It might be a program run in a facility that’s located in a small rural village, but make no mistake about it, the BridgePoint Center for Eating Disorders in Milden has been making an impact and changing lives since it began two decades ago.
That impact was highlighted as part of the BridgePoint program’s 20th anniversary celebrations on Thursday, May 18.
A large crowd was on hand to hear stories of recovery from survivors of eating disorders, guest speakers, and take in tours of the center and enjoy a BBQ meal by donation. As well, a number of silent auction items were up for grabs with proceeds going to BridgePoint’s ‘wish list’ of items, which includes increased programming, a Smart Board, benches in the facility’s labyrinth area, and an outdoor gazebo.
BridgePoint’s executive director, Carla Chabot served as emcee of the afternoon program, which was held in the basement of the Milden Alliance Church across the street from the center.
Chabot pointed out the hard work done by her team, recognizing those who work at BridgePoint.
“The biggest asset is our team,” she said. “They keep the essence of BridgePoint alive.”
Dale Ternes, a care team manager with the Heartland Health Region, spoke of how the program has managed to attain an impressive reputation through the work done at the center, and the environment that staff provides people is one needed for those going through something as difficult as eating disorders.
“It impresses me that this very special group of people has so much dedication to this program,” said Ternes. “Several words come to mind when I think of how BridgePoint operates its programming and the environment they present. Peaceful, serene, safe, cheerful, colorful and bright; these are some of the key words for people dealing with mental health needs.”
After the Milden Hospital closed in 1993, plans were discussed on how to repurpose the building, and it was after four years of meetings and dedication that BridgePoint became a reality. Chabot says that now, 20 years later, she’s amazed that the program has established its own identity among many others in the health care field.
“I feel that we have a solid identity of who we are,” she said. “It’s amazing that residents of Saskatchewan can access our program for free with a valid health card.”
The BridgePoint Center’s program is one that has been gaining more and more traction with each passing year. Typically, there are 140 days of programming per year, but Chabot says in 2016/17, there are 168 days of programming, which is 28 more that were provided after stretching their funding dollars. As a non-profit organization, the facility is always trying to “dream big” with limited dollars all the time.
Future initiatives for BridgePoint include some rebranding and increasing promotion to continue getting its name out there, as Chabot noted that the Center has always been something of an “introverted program”.
Despite some perhaps limited exposure, the facility has had support from some notable names. When BridgePoint was in its beginning stages back in 1997, Lady Diana, the Princess of Wales sent them a letter of support before her untimely death that year. During the anniversary program, letters from Carlton-Eagle Creek MP Kelly Block and Lieutenant-Governor Vaughn Solomon Schofield were read, and a message was even played from Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, wife of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Sophie, who suffered from an eating disorder at one point in her life, voiced her support for BridgePoint’s programming and congratulated the team on reaching twenty years. Trudeau was at one point actually slated to appear for the anniversary celebration, but a scheduling error prevented it from happening.
Guest speaker Siera Bearchell, a Miss Universe Canada pageant winner and entrepreneur was introduced, and the Moose Jaw native spoke highly of what BridgePoint is doing to help women understand their own body image and realize that no one person needs to look the same. In her time vying for victory on the beauty pageant stage, Bearchell was told to lose weight in order to go for the big titles, and she says it started her on a dark road.
“I started going down a very dangerous path,” she said. “I was trying to fit this image that people have of pageant contestants. I wasn’t healthy, and I didn’t recognize who I was.”
Siera says she was lucky to have a platform that allowed her to speak her mind and tell others about her eating disorder problems, but she noted that many don’t, and that’s where programs such as BridgePoint come in.
Perhaps the most powerful words of the day came from Tonya O’Keefe, who spoke of her time at the center. Having gone through other eating disorder programs in the past, she was hesitant to go through with it. Even speaking in front of those gathered to mark the facility’s 20th anniversary had O’Keefe a little choked up and apprehensive, but her words highlighted the impact that the program has had on her and many others in its two decades of existence.
“I was quick to say yes,” said Tonya, on being asked to speak at this event. “Speaking at BridgePoint’s 20th anniversary? That’s awesome!”
The soft-spoken O’Keefe said she felt in over her head with her disorder, and didn’t know where to turn. When she was introduced to BridgePoint, she was unsure whether to proceed.
“I arrived very skeptical and feeling defeated,” she said. “My eating disorder had controlled and consumed me.”
Tonya’s skepticism soon gave way to hope and positivity, and she realized that the center was unlike any other facility or program she’d heard of or experienced before.
“Today, I can tell you that coming to BridgePoint in 2010 changed my life,” she said. “I used to say ‘saved’ my life, but now I say ‘changed’. That’s because I saved my life. At BridgePoint, you meet other people, you share your story, and you genuinely feel you’re not alone.”
Stories such as Tonya’s go to show that programs, particularly non-profit ones, continue to yield positive results as they strive to help the people who need them. For those dealing with eating disorders of any kind, survivors such as O’Keefe say that the Milden-based facility is a beacon of hope.
“Wherever you are in your journey, BridgePoint will always meet you there.”