Elisa McCall’s death inspires help for others like her
By Claire St. Amant | Staff Writer
A few weeks before Elisa McCall took her own life at the tender of age 20, she penned these words.
“With my death, hopefully I will touch more lives than I ever could have alive.”
The 1994 Highland Park graduate left this haunting sentiment among many others in a journal for her father, Rick McCall.
“It was a very, very powerful read,” he said.
So powerful, that in 1997 Rick and his wife, Leslie, started the Elisa Ruth McCall Endowment at SMU with the goal of spreading awareness of and providing treatment for students with eating disorders. The endowment provides counseling, testing, support groups, referrals, and an emergency hotline for any SMU student or staff member struggling with an eating disorder.
A few years after starting the endowment, the McCalls wanted to expand off-campus and provide workshops in the community. But issues of liability slowed the process and threatened to derail growth all together. The solution? Start another organization, and make this one private.
In 1999, they started the Elisa Project, a nonprofit dedicated to “overcoming eating disorders through knowledge.” Although it has only four staff members, it has a national scope.
“It has really taken off and done so well,” Rick said. “It’s our flagship program.”
A lot has changed since the McCalls founded the organization 12 years ago. For starters, the national IQ about disordered eating has risen exponentially.
“Back then, we were the only ones telling the story,” Rick said. “No magazines, or TV shows, or movies were talking about this.”
Rick and Leslie believed so strongly that there was a need for increased awareness and education in this field that the Elisa Project’s success actually wasn’t a surprise to them.
“We thought it would get this big,” Rick said. “It’s a universal problem, so we figured [the Elisa Project] would be a universal organization.”
In 2010, the Elisa Project purportedly reached more than 20,000 people through its events, website, professional programs, and school visits. The organization’s goal for 2011 is to surpass 30,000 people.
Until 2004, the McCalls remained engaged in the daily operations of the Elisa Project, with Leslie serving as the executive director. But after five years of working closely with the organization, the McCalls felt it was time to step back and allow others to take the helm.
“We’re very gratified that it’s doing so well,” Leslie said. “We’re honored by all the hard work the organization puts forth.”
Leslie’s successor, Sharon Seagraves, said she receives emails from all over the world looking for help.
“Our vision is to end eating disorders,” she said. “We’d like nothing better than to put ourselves out of business.”
With an international organization helping others in her name, it appears one of Elisa’s last wishes has been granted.
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CHANGES AT THE TOP
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Salutatorian: Shannon Elizabeth Baker
Blanket Award winners: Peter Flowers and Emily Dransfield
Homcoming Queen: Kathryn Burns
Eveline Vance Campbell, Joie Honea Henderson, Kathryn Martha Munson, Margaret Harriet Munson, Susan Merryman Munson, Paige Elizabeth Prentiss, Rachel Pabst Tarrance, Elisa Hill