By Ashley Posimato
A half-empty Starbucks “Venti Soy Misto” rests on the corner of a nearly indiscernible coffee table, one covered with beads–every color of the rainbow– some strung together, some standing alone, but all serving a very specific purpose, existing as symbols of life, compassion and entitlement.
Erika Giannelli kneels at the edge of the table, relaxed and at ease, thoughtfully crafting each accessory, and although her Starbucks signature drink looks halfway finished, she sees it as being still halfway full.
Giannelli, a 21-year-old junior at Marist College and entrepreneur of her personal foundation Freedom Beads, currently enjoys a constant positive outlook on life, but attributes a very painful and burdensome past for paving the road that got her here.
“Living with an eating disorder is absolute hell,” Giannelli said, “but I honestly have no regrets.”
Giannelli is a long-time sufferer of Anorexia, and similar to anyone plagued with an eating disorder, fights an on-going battle and is challenged everyday.
“Two years ago I attended The Renfrew Center, a residential Eating Disorder Treatment Center in Philadelphia. I was three years into my battle with Anorexia [then], and needed more intensive treatment,” she said.
But Giannelli learned–the hard way– that needing help, and actually receiving it, were two very separate concepts.
“My insurance company only granted me 14 days at Renfrew,” she said. “[They] dropped me on a Thursday, and my dad had to come and pick me up THAT NIGHT all the way from Connecticut, or else we’d have to pay the $1200 it costs to stay there for one day.”
Giannelli explained that her premature departure from the treatment center left her feeling lost, confused and abandoned. And now as she knelt at the table, she stared deeply into the beads that she was meticulously assembling.
“I wish I could say my situation was unique, but it’s not at all,” she said. “One of the girls I was admitted with was dropped after only one week, and she had been suffering with bulimia for several years.”
And so the reoccurring neglect fueled her motivation and inspired her to take action.
“As years passed, I learned of more and more stories like mine,” she said. “I knew I wanted to take a stand against insurance companies, but also for the rights of women needing treatment.”
The beads scattered over the table carry the message that every patient deserves treatment. They are Giannelli’s tiny vehicles of hope and progression.
“I started Freedom Beads this past summer, in 2008,” she said. “I started with about 15 bracelets…now I’ve made hundreds, which are selling like crazy!”
All of the money that the jewelry makes goes directly into a private fund she set up at The Renfrew Center. When enough money accumulates (she has so far raised $1,700) it will be donated to pay for the treatment of one woman requiring treatment extension.
“This is my small but powerful way of saying, ‘You deserve to be heard, you deserve support, you deserve freedom.'” Giannelli said.
Through her own battle with Anorexia, Giannelli has managed to commendably fight for the rights of others, establish a worthy cause and move it forward, and embark on a personal journey of self-discovery.
“I think one of the most important things I’ve learned, is the practice of self-love and self-acceptance.
“It can be harder than we think[…] but it’s the most freeing, beautiful, and important gift we can give ourselves.”