We had a FANTASTIC weekend event! The Freedom Aquatic and Fitness Center was fabulous! The EDGE experience was beyond our expectations. Our rooms were spacious and the center offered unlimited opportunities. Every single staff person went above and beyond to make our time there perfect. Our nurse, Ms. Morgan, was wonderful. The CFSA and DFS staff, social workers, CASA workers, mentors, foster families, and bio families did all the prep work to get the students there with all the necessary forms, transportation, and supplies. It was about as flawless as it could get. The students arrived between 1:00-1:45 and two came earlier. We had great volunteers to help us complete the Treasure Hunt GMU campus tour, ending at the gorgeous Hylton Center for the Performing Arts. The theatre auditorium was dazzling. When I shared with the students that we have been comped some tickets to the Nutcracker ballet performance in December, they were so excited. I told them that this event is when we get to dress up fancy and one young man said he looked “very fine” in a suit!
We returned to the Freedom Center and Skyped Peter, which was informative for the students to understand that they are our national “pioneers”. We had pizza dinner outside at the large tent area and the September weather was perfect. We spent the evening swimming, playing basketball and racquetball, running track, and otherwise exercising. We then engaged in a seminar on TRUST and discussed how we were building our community. One of our expert mentors, Amrit, had suggested to me to purchase ceramic mugs for our hot chocolate and popcorn Saturday night. Never did I imagine what a difference it made to the kids to drink from the mug instead of a Styrofoam cup. They said it felt “cozy and relaxing”. They kept their washed mugs next to them all night.
The overnight experience went without a hitch and all the kids slept tight and safe. We woke to a delicious hot breakfast and proceeded to the Edge challenge course. Our wonderful Laura and Karla from Capital One helped to chaperone and engaged fully in every activity. This was a powerful experience not only to build teamwork and problem solving skills but also had deeper lessons on how we accomplish our best work when we collaborate with others, ask for help when we need it and share our success together. We learned how to let go of “going it alone and lonely” and replaced it with “together we can do more and be more”. We learned to trust ourselves and others. The facilitators, Bruce, Melissa and David, each had such a gentle way with the students and were true Teachers in every sense of the word. Bruce incorporated the 8 Keys of Excellence from Quantum Learning which took it all over the top! I can’t seem to get all the best pics from my phone to my computer(probably due to size) but I will keep trying. I hope you enjoy the two attached Tower photos. The tower was 50 feet high and every one of our kids climbed it and several succeeded in getting all the way to the top. They learned the basics of climbing commands, climbing approaches and rappelling. The students were very proud of themselves!
Our lunches were delicious and were waiting for us when we took our noon break between the Edge elements. Timing was perfect and we never missed a beat. Everything was provided to us and the facilities looked brand new and spotlessly clean. Everyone was shocked to learn that the Freedom Center is in its 10th year.
I could not have been prouder of the students, staff and volunteers. Our Academy mentors and volunteers earned their gold stars for outstanding service to the students. I was so glad to have Frankie, our Rhode Island VISTA, to help me with all the frantic last minute preparations and to do the full experience with us. Thank you for letting her stay here in Virginia after the national meeting to assist me. Damian Miller from DC asked how we were doing and if the kids had isolated themselves by jurisdiction. I told him that I could barely remember who was from Fairfax and who was from DC because the groups kept changing by the hour. They literally made friends with everyone else. One of the boys became teary when he had to leave because he just wanted it to go on longer and longer. Another young man said that while he had originally signed on because he so desperately wants to go to college, the experience actually has given him a new family and he felt like this was HOME. Very poignant. I had to choke back tears of joy several times through the experience.
At the end when we were saying goodbye for now, it was amazing to see how grateful the students were to take home their sleeping bags, their mugs, their totes with their instructional supplies, apples, granola bars and chocolate treats. One boy came up to me and asked if it was okay to take home one of the remaining popcorn packages. The next thing I knew I had a line. They were so thrilled to carry home these little popcorn packages to pop at home to relive their overnight experience.
I went back to the Freedom Center this morning to pick up our poster boards and the dry erase board that I had forgotten. I had a chance to speak to one of the staff named Craig. He works with a therapeutic equestrian program for people with disabilities. There is a camp retreat experience there with cabins and the works. We discussed having our students do one of their service learning experiences with the Melwood program. Forgetting the boards was the best thing because it connected me to Craig this bright beautiful morning. The connections just keep going. We are truly a part of something magnificent.
As you can see from this incredibly long list of email recipients, we have a lot of people to thank for all the pieces that each of you have contributed to making this Academy a reality. Thank you from my heart for allowing me the privilege of once again being a “servant leader”. I receive far more from the kids than they will ever get from me. I am in deepest and most humble gratitude to all of you. Onward to October.
First Star Greater DC Academy