National Eating Disorders Association
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It All Started With a Little Cafe: How One Nonprofit Builds Community and Sustainability

Rochelle Bilow

NEDA is excited to share how NEDA Network member, Ophelia's Place, thinks outside the box to raise awareness around eating disorders and body image issues in its community, while at the same time finding a means of sustaining the organization so its important work can continue. We would love to hear how others are building community and sustainability, and hope this post prompts some other great ideas!

 

Ophelia’s Place is a nonprofit dedicated to providing support, access to treatment, and education that raises awareness and reduces shame and stigma for those struggling with eating disorders and body image. That’s a tall order, but we have never been content with “just” being a nonprofit. 

Instead, we aim to be an active voice in the national conversation about recovery and body image and engaged in our local community. It is our goal to do even more than support the treatment of eating disorders: We want to change the culture and conversation around these important topics. Along the way, we have discovered how to do just that—while supporting our core mission and providing financial backing for this important cause. It all started with a little café. 

Café at 407 is nestled in the small town of Liverpool, New York. The building also houses an outpatient treatment program run by the Upstate New York Eating Disorder Service, a partner of Ophelia’s Place. The café was started as a creative way to help fund Ophelia’s Place, or OP as it is affectionately known amongst its community. In addition to grants and donations, 100% of the profits from the café are donated to OP.  

This is important not just for the financial support, but because it helps create a narrative and facilitate conversation with the customers and surrounding community. In that way, the café is not just a place to get a cup of coffee or tea—it is a vehicle for change. In fact, some of the clients who have used the OP support services started out as café customers. In addition to sharing a physical location, the two are integrated in other ways: Ophelia’s Place holds monthly lunch and learns at the café with topics like prevention, recovery, intuitive eating, and more. The walls are decorated with phrase like “Nourish, Honor, Accept Every Body,” and the staff is trained to engage customers in gentle and loving conversations about food and our bodies.  

This has been such a success that Ophelia’s Place also branched out into the internet community to spread its message. The Every Body Is Beautiful Project is a digital presence aimed at providing inspiration and resources for body respect and nourishing relationships to food. There is a blog, a newsletter, an Instagram account, a market for body positive goods, and even an online course open to folx from anywhere in the world. This education and empowerment program gives students the tools to lead conversations around these topics through expert interviews, literature, group discussions, and deep inquiry. It has been such a success that the program now has a rolling enrollment, accepting new students every month. As with the café, tuition profits are donated to Ophelia’s Place.  

Over the years, our team has learned a lot about supporting those with eating disorders and their loved ones. We are so grateful to be able to share this knowledge, and learn from others, through so many different vehicles. 

Rochelle Bilow is the marketing director for Ophelia's Place. She is also a yoga teacher and writer, corgi mom, and advocate for eating disorder recovery and body respect. You can connect with her on social media @rochellebilow