Smiles and hugs were abundant at Excelsior Youth Center last Friday as alumni came back to campus to visit old friends and make new ones. Afternoon thunderstorms moved the party inside, but the wet weather didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits. Excelsior’s staff was thrilled to see so many familiar faces looking happy, healthy and optimistic about the future. We had a great turnout with 14 alumni in attendance, representing a wide range of ages – some who very recently discharged and others who discharged many years ago. Excelsior’s current residents and staff members enjoyed catching up with alumni and hearing about the success they’ve had since leaving Excelsior. On top of a delicious BBQ dinner and great conversation, volunteers entertained everyone with face painting and airbrushed tattoos.
The face painting was particularly fun for all the children who tagged along with alumni moms and staff parents. After getting her face painted, one little girl excitedly ran from table to table showing off her painted face. Her proud mother, an Excelsior alumni from the early ‘90s, couldn’t stop smiling as she watched her little girl. Marty Zaffaroni, EYC’s Director of Business Development, had the pleasure of catching up with this alumni, whom he remembers from his days as a therapist. Marty was overwhelmed with encouragement to see that the young, troubled girl he once knew was now a beautiful mother full of hope and happiness. After discharging from Excelsior, this alumni put herself through school with the help of an Excelsior scholarship and is now a successful paramedic in Denver. Marty remarks that her success “has been an inspiration to all of us over the years.”
One of Excelsior’s therapists, Sandy Cunard, was also inspired on Friday when she saw two of her past clients accompanied by their mothers. This was incredibly special for Sandy to see because while at Excelsior, both of these clients struggled with difficult mother/daughter relationships. Sandy remembers the tough journey that these girls and their mothers went through, so observing the shared smiles and improved relationships filled Sandy with joy. Both mothers were equally pleased with the improvement and were eager to express their gratitude to the staff. One commented that her daughter “is in a much better place and is very hopeful for the future”, crediting Excelsior and Sandy in particular, with the transformation.
Success stories like this are always inspiring and often imperative for staff to hear. Working with our girls can be very difficult at times and can even feel hopeless. Observing true success and seeing that these girls can overcome their pasts makes all the difference. Moments like this remind our staff why they do what they do and shows them that they do truly make a difference in these girls’ lives. Alumni have the power to renew hope in staff members and keep them pushing forward even during the difficult times.
More importantly however, is the impact alumni have on Excelsior’s girls. Simply hearing their stories and learning about their accomplishments motivates our girls. The unique perspective that alumni provide for our girls can completely change their thinking. Being told that “things will get better” is much more convincing coming from an alumni than from a staff member. Knowing that these happy, successful women used to be in the exact same position as them is incredibly encouraging.
Perhaps most pleasing about the reunion, however, was the positive engagement and behavior of our girls. With young children, alumni, parents, and staff present, our girls were incredibly well-behaved and respectful. They spoke politely, used appropriate language, and even encouraged guests with children to step ahead of them in line. The respect, cooperation and grace our girls displayed was inspirational in itself and made us all very proud.