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Britt Meets Shadille Estepan

Britt Turpack

Posted on July 07 2018

Britt recently caught up with Shadille Estepan, Communications and Outreach Associate at Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation and learned more about the organization’s mission, the work they do and why empowering others is so important to Shadille.


Who are THEY?




They are creating a movement based on KINDNESS AND FEELING. YES to KINDNESS. YES to FEELING. (Two of my favorite things.)

They are creating COMMUNITY. Both online and throughout the country, offering a SAFE SPACE for kids to turn to. Bravo.



This week, I had the wonderful opportunity to talk to Shadille Estepan of Born This Way Foundation (BTWF). Shadille started out as a volunteer for BTWF and turned her passion for supporting this incredible organization into her #PURPOSE.

So, a few weeks ago we jumped on a phone call to have a #SMOOTHIE #CONVERSATION to discuss why BTWF is so special and to chat about the work they are doing.

Even though me and Holly were at the beach and she was on the east coast- WE STILL HAD SMOOTHIES!!! See! #SMOOTHIE #CONVERSATIONS can also be had over the phone.

BTWF was started by Lady Gaga and her mom —Cynthia Germanotta— with the intention of helping kids create a kinder and braver world.


You are in the business of KINDNESS. Why is kindness so necessary and what’s the benefit of teaching kindness to kids?

Teaching kindness and being an example of kind behavior is important because it supports our society. One act of kindness to someone else can alter how someone thinks of themselves and the world around them. If you can be a catalyst for someone to feel good, why not? It is essential.

How did you get involved with BTWF?

In 2012, I met Maya (Enista Smith— Executive Director of BTWF) during my sophomore year in college at a Civic Engagement Conference. She told me they were looking for a core group of young people to guide the foundation. So I applied and one month later became part of the inaugural group of advisory board members. I fell in love with the mission and belief of putting the voice of young people at the forefront of their work.

Who are some of your mentors?

Definitely Maya. She is my boss. She is my mentor. She is my friend. She is a great leader and inspires me to be a braver and kinder person. She takes time to send handwritten cards and check in with text messages.

And what has Maya taught you?

Anyone can give and make time to be kind and thoughtful to others. It is a choice.

What do you want to achieve with BTWF?

We dive deep into how young people are feeling at home and in their community and at school. We want to demonstrate how kindness can transform lives. WE WANT KIDS TO KNOW THAT WHAT THEY ARE FEELING IS VALID. WE WANT KIDS TO KNOW IT IS OK TO NOT FEEL OK. WE WANT TO ERADICATE THE STIGMA AROUND MENTAL HEALTH. By addressing these issues and connecting kids with the resources for help, we believe kids can become change makers within their communities.

What programs do you have now?

One program I am very excited about right now is CHANNEL KINDNESS. It is a platform we created for young people all around the US. We help them craft stories about people in their community who are helping make the world a bit kinder and we post those stories via Channel Kindness. The content on channel kindness is audio, written, and video. They are free to create stories in whichever medium they choose.

I believe we all have the potential to be storytellers and we all have stories to tell. In equipping these young people with the skills and resources we help them build their confidence with telling stories in an effort that they go beyond this program and recognize the power of their voice.

How do you personally recharge?

In-person conversation with friends… even strangers. Human connection is so necessary for me.


Personal Letter from Lady Gaga 

(This letter first appeared on the Born This Way Foundation site here.)

At Born This Way Foundation, we believe in telling your story — good or bad, challenging or triumphant. Deciding to speak openly can be hard, but it can also be a gateway to healing and a comfort to others who thought they were alone.

There has been a tremendous response to our co-founder Lady Gaga’s brave admission that she has been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Below is an open letter she wrote sharing her story. We hope it will be an inspiration to others to do the same and to seek the help and support they need to recover.

I have wrestled for some time about when, how and if I should reveal my diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). After five years of searching for the answers to my chronic pain and the change I have felt in my brain, I am finally well enough to tell you. There is a lot of shame attached to mental illness, but it’s important that you know that there is hope and a chance for recovery.

It is a daily effort for me, even during this album cycle, to regulate my nervous system so that I don’t panic over circumstances that to many would seem like normal life situations. Examples are leaving the house or being touched by strangers who simply want to share their enthusiasm for my music.

I also struggle with triggers from the memories I carry from my feelings of past years on tour when my needs and requests for balance were being ignored. I was overworked and not taken seriously when I shared my pain and concern that something was wrong. I ultimately ended up injured on the Born This Way Ball. That moment and the memory of it has changed my life forever. The experience of performing night after night in mental and physical pain ingrained in me a trauma that I relive when I see or hear things that remind me of those days.

I also experience something called dissociation which means that my mind doesn’t want to relive the pain so “I look off and I stare” in a glazed over state. As my doctors have taught me, I cannot express my feelings because my pre-frontal cortex (the part of the brain that controls logical, orderly thought) is overridden by the amygdala (which stores emotional memory) and sends me into a fight or flight response. My body is in one place and my mind in another. It’s like the panic accelerator in my mind gets stuck and I am paralyzed with fear.

When this happens I can’t talk. When this happens repeatedly, it makes me have a common PTSD reaction which is that I feel depressed and unable to function like I used to. It’s harder to do my job. It’s harder to do simple things like take a shower. Everything has become harder. Additionally, when I am unable to regulate my anxiety, it can result in somatization, which is pain in the body caused by an inability to express my emotional pain in words.

But I am a strong and powerful woman who is aware of the love I have around me from my team, my family and friends, my doctors and from my incredible fans who I know will never give up on me. I will never give up on my dreams of art and music. I am continuing to learn how to transcend this because I know I can. If you relate to what I am sharing, please know that you can too.

Traditionally, many associate PTSD as a condition faced by brave men and women that serve countries all over the world. While this is true, I seek to raise awareness that this mental illness affects all kinds of people, including our youth. I pledge not only to help our youth not feel ashamed of their own conditions, but also to lend support to those servicemen and women who suffer from PTSD. No one’s invisible pain should go unnoticed.

I am doing various modalities of psychotherapy and am on medicine prescribed by my psychiatrist. However, I believe that the most inexpensive and perhaps the best medicine in the world is words. Kind words…positive words…words that help people who feel ashamed of an invisible illness to overcome their shame and feel free. This is how I and we can begin to heal. I am starting today, because secrets keep you sick. And I don’t want to keep this secret anymore.

Lady Gaga

All images from Born This Way Foundation.

Shadille on LinkedIn / Born This Way Foundation Website

Britt on Instagram

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