The Goodbye Tunnel
A guest post from Executive Director Kirk Ward
What is it about time-honored rituals that we find so captivating? More than achievements or accolades, they signify rites of passage, once-in-a-lifetime moments, the crossing of a threshold in life. For me, the Goodbye Tunnel at Mount Saint Vincent has become one of these cherished events.
The children who participate in our residential or day treatment programs attend our on-grounds K-8 school. Upon arrival, they may be one or more grade levels behind their peers, lack the ability to focus, or exhibit distrust of others. With clinical treatment and a healthy dose of patience, they gradually begin to feel safe and trusting of the adults around them. Once that level of safety and trust is achieved, the children often start making huge academic gains. From that moment on, there’s no stopping them. It won’t be long before they are ready to begin a new chapter in their young lives.
The Goodbye Tunnel originated years ago; no one knows exactly when. Its purpose, though, is clear. In keeping with our value of fostering a caring spirit, it celebrates every child’s unique accomplishments. That caring spirit is evident as the staff proudly send a child out into the world, knowing that he or she has the knowledge and tools to succeed.
The days leading up to Jacob’s recent discharge date were charged with emotion. He felt the pride of accomplishment, the joy of becoming part of a family, and the nervous uncertainty of life beyond the caring confines of Mount Saint Vincent.
Finally the moment arrived. The school doors flung open, and Jacob raced toward the school gate, backpack and coat flapping behind. The 30-foot sidewalk was lined with two dozen cheering staff. Amid smiles, clapping, laughter and tears, he received hugs, shouts of encouragement, and high-fives as he made his way through the human tunnel, his face beaming.
Once past the gate, he waved goodbye one last time. I watched, a little misty-eyed, as he looked up and took the hand of his new caregiver. For me, there is no greater feeling in the world than to give a child the support and care they need to succeed in life.