Anorexia nearly extinguished one of Abington's bright lights

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Jenny Denison traveled to Haiti with a church group, helping rehabilitate two orphanages.

Credit: Penn State

A few short years ago, Jenny Denison engaged in a life and death struggle with an eating disorder. She lost one-third of her body weight to anorexia and spent time in three residential treatment centers. The outlook was bleak.

"I was vehemently denying my struggle with anorexia. It was a destructive coping mechanism for stress and depression," Denison, a senior at Penn State Abington, said.

But just before enrolling at Abington, she realized she didn't want to spend her life trapped in a revolving door: treatment, relapse, repeat. Jenny chose recovery before it was too late.

"I know that I was meant for more. I have a purpose, and that's when I took my recovery seriously," she said, subsequently gaining weight and seeing her therapist and nutritionist several times a week.

"Today, I stand here, thankful for what I have endured, for it has helped me bloom into who I am today." Jenny Denison, Abington senior

Today, the psychology major openly shares her story to encourage those who are struggling to ask for help and to not lose hope.

She returned to one of her treatment centers, Remuda Ranch in Arizona, this summer — but as a researcher instead of a patient. The visit was a clear indicator of the success of her recovery, considering she once thought the facility's staff was trying to kill her by making her gain weight. She met with Remuda's clinical director to discuss adolescent anorexia treatments for her Schreyer Honors College thesis.

"I can understand the struggle. I have had those compulsive thoughts, and I can understand," she said. "Today, I stand here, thankful for what I have endured, for it has helped me bloom into who I am today."

Jenny completes her degree in May and is applying to graduate school for developmental psychology. As always, she radiates confidence and continues to aim high - Penn State, Yale University, and the University of Pennsylvania are among her options. 

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Jenny Denison found peace volunteering in Haiti.

Credit: Penn State

After Jenny Denison changed the course of her own life, she decided to help change the lives of others. She spent an "astounding" week volunteering in Haiti through her church.

The group worked in two rural orphanages painting, roofing, building greenhouses and tilapia farms, and — most rewarding at all for Jenny — playing with the kids.

"The children will clasp onto you and give you smiles that melted our hearts," she said. "They are so financially poor, but so spiritually rich."

Denison said she plans to return one day.

"I had such a sense of peace while I was there," she said.

Jenny Dension anorexia Haiti
Credit: Maria Narodetsky

Jenny enrolled at Abington shortly after she was discharged from Remuda Ranch in 2011, and she committed herself to college with the same dedication she applied to recovery.

One of her professors describes her as a deep thinker and a leader, and Jenny is active in her major. She exhibited her research at the Eastern Psychological Association annual conference in the spring.

At different times, Jenny's been involved in THON, the Student Government Association, the Academic Integrity Committee, and the AbingTones singing group in addition to work with her church and community theater.

"Going to Abington is honestly one of the best decisions I've ever made," she said. "I can't get enough of how tight-knit a community it is."