Last Tuesday, Excelsior supporters gathered on campus for an official ribbon-cutting to celebrate our new Nature Wellness Trail. With the sun shining brightly, CEO Susan Hébert, Board Chairman Dennis Miceli, and Director of Business Development Mary Zaffaroni, shared the scissor to cut the ribbon and officially introduce the Trail.
The Nature Wellness Dream (and a Little Bit of History)
Building a Nature Wellness Trail around campus has been a dream of Excelsior’s for a long time. Enhancing learning and wellness has always been a priority for Excelsior and the development of our Girl Sprouts Garden and Outdoor Classroom provided a great start. Still, we wanted to further expand outdoor wellness activities for our girls. Mary Zaffaroni, Director of Business Development, spearheaded this project drawing from his own background in fitness. “The correlation between physical activity and mental health has been clinically proven. Excelsior has always been a strong proponent of supporting wellness related activities to promote mental health. Physical activity has shown to reduce stress, help treat depression, improves focus and enhances feelings of self-worth – all things that benefit our girls immensely and improve their chances for success.” Providing outdoor wellness activities can enhance learning, reduce stress, improve feelings of self-worth and empower our girls.
Not only has the Nature Wellness Trail expanded opportunities for outdoor activity, but it has helped Excelsior carry on the original vision of the Sisters who laid the foundation for Excelsior. In 1912, the Sisters of the Catholic Order of the Good Shepherd opened a home for young girls with the intention of providing a safe haven where these girls could grow spiritually, mentally and emotionally. The Sisters moved from their original home on Colorado Boulevard in 1968 to a 33-acre lot in Aurora where the girls would have more space and be removed from the perils of urban life. They hoped this larger space and views of the mountains would encourage the girls to develop a connection with nature, enhance their spiritual lives and find inner peace. Excelsior’s current principles were born from this idea – we treat the whole child, from her treatment and educational needs to her physical and spiritual needs.
Purpose of the Nature Wellness Trail
Complementing our Girl Sprouts Garden, we developed the Nature Wellness Trail to expand our outdoor wellness activities. The Trail utilizes the full 33-acres of Excelsior’s campus, providing the girls with extensive open space to explore and appreciate the outdoors. This 2/3 mile trail circles Excelsior’s campus and features ten exercise stations and five education stations integrating the various components of wellness. This structured “breathing room” gives them the freedom needed to be active and contemplative in a safe, open space. Additionally, the education stations along the Trail and Outdoor Classroom provide opportunities for the girls to learn outside the classroom.
Students and teachers of the Excelsior school worked together to brainstorm and identify five subject areas to showcase for our education stations. Ms. Mackenzi’s Service Learning class worked particularly hard on the project, taking the initiative to develop the content for the Sustainability Station. The students researched the importance of reducing our carbon footprint, finally deciding to focus on solar energy for the first station. In the future, various classes will be responsible for developing new content for the different education stations.
The Many Benefits of the Nature Wellness Trail
The Nature Wellness trail was designed with many purposes in mind:
- School –TheEducation stations are used in classes, allowing the girls to take “mini field trips” throughout the day and engage in hands-on learning. The Outdoor Classroom provides teachers the opportunity to teach their students in a different environment which can improve their focus and enhance their learning.
- Physical Education Classes – PE teachers bring their students outdoors to walk the Trail and use the ten exercise stations. This allows the girls to engage in different types of physical activity and learn new exercise techniques.
- Individual Therapy – Complementing traditional therapy with physical activity is incredibly beneficial for our girls. It can help reduce stress and has even been proven as an effective method in treating depression – an illness from which many of our girls suffer.
- Family therapy – Many of our families use the Trail to walk and talk with their daughters when they come to visit. The Trail provides an open, comfortable environment for our girls and their families to reflect on their relationships and embrace change.
- Recreation – The Trail provides our girls additional outdoor recreational opportunities on campus. With the educational and exercise stations, our girls can explore, learn, and exercise outside of their cottages, providing them with a sense of independence.
- Employees – Many Excelsior employees use the Trail on a daily basis for their own health and wellness. Like our girls, our employees often use physical activity as a tool for stress relief. Also, many EYC staff walk the Trail for physical health – EYC even hosts a monthly walking challenge so staff use the trail to log extra steps each day.
Overall, the Nature Wellness Trail enhances Excelsior’s value that states: We are here to serve and develop the mind, body and spirit of our youth, families and employees.
Our Nature Wellness Trail would not be possible without the outpouring of generosity and support we received from so many people. First, we would not have even dreamed of the project without generous grants we received from the Colorado Garden Foundation and the Colorado Health Foundation. The Colorado Garden Foundation first partnered with Excelsior five years ago to design and develop our Girl Sprouts Garden. In the past four years, they have contributed over $49,000 to the garden, outdoor classroom and Nature Wellness Trail. We are immensely grateful for their partnership.
Still, it takes a village to complete a project as large and intricate as this one. Leaders have included architects Ken Ball and Becky Garber from Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado (ALCC) who helped solidify the vision. Also, a devoted group of volunteers who spent endless hours working on our Girl Sprouts Garden made it all possible – without them we would have nothing to show because we would have nothing to grow.
We are also so grateful to Bloom Floralscapes and Mallory Payson for their design of the Nature Wellness Trail. They secured numerous discounts from trusted vendors, adding to the beauty and aesthetics of the Trail and Garden. Finally we would like to thank Andrea and Jerry Hair from FastSigns for the beautiful signs they installed along the trail.