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Spirit of the Heart Martial Arts and Wellness Center in Northampton marks 20 years

Nancy Rothenberg says that she loves running into her past students and discovering the confidence they have and the accomplishments they have achieved.

As the longtime director and head instructor at Spirit of the Heart Martial Arts and Wellness Center, a martial arts program at 47 Market St., Rothenberg believes her work has made a difference in the lives of thousands of children and adults.

“I feel so lucky,” Rothenberg said in a recent telephone interview. “I have made this life where I get to watch people transform and become stronger. I say that if I can help prevent one rape, then my life’s work is complete.”

The center will mark its 20th anniversary Sunday with a dance party featuring a disc jockey, martial arts demonstrations by past and present students and face painting.

Asked about the secret to staying in business for 20 years, Rothenberg said, “I’m passionate about what I do. I think people feel that passion.”

“Most people want to be stronger, want to know what to do to keep themselves safe. The skills are universal,” she said. Rothenberg, who turns 50 on Sunday, says that over the years she has been rewarded by witnessing students learning to overcome challenges in their lives, and that people who have been her students for 15 years have become like family.

In addition to the anniversary celebration, this year the center is introducing a new program for elementary school-aged children. The Youth Empowerment and Safety Program can be taught anywhere and teaches self-awareness, communication skills and anti-bullying along with movement and martial arts. Rothenberg also plans on releasing a book by the end of the year for parents and children about navigating the conflicts of childhood.

The dance party will be held from 2 to 5 p.m. on the fourth floor of the Fitzwillys building at 25 Main St. It is free and open to the public, but donations will be accepted.

— KRISTA MANGIARDI

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