Success! One girl’s story about how Excelsior changed her life.

Veronica’s life began like many others. She was raised by her mom and dad in a safe, suburban neighborhood in Parker, Colorado. Her mom and dad loved her dearly, but when she was young they both began abusing alcohol and drugs. As Veronica grew, so did her parents’ addictions. Drug and alcohol abuse soon interfered with their marriage and when Veronica was just 12 years old, her parents separated. At this young age, Veronica was just starting middle school and establishing an identity of her own. Negative influences were pervasive and without proper supervision and guidance from her parents, Veronica invited many of them. She began rebelling against authority and acting out in school; she explored the world of drugs and alcohol and began smoking marijuana and drinking regularly. Veronica quote1Drugs and alcohol immediately appealed to Veronica because they numbed the painful emotions she was experiencing at home. Drugs and alcohol were the only way she knew how to cope.

As unhealthy alternatives took precedence in her young life, school became less important. Veronica began skipping school regularly and was suspended multiple times. Her drug use became more frequent and she moved on to harder substances, chasing the feel-good effects to drown out the pain of her home life. Negative influences intensified and Veronica began getting into more trouble. In middle school she was charged with property destruction; as a freshman in high school she received two minor in possession charges. These collective charges resulted in her being placed on probation. However, as a young, naïve and rebellious teenager, probation meant little to Veronica. She refused to comply, continuing to smoke weed and refusing to attend mandatory counseling sessions. This went on for ten months before Veronica’s probation officer realized that her noncompliance would not change without a harsher sentence. So Veronica was taken into custody and she started treatment at Excelsior Youth Center a few days later.

Upon admission to Excelsior, Veronica was outraged. She couldn’t believe she would have to spend her summer and the first semester of her junior year away from her friends. She felt like the world was ending – for the first two weeks in Excelsior, Veronica cried every night. During the day however, Veronica put on a protective, defensive front. As a white girl from a nice neighborhood, she appeared more privileged than her peers. As such, she felt she had to prove that she wasn’t afraid of the girls who grew up in tougher neighborhoods than she did. At first, many of the girls in her cottage despised her because she acted so tough and impenetrable. She demanded respect from her peers and fired back when abusive words were spoken to her. She emphasized her tough demeanor by rebelling against the rules and disregarding staff authority. She made it known that she was not a girl to be messed with.

After a few months, things shifted for Veronica as she began to adapt to her new environment and engage herself in treatment. Being a smart girl, Veronica quickly discovered the benefit and importance of following rules and regulations. She learned she could force herself to get along with others even when she didn’t want to. With her therapist, she found new, healthy ways to release her anger and stress without hurting herself or others. Learning healthy coping tools helped Veronica immensely as she continued to struggle with a turbulent family life. Outside Excelsior, her parents were collapsing under the weight of their addictions; so inside Excelsior, Veronica worked hard to distinguish between what she could and could not control.

As she let go of the past and some of her pain and anger lessened, she opened up around her peers. After living with the same girls for awhile, she began to accept and understand them in way she thought she never would. It became a comfort to Veronica to be surrounded by girls who were also going though a tough time. She made friends with the girls around her because she could relate to them on a more personal level than she could with her friends outside of Excelsior.

Veronica quote2Four years out after discharging from Excelsior, Veronica is grateful for her experience: “This was the worst thing that could have happened to me at the time, but after being there for a few months I realized it was the best thing to ever happen to me.” Veronica now enjoys a healthy relationship with both of her parents and no longer abuses drugs or alcohol. She loves school and will enter her junior year in college this coming fall at the University of Northern Colorado. She is working toward a major in Engineering Physics with a minor in Environmental Studies. While excelling in her classes, she also works as a consultant in the computer labs on campus and recently finished an internship at the Poudre Learning Center. Her ambition is enviable – after graduating from UNC in 2016 she plans to earn her PhD in Environmental Engineering from the Colorado School of Mines or Colorado State University.

All these life changes and exciting opportunities remind Veronica how much Excelsior helped her – she says one of the most important things she learned there was how to adapt to change and new environments. Without Excelsior, Veronica most likely still would have graduated high school and even college, because she excelled at school even amidst negative influences and a habit for truancy. Still, she believes her negative behavior would have seriously hindered her ambition and success. Without Excelsior, she believes she would still be on probation today and would never have considered graduate school. She is especially grateful for Excelsior for awarding her a scholarship because without it she says she would have graduated college with over $100,000 in debt. Thanks to her ambitious nature, complimented by Excelsior’s guidance and support, the possibilities are endless for Veronica and she is dreaming big!