WOODBURY – Debbie J. Mitchell is here to help. That’s not just a saying, it’s just that helping others comes natural to her.
A series of events led Mitchell to retire from her position as a paraprofessional for special needs students for Southington Public Schools in 2016 and go into business for herself.
Mitchell got engaged to Kevin Barry, the owner of Woodbury Saw and Mower. At the same time, Mitchell sold her home in Wolcott to her son, and moved to Woodbury.
“I started seeking positions in school systems near here, and one day, Kevin said to me, ‘Why not focus your time on your business?’”
Leap of Faith
And that, Mitchell did. She launched Ready To Exhale, LLC. Mitchell’s company runs and facilitates retreats and workshops that give all women the opportunity to practice self-care, work on self-esteem and self-worth, and to become more mindful and creative. She arranges opportunities for women to connect with one another and gain inspiration, new strength, and renewed energy.
“No matter what my jobs have been in the past, they’ve been to help other people – as a home health care aid, a job coach, ADA therapist with autistic kids – so that is ingrained in me,” Mitchell said.
Although she instinctually helps others, Mitchell said it took her almost 48 years to learn that she herself matters in this world. Mitchell started a support group for survivors of sexual assault and incest, and it became her passion.
“I spent many hours a week researching articles, creating art projects, finding self-esteem quotes and activities along with answering emails, texting and talking with other survivors, Mitchell said.
A survivor herself, Mitchell joined the organization Jane Doe No More and became a member of the Survivors Speak Outreach Team.
“Each time I went out to advocate, educate, and to tell my story, I felt more empowered,” Mitchell said. “I found myself spending more and more time encouraging women, all women, to see things in different perspectives, to see that they had self-worth, and to take time to practice self-care because ‘they mattered’.”
Mitchell took a leap of faith by launching a business, and discovered it is not easy. For instance, she knew almost nothing about computers. Now she is learning to add retreats to her website. That entails a lot of things she had never done before, and it’s made her proud and very afraid at the same time.
“Now, I have an added passion,” Mitchell said. “To make women aware of how wonderful they are. To show them that they matter. Through this business of offering workshops and retreats, I have created.”
The retreats of Ready To Exhale offer activities such as; workshops on creative writing, journal making, mindfulness, yoga, or making lip balms, lotions or making candles from beeswax. You can also meet some inspirational speakers, she says.
The retreats are held at beautiful Connecticut Venues, both Oceanside and Countryside. Oceanside includes Mercy By the Sea, in Madison, and, Connecticut’s small hidden gem; Ender’s Island. The countryside retreats take place at the Wisdom House in Litchfield, or at the Interlaken Inn and Resort in Lakeville.
Mitchell has created a series of retreats, Ready To Exhale; Mindful Women. These are affordable day retreats that run from 9 to 3 or 9 to 5, and include a 3 course, farm to table lunch. The price range is from $98. to $120. for the day.”
Mitchell said that on her way to building her business, a friend invited her to a SoulCollage workshop. Mitchell had never heard of it, but was told that it was a very creative, and intuitive process where she would be making collaged cards from mat boards and cut out images.
“I was intrigued, and that was the beginning of my love for SoulCollage,” Mitchell said. “I knew right away that I wanted to include this mindful process in my business to help guide others towards self-care. Timing was perfect. There was a five-day training in Massachusetts, where I became a SoulCollage facilitator.”
Part of her business is to bring SoulCollage workshops to groups, homes, or to retreats. Mitchell said people who try the process usually fall in love with the very first card they make.
“One thing that I hear many people say is that there is never enough time to make cards, so I offer SoulCollage during day or weekend retreats,” Mitchell said. “Those who attend, leave feeling happy, content, and cared about by all who were there. The process has a way of bringing people together.”
Mitchell says that she still has a passion for working with survivors of sexual assault, and that she knows all too well that survivors are the ones who could use retreats the most.
“I also know the difficulties of having anxiety disorders, not getting enough sleep because of restless nights, and of having so many difficulties in holding down a full-time job with managing disabling symptoms of PTSD,” Mitchell said.
Driving the Business
Launching a new business in new surroundings is not an easy task. But Mitchell has been fortunate enough to have received a helping hand from her new neighbors.
Mitchell says her biggest credential is experience – she’s a self-proclaimed graduate of the School of Hard Knocks. But she doesn’t have credentials as a yoga instructor or as a mediation facilitator, and has reached out to partner with people who can do those things. She’s also partnered with businesses in town where she could hold her workshops and classes locally.
“To get a room full of people, you can’t do it on your own,” Mitchell said. “I’ve learned to not be afraid to ask for things. If it’s not on the menu, you can still ask for it. If it doesn’t quite fit, there’s a good chance someone will customize one for you.
There was one time, for example, when Mitchell was at high-end framing specialists Clapp & Tuttle. Mitchell uses mats for SoulCollage, and she decided to ask someone at the store if they could cut some for her. Mitchell said the shop didn’t even think twice, and that the cost wound up being less than if she’d ordered them online.
Mitchell has also built a strong relationship with Christina Boisits-O’Keefe, the owner of The Ruby Tree. Boisits-O’Keefe had set a price for use of her studio. But when Mitchell was having a tough time filling a class and had asked for a break on that price agreement, Boisits-O’Keefe gave it to her.
“She’s one of those people that’s just wonderful to be around,” Boisits-O’Keefe said of Mitchell. “She’s sincere and truly wants people to be able to heal and move forward, and that’s what you do with SoulCollage. It’s been great working with her, and we’re looking forward to working with her as time goes on.”
Mitchell says that most of the time, people who don’t realize they need a break are the ones who can least afford to take one.
That’s why for every registration sold, $3 is set aside to go towards a partial or full scholarship to a survivor of SA, so they could attend a retreat at no or low cost.
“Ready to Exhale is not a non-profit, so it is a little more difficult in asking for donations,” Mitchell said. “It may not be tax deductible, but never the less, there is a ‘donate’ button on the website.”
You can see more details and register for any of the retreats by visiting her website: www.readytoexhale.com.