By RJ Walters / For the Jackson Citizen Patriot
What started out as a harmless desire to diet and lose weight in fifth grade eventually became a “living hell” for Betsy Vickers, and she didn’t know where to turn.
But after nearly a decade of battling her eating disorder, Vickers stumbled across the Eating Disorders and Education Network while doing a college research paper and says the organization saved her life.
Now EDEN’s executive director, Vickers volunteers countless hours to make sure Jackson-area residents are aware of the resources available to combat diseases that affect more than 11 million Americans, according to the Eating Disorders Coalition.
“It really was a living hell because my eating disorder was always on my mind when I was in the middle of it. I would say up to 90 percent of your mind is consumed by it,” she said. “EDEN gave me the tools to be able to recover.”
Vickers knows passion alone won’t save lives. Funding continues to be a struggle for the organization, so much so that the local group works out of an office at Spring Arbor Free Methodist Church, with hopes of moving into an office building between Jackson and Ann Arbor.
A May 1 event, honoring the life of a woman who lost her life to bulimia in 2008, raised more than $28,000.
An Evening with EDEN Honoring the Life of Britt Sommerfield paid homage to a 26-year-old University of Michigan graduate who wrestled with an eating disorder for 10 years.
Sommerfield’s aunt and uncle, Mark and MaryLou Sommerfield, live in the Jackson area.
Vickers’ goal for local residents is to avoid the heartache the Sommerfield family experienced. She said EDEN needs close to a $100,000 operating budget to work out of its own building and offer the programs it would like.
A 100 People Who Care Campaign has a goal of finding 100 people to pledge at least $10 a month for a year.
Vickers said EDEN has held DOVE programs at several schools with the help of a grant from the Jackson Community Foundation, and it will continue to reach out to schools to try and prevent eating disorders.
The DOVE program, a national initiative of the popular soap and skin-care company, focuses on promoting healthy body images to third- to fifth-grade students — or as Vickers puts it, it gets parents to talk to their children about their body image before the beauty industry does.
“We talk about the lies of the media and magazines, airbrushing pictures and stuff like that,” Vickers said. “The biggest thing it is doing is getting the mom and daughter to start talking at an early point. It also teaches moms about their own body images and how what they are doing affects their kids.”
Vickers’ mother, Debby Strong, said she is proud of her daughter and wishes she had found a place like EDEN when Vickers was fighting her battle at a young age.
“It was a nightmare, and we had nowhere to turn to,” she said. “I wish there had been (a place like EDEN), and after going to (Britt Sommerfield’s) banquet, I thought, ‘That could have been her.’
“EDEN saved her life, and that’s what I tell people.”
Get involved:Eating Disorders and Education Network is looking for at least 100 people to donate $10 or more a month to EDEN to help provide some stability through its 100 People Who Care Campaign. Bringing in at least $1,000 a month from donations would allow it to expand programming and have more regular office hours for families and individuals who need guidance or information on dealing with eating disorders. Send donation checks to: EDEN, 745 Christy Ave., Jackson, MI 49203. EDEN’s website is www.edenprocess.com.