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Meet Debra Hopkins of Breaking The Chains Foundation in North Hills

Image Credit: Denise Leitner Photography


Today we’d like to introduce you to Debra Hopkins.

Debra, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
The “idea” was planted a long time ago and something kept pulling me toward it in a multitude of ways. Have you ever heard the saying – “I knew before I knew”? That’s how I always felt leading up to my nonprofit Breaking The Chains Foundation (BTCF) becoming a reality.  I received a full-ride dance scholarship to college and there after various national tours, cruise ships, films, writing, and a successful health/fitness career including a high-profile clientele. As time continued, I was on constant “go-time” until I needed to face something that was taking on a life of its own. I needed to confront the “idea” that kept pulling me toward reality.  In my younger years, I myself struggled from an eating disorder and the “idea” which echoed in my mind: “Breaking The Chains” became a deep internal piece to my recovery. Dancing was my healing place. I felt everything when I was dancing. I could think, breathe, transcend, my space whether on stage or in the studio was “my space” and I owned it, I owned my body, my thoughts, feelings, and emotions. There is something to this. It was internal, not external. There is something very healing and I had a deep desire to heal.

Through my recovery, I knew that if I felt my pain so internally, then others suffering must feel the same way. I flipped the switch, ‘the picture’, ‘the perception’. Eating disorders are not what they look like on the outside, it’s what is going on in the inside. As I began to understand what “I knew” at a young age revealed “I’m going to do something to help others, I just have too!” I began to share my story with people in my life which resonated with them, and they gave their time, energy, and talents. I began with small photoshoots, exploring self-awareness, self-esteem, body-image relationships, and confronting addiction. Then it progressed into campaigns, a couple of scripts I wrote, videos, and bigger photo shoots. The amount of support was so God-given to what now has come to fruition, my nonprofit, BTCF.

In November 2019, BTCF became the first-ever eating disorder platform to present at the 4th annual World Wide Women’s Girls Festival in San Francisco at the Palace of Fine Arts. Between 2019-20, BTCF has served 9,000 people on the ground, 150,000 + views in live stream content and campaigns, BTCF board members & celebrity ambassadors have appeared in various nationwide media publications, podcasts, and virtual support, produced various live streams, campaigns, and workshops including virtual, and have projects in development. We are an active National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) Network member, a featured nonprofit spotlight within the February 2020 NEDA Newsletter, we received our first grant from NEDA for a program piloting in Fall 2020, and I became a Co-Vice Chair of NEDA Network Executive Committee. BTCF Spokesperson and Board Member Jillian Rose Reed represented BTCF on the “Buzz Feed Charity Game” live on Facebook. We also were honored to partner with National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) Westside to create awareness & advocacy for a mental health feature film.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I can laugh about it now, but ummm….well, I wouldn’t call it smooth, but it has always been super creative with wonderful support! What was difficult was trying to get the public to understand what we meant by saying, “I want to change the face of eating disorders … change the conversation. That it’s not what it looks like on the outside, it’s what’s going on in the inside, and we are going to do all of this by using art as healing tools.” So I created this video campaign titled “I Want To Change The Face of Eating Disorders” and I remember getting a call from Meghan McCain’s producer of her then talk show, “Take Part Live” because she wanted to show a clip of it during her interview with Jillian Rose Reed. I was like, “Yes, of course!” After that things began to take off. I wrote a script titled, “Finding Alice” (which is now almost a complete book) using steampunk to depict Alice’s oppositional world of metal, mortar, and steel.  It was photographed by Amy Barnard and became a great vehicle to pursue the meaning behind the message whereas BTCF became.

Things continued to shift when I created a six-part series art campaign where six different celebrities shared their art forms: film, nourishment, dance, writing, creation, and music as healing tools, and what it meant to them through video, photos, and a written piece. I had some exceptionally talented individuals support in getting this done. The celebrity site ran the 6-part series for eight months, and it was a hit! World-renowned dancer Kathryn McCormick’s dance video was so emotional, and I just remember saying to myself, “Wow, we really got something here.” BTCF Celebrity Ambassador/Board Member, Carolyn Hennesy, brought it home by stating, “We can live without alcohol. We can live without drugs (we should), but we can’t live without food and that’s why this is possibly one of the most difficult things to overcome.” From there, being able to really find the inner journey expression with rich story ignited!

As a nonprofit, funding is always particularly important and challenging. We are so highly volunteer power-driven with wonderfully talented and passionate individuals who have given and donated their time, energy, and services. Although as we have grown, monetary provisions are greatly needed so we continue to work on the funding part!

Please tell us about Breaking The Chains Foundation.
Our mission states: BTCF is a unified global nonprofit foundation using art as the process to unmask the stigma of individuals affected by eating disorders & negative body image. Creative genres like film, painting, poetry, music, and dance will inspire the global community to use art as an outlet for the darkness that lies dormant providing a bridge to recovery and serving as a prevention platform toward a healthy journey to mental and emotional wellness. One by one, hand in hand, we will champion the rediscovery of self-love, self-acceptance, and respect — sharing a healing journey that will break the chains, one link at a time.

We are grassroots and building! With gentle support, we can tap into this disease and discover the truth of where it may have begun for a person so that healing can begin and start to focus on the limitless possibilities in recovery. In an effort to shift our culture towards one that supports our endeavor, we raise awareness about challenges and opportunities, advocate for prevention and recovery services, and work to de-stigmatize eating disorders. In an effort to support people in their individual pursuit of mental health or recovery from an eating disorder, we offer creative workshops, live performances, music live streams, campaigns, featured artist blogs, videos, films, books, events, guest speakers, information, and resources.

I’m super proud of our amazing BTCF board, advisory board, celebrity ambassadors, and contributors who range from actresses, producers, writers, artists, dancers, singers, musicians, health, fitness, and wellness professionals, clinical professionals, and business owners. Again, the time, energy, talent, creativity, and knowledge that serves our mission is heartfelt. Please check everyone out on our website! We will soon be launching our first grant award program, “How To Love Yourselfie” with Jillian Rose Reed – a unique online 45-minute interactive cognitive dissonance eating disorder prevention evidence-based program for media literacy geared toward ages 15 – 22. A big shout out to a foundation highlight is Board Member/Master Dance Teacher Alex Little’s live dance performance “7 Chairs”. It is beyond powerfully vulnerable, revealing, and transformative!

Beyond the above said work, during this time of COVID, we continue to strive to bring a variety of virtual workshops and resources which has allowed us to reach out globally as well as building new partnerships and collaborations. I am pleased to share that I will be the featured presenter for NAMI Eastside (WA) in a 90-minute virtual presentation in the Fall – more details to come.  So stay tuned!

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
Honestly, I’ve have not defined areas in my life or business by having good luck or bad luck. Having passion for what you do is so super important and you may find from time to time that passion is challenged by things that are out of your control but really have greater purpose and can most certainly lead to open windows and doors that you would have never entered. I believe most people want to live a full life, a meaningful life, and even an engaged life.

I think during times when one may feel defeated and like giving up, please know you are not alone. In those challenging times or even moments, I encourage you to get trusted support and avoid making big decisions and comparing yourself to others. Sometimes it takes digging deeper within yourself than you ever did before to find the answers and meaning to your own uniqueness on a path that you were always meant to journey upon. We may find times that we need to gather as much grace as we can during trials and heartaches when building and even flourishing in life and a business, only to find that as we do our own character becomes strengthened and enlightened. It’s okay to ask for help and it’s okay to have a voice!

Contact Info:

Image Credit: Denise Leitner Photography

Image Credit: Edward Tovmassian Photography

Image Credit: Edward Tovmassian Photography

Image Credit: James Wirth Photography

Image Credit: Amy Barnard Photography

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