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Bloomington's One Hope Project fights stigma, provides help for eating disorders

Pantagraph - 2/23/2024

Feb. 23—BLOOMINGTON — In recognition of National Eating Disorders Week, and to celebrate one year since officially opening, One Hope Project of Bloomington is hosting events to combat the stigma around eating disorders and seeking help.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, the final week of February is designated as a time to educate the public about eating disorders and to support those affected by them.

"Chances are people know someone — whether they have disclosed it to them or not — they know someone with an eating disorder or disordered eating," said Hilary Pacha, founder and executive director of One Hope Project, 2422 E. Washington St., Suite 204 in Bloomington.

The 501(c)3 has two health coaches, Pacha and Jenna Salinas, and one licensed social worker, Sierra Abel, who works with a licensed clinical social worker based at the University of Illinois, Kristin Manzi.

They also recently hired Kamryn Loyd as an intern.

One Hope Project will host a virtual workshop through its website at noon on Monday, Feb. 26, called "Dismantling the Stigma Around Eating Disorders and Diet Culture," followed by a "Body Gratitude Flow" yoga class at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 27, at Blooming Life Studio & Spa, 2412 E. Washington St., Suite 8 in Bloomington.

Interested parties can register for either event at onehopeproject.org under the "Events" tab. Both events are free, and while the workshop is open to everyone, there are limited seats for the yoga class.

Helping heal

Striving for transparency, Pacha makes it clear to her clients that she and Salinas are not counselors, they are coaches. Abel, being a licensed social worker, is the counselor in the office.

As coaches, Pacha and Salinas focus on the "here and now" and the daily lives of clients struggling with eating disorders, while Abel "can focus on the 'why' behind it: trauma, PTSD, mental health — because there's a lot of other co-occurring disorders that go along with it," Pacha said.

Abel recently earned her master's degree in social work from Aurora University and completed a series of internships through Illinois State University, including one at Integrity Counseling in Bloomington.

"I always kind of had a passion, similar to (Pacha)," Abel said, "knowing how detrimental eating disorders are and how underfunded, misunderstood they are."

After hearing Pacha's mission over a cup of coffee in 2022, Abel said she felt like they "clicked."

She came in on the ground floor and helped Pacha develop an intake process and set the foundations of One Hope.

Because Abel had already had the ice-breaker experience of working at Integrity Counseling, "I felt pretty confident going in and started seeing clients right away," she said.

Abel is still working toward her clinical license, a process that requires about 3,000 hours of supervised work. This is where Manzi comes in.

"I see clients on my own," Abel said. "I just touch base with my supervisor. We talk about the cases and she provides supervision."

One of Pacha's main goals is to make services affordable for clients.

"We don't want finances to be a barrier to someone getting the help that they need," she said. "So we do have a sliding scale."

One Hope Project works with client household income to determine a recommended price for services, Pacha said.

"If that recommended amount is still too much, it's 'What can you afford?' And we have those conversations," she said. "It truly is affordable."

Seeking help

One Hope Project began in 2020 when Pacha felt moved to leave her job at the YWCA to found the nonprofit because of her own journey with an eating disorder, she said.

"I started off with binge eating behaviors to, after I had my son in 2011, a full-blown addiction to food. I treated food like somebody would treat alcohol or drugs. I went on my own journey to find help," she said.

However, finding organizations in McLean County specifically designed to treat her eating disorder was difficult, she said, and she had to change doctors several times before someone diagnosed her.

"I just remember thinking, people should not have to work that hard to get help," Pacha said. "Thankfully, I have an advocate heart, and I'm resilient, and so I kept pushing. That is exhausting."

She started the process of founding the nonprofit and earned a license as a health coach through Eating Disorders Intuitive Therapy.

This was a way for Pacha to "crack the door" and start helping people.

"My motivation was really just to start, to fill a gap in the community, that was needed and missing," she said.

Salinas, a longtime friend of Pacha's, helped her along the way and volunteered whenever she could.

Not long after hiring Abel, Pacha was able to officially hire Salinas.

Finally, after acquiring a physical office space, One Hope Project officially opened for clients in February of last year.

Now, Pacha hopes people will see One Hope Project and be inspired to do their part. One Hope accepts volunteers for special events as well as in the office, but one of the biggest ways people can help is through donations.

"I'd love to be able to meet with people and explain why One Hope is so important and why they should want to get involved in a cause like this," Pacha said.

For more information about One Hope Project, call 309-501-1991 or email info@onehopeproject.org, and find their page on Facebook at facebook.com/1HopeProject.

Upcoming events

— Noon Feb. 26 — virtual workshop on eating disorder stigma at onehopeproject.org

7 p.m.Feb. 27 — Body Gratitude Flow Yoga at Blooming Life Studio and Spa, 2412 E. Washington St., Suite 8 in Bloomington.

Contact D. Jack Alkire at (309)820-3275.

Twitter: @d_jack_alkire

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