Play to Your Strengths / by Michelle Cowan

This weekend, I journeyed up to Liverpool, NY, to visit with the hearts and minds behind Ophelia’s Place ( and their newest business that helps to foot the non-profit’s bill, Café at 407. As I’ve mentioned before, I long to create a community space where creativity, community, love, and spirit are nourished. Ophelia’s Place certainly does that! And I want to learn from the best.

With a front coffee/café area homey enough to make you want to stay and sip mocha for a week and a private room anyone in the nearby area would want to rent, Café at 407 welcomes the community into a space built for conversation. “Conversation about what?” some might ask. According to founder Mary Ellen Clausen, Café at 407 provides a venue to move discussions about calories and “good” and “bad” food choices toward true, authentic sharing about loving oneself and body.

I was able to take part in the annual fashion show Ophelia’s Place puts on as a fundraiser each year. It thrilled me to see models of all shapes and sizes take the stage, along with looks from superb local designer Cheryl Geiger ( - AMAZING!) as well as the local thrift store. Beauty is everywhere, and this show celebrated that.

I took the brief weekend trip to investigate what it takes to put on an event like the fashion show and to see how Ophelia’s Place operates in person. I was truly impressed. Ophelia’s Place is the non-profit foundation behind the physical space of Café at 407. Eating disorder recovery support groups meet there during the week, in the community room and in a special area in back. Comfy chairs, warm colors, quotes painted on the walls, and inviting and accessible recovery information speak the message of hope and healing loud and clear while welcoming people of all backgrounds. The fabulous food doesn’t hurt, either!

Behind the café, offices and additional rooms have been decorated and designated for therapeutic and administrative purposes. Ophelia’s Place partners with The Nutrition Clinic of Elmira, NY, ( to provide nutritional counseling and support groups to those in need of professional recovery resources. The Nutrition Clinic itself offers unique care for people in transition from hospitalization to every-day life. By working together, both organizations are able to reach more people in the places where they need help.

I am truly amazed at what Mary Ellen Clausen and a bevy of other contributors have built, and this trip definitely gave me some perspective about what I want. The main thing I learned from the team that makes Ophelia’s Place so strong:

Play to your strengths.

This is one of many lessons from this weekend. Can I be a Mary Ellen Clausen, networking and planning and executing and go-go-going? No. But can I be Michelle Cowan and make things happen? Yes.

I was reminded of my personal stamina and the pace at which I like to operate. One of the other successful women there pointed out the disparity between the energies of some of the people around and her own. I couldn’t help but commiserate. We both get tired. We both want to get back to the creative stuff and out of the business end. We can make things happen and start balls rolling. We can network and travel and do anything necessary to make a splash in the world, but we’re exhausted at the end of it! We want to enjoy life, not live in a continual stress bubble. What is, for me, a strenuous pace is nothing to some other people. The key is knowing myself.

By seeing the work at Ophelia’s Place, I understand what I want a little better. I want to share my creative fruits with the world, and I want that sharing to stimulate others to create and connect. I don’t have to have a physical space for that yet—even though I hope to have one someday.

I can commit to fleshing out my online presence and selling a few songs. I have other ideas and ways to connect in mind, but I definitely see where my vision is headed. If I do open a café or community center of some sort, it will have a slightly broader scope than eating disorders alone. It will center around healthy body image, authentic living, community, and love.

I want to follow the “change the conversation” message of Ophelia’s Place. Wherever I am, I can create that space I envision. For now, I am gathering information on how different powerful people have grown their businesses and brought their ideas to fruition. I’m learning so much from the people I’m talking to, and I’m gaining a new appreciation for my creative and organizational skills. When I choose to put them into practice (and I emphasize that it is a choice utilization on my part), things happen—more than things, miracles.

For now, I’m getting some rest from a slightly harrowing but incredibly enlightening trip to and from New York, and I’m focusing on my own best qualities. How can I bring what I have into the world? And where do I need to ask for help?

I could leave off there, but that leads me into another lesson learned. Ophelia’s Place takes a village to thrive. Countless volunteers showed up for this event, and Mary Ellen works with a team to guide, direct, and grow Ophelia’s Place. She certainly has the vision and the powers of coordination, but others flesh out those visions with their unique blends of creative, logistical, and emotional talents.

I often forget that my weaknesses can be supplemented by the strengths of others. I don’t excel in every area, but I can find people who would love to give of themselves in ways I never could.

So, I continue to rest, evaluate what I have to offer, and search for comrades. Not a bad way to start the week!