healing myself and sharing my heart with others is central to my life. I am a retired college counselor, a musician, a psychotherapist, an occupational therapist, and a meditation facilitator.
Marco Piantoni - Rome, Italy
Serving is like a mission for me. And to be a True Refuge Companion is a good way to serve. I’m doing my best to support people in managing their difficulties in this hard time. I am an Inner MBA graduate. I was trained in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and in Teaching Mindfulness during 2021 and 2022. I’m a quiet person and a good listener. I believe that a good relationship is one that gives you the power to see life from a different point of view. Although I would prefer to meet in person, I love that technology permits us to reach every place where there are people who need support in their lives. My Dharma name is Blooming Compassion of the Heart.
Michelle Rago - Washington, DC
I started meditating regularly in 2005 after taking Mitchell Ratner’s Smiling Like a Buddha class. I have a daily meditation practice and am a member of IMCW’s Center for Mindful Living. My meditation and mindfulness practice has helped me to deal compassionately with depression and anxiety, to be a refuge for myself, and to appreciate the power of presence. I’m a trained end-of-life doula and a hospice volunteer. I look forward to combining my spiritual practice with my interest in supporting people as they age and/or face illness. I have found that supporting others in these challenging times gives meaning to my life. I believe that everyone deserves care, compassion, and the time to be heard.
Cali Tamarkin - Rockville, MD
I have been a practitioner of meditation and yoga for many years. My involvement with IMCW includes attendance in the year-long course Sacred Journey: Aging, Illness and Death, and I also attended the training for the True Refuge Program. I have participated in meditation sessions at River Road and Cedar Lane Churches. I take part in a weekly sangha led by Alicia Bazan (IMCW Teacher). In addition, I have been a 10-year volunteer for Montgomery Hospice working with children and their families, and spending time at Casey House (a residential hospice). I am a retired MCPS Special Education teacher and also have a degree in counseling. I am a wife, mother, and grandmother.
Annie Umbricht - Baltimore, MD
I discovered the science of meditation in 2006 with Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche and David Shlim’s Medicine and Compassion. Discovering the healing power of mindfulness and intentional compassion for both patients and their caregivers was like coming home to a universe that I suspected to exist, but suddenly had a roadmap for. The scientific dialogues from the Mind and Life Institute continue to light and inform my practice. The Sacred Journey and True Refuge Program allow me to gently open my heart to fellow human suffering. May I be offered the privilege to be of help to others. I am a retired physician (internal medicine, addiction), wife, mother, and grandmother.