It hasn't really been a happy place at Estero's Happehatchee Center since its environmentalist founder Ellen Peterson died, supporters say.
Nearly 25 patrons, volunteers and teachers gathered on Tuesday night outside the eco-spiritual center near the intersection of Corkscrew Road and U.S. 41. They were there to protest the center's temporary closing and what they say is the mistreatment of staff.
Protesters were calling for Genelle Grant, the center's board president, to step down.
They waved signs that read "Happe is not Happy," "Genelle Grant Step Down" and "Keep the Happe at Happehatchee."
Peterson, the center's founder, died in October. Six months later the board of directors announced the center would close for two months because they wanted to "restructure" it.
Happehatchee, the Seminole word for "happy river," offered affordable yoga classes and other spiritual classes. Peterson conceived of the idea for the center in 2005, according to the center's website.
Bobbie Lee Gruninger, a former board member and a close friend of Peterson, said Peterson would want the center open for the community.
"We want the board to realize what they have done to the community by displacing everyone," said Gruninger, who resigned from the board two weeks ago.
Once the center reopens, former teachers will have to reapply for jobs, protesters said.
"I do not believe that there will be equal opportunity when the center reopens," said Salima Silverman, a yoga teacher for two years.
Protesters said they plan to gather at the center every Saturday going forward. The center needs a board that believes in love, compassion and kindness and stops operating with fear, anger and exclusivity, Gruninger said.
"There hasn't been the love, compassion or respect for people in our community since Ellen passed away," she said.