A few weeks ago, senior students at The Hope School Learning Center in Springfield celebrated graduation. This ceremony, a rite of passage for so many teens, is no less so for our students with autism and other developmental disabilities.

Mid-way through the ceremony, one young graduate stepped to the microphone to sing, and the crowd was moved to tears by what they heard.

Hope music therapist Karen Herzel stood with Alyssa to calm her nerves, but that probably was not necessary.  To a recorded accompaniment cd from Disney’s Pocahontas, Alyssa beautifully performed the song “Colors of the Wind”.

The song was perfect for a graduation ceremony, yet not everyone in the audience realized what a huge step the performance represented for Alyssa.

Alyssa arrived at The Hope Institute in 2011.  Her mother and stepfather found that as a result of her disability, her behaviors were no longer manageable in the family home.  Not long afterward, Alyssa’s mother passed away unexpectedly.  Her grandmother and aunt are now her guardians.

When Alyssa arrived at Hope, she was very shy and lacked the confidence to speak, much less perform, in group situations.  Yet, after only four years, the educational and behavioral programs at Hope have allowed her to make great progress.

Her progress is simply amazing, according to Ms. Herzel.  “This young woman has really come out of her shell.  She has worked hard, and we are inspired by what she has done.”

Singing is not the only way that life has changed for Alyssa.  She works at Noll Café, a vocational program operated by Hope to provide students with real-world job skills that can promote independence in adulthood.  “Alyssa can be proud of the strides she has made while at Hope,” said President and CEO Clint Paul.  “Her hard work has provided the opportunity for her to live in the community and hold a job now that she is graduating.”

The great progress made by Alyssa and other Hope students would not be possible without the generous contributions of dedicated donors across America.  Hope donors are making a real difference in the lives of the young people we serve!

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