Collaborative Conversations: Getting to Know Beth Ayn Stansfield

Recovery-mindedness can be contagious, and the support given and accepted by members of the eating disorder community is a remarkable thing to witness. This month we interviewed Beth Ayn Stansfield, founder of Stay Strong Richmond, to hear about the tremendous work she is doing in the metro Richmond area to raise awareness for eating disorders, educate local providers, and establish a city-wide community of support.

Here’s more about Beth Ayn and her outstanding organization:

Name: Beth Ayn Stansfield

Organization: Stay Strong Richmond

Years in advocacy work: Two years

How would you describe Stay Strong Richmond?

Stay Strong Richmond is a unique, one of a kind program in the Metro Richmond area. The organization raises awareness, educates and connects individuals and families affected by an eating disorder with support and resources.

What kind of services does your organization provide to parents and the community at large? 

To raise awareness and to educate our community, we host quarterly community events at the Virginia Farm Bureau Corporate Headquarters, such as the nationally acclaimed The Body Positive. I make monthly presentations to various community organizations and groups: Youth Planning and Development Committees, Public Health Nurses, Health/PE educators, Mental Health agencies, etc. On weekends, you will find me and other Stay Strong representatives as exhibitors at events such as the CBS Channel 6 Healthy Lifestyle Expo, the NAMI State Conference and the Virginia School Counselors’ State Conference. In addition, we have a dedicated core group of parents that distribute informational packets to our community health care providers. I appreciate the support Stay Strong Richmond has received in the Metro Richmond area. I often hear “I had no idea,” followed by “How can we help?”

I am energized by the opportunity to work closely with the families and individuals who are affected by eating disorders.

Stay Strong Richmond

Stay Strong offers a monthly parent/caregiver support group, and we have a “mobile” parent resource center that allows parents to access resources. A monthly newsletter is distributed that spotlights a “must read” book and a “must view” video as well as a section dedicated to providing practical tips for families to implement inthe home. The website was created to provide easy access to a compilation of resources.  A Facebook page is in the works so that Stay Strong can keep the community informed of upcoming events, trainings, new specialists to the area and opportunities specific to those in recovery.

Where do you see Stay Strong Richmond in 5 years? What are your goals for the organization?

Wow! It’s tough to think so far ahead when I am currently planning for the immediate future. We are in the process of securing an eating disorder support center for the Metro Richmond area so that the community can easily acquire
any needed information via the lending library, computer terminals, and a relaxing atmosphere that will lend it self to self-care opportunities. In the Fall, I will be offering weekly educational courses for parents and specialists using  a curriculum that I have developed. Prior to the 2015-2016 school year, Stay Strong will be providing literature to every middle and high school guidance department in the surrounding counties. Stay Strong is neither a non-profit nor a business, therefore funding is nonexistent. I would like to work more closely with Veritas Collaborative, Carolina House and the Eating Recovery Center to enhance our community outreach efforts. It is exciting that Veritas Collaborative will be offering a program under the guidance of Elisha Contner Wilkins, MS, LMFT, CEDS here in Richmond.

What sparked your interest in creating resources to help support and educate parents of children with eating disorders?

When she was twelve, my older daughter had a life experience that set her eating disorder into motion. Although I am a coordinator for an Intensive Day Program for young people challenged by mental illness including eating disorders, my daughter’s experience completely caught me off guard. I assembled a remarkable treatment team here in Richmond, but my daughter was too enmeshed with her eating disorder; more intensive services were needed. We flew to Denver so that she could be given quality treatment; we both received incredible training. She stayed the course for two years. It was very hard. We both learned to adopt the quote “If plan A doesn’t work, the alphabet has 25 more letters!” After two years of struggling with anorexia, she found herself in the grips of bulimia nervosa. She again returned to intensive treatment so that she could get back on the recovery track, this time concentrating on bulimia. With much work on her part, support from family members —  especially her younger sister — and the dedication of her treatment teams here in Richmond and in Denver, she recovered.

Recovery is possible.

Two years ago I was approached by a provider to consider facilitating a parent support group. After much consideration, I agreed and now we have Stay Strong Richmond.

We know that caring for a child with an eating disorder can be incredibly challenging.  Do you have any self-care advice for parents in this position?

The specifics of self-care looks so different for each parent, just as the journey is different for each family. Honestly, it is difficult to think about self-care when you are a parent juggling appointments, addressing unsolicited advice, navigating the insurance maze, maintaining a relationship with your partner, staying employed and explaining to others what an eating disorder is when you’re still trying to make sense of it yourself and so on…When I had a professional tell me to take time for a bubble bath for self-care, I thought I was going to scream. Later, I was grateful for that advice because it made me ask the question, “What can parents realistically do to take care of themselves?” Virginia Satir, the noted Family Systems therapist, developed a mandala to illustrate the areas in daily living that need to be fulfilled in order to be content. I reviewed that mandala every evening before dozing off to make sure I had done my best to stay balanced. Coupled with sleep and nourishment, these best practices that she suggests made me strong so I could help my daughter recover. Parents can google Virginia Satir mandala for a more thorough explanation and ideas that can be tailored to meet their specific situation.

What advice would you give to parents or patients who are coming home after being in treatment?

There are a number of ideas I would suggest, starting with securing a treatment team prior to discharge. I recommend seeking out providers who are certified eating disorder specialists (CEDS). I would encourage family members to actively start educating themselves about eating disorders while developing a toolbox of ideas for management of the eating disorder. The Stay Strong website is a resource to assist in locating the books, videos and websites that can provide this information. Additionally, I encourage parents to have their child’s wellness/discharge plan developed and thoroughly discussed prior to discharge. The wellness plan is the family’s road map to lasting recovery. Finally, I would recommend that parents get connected with a local support group.

Do you have a favorite recovery quote?

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face…. Do the thing you think you cannot do.”

— Eleanor Roosevelt


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