Having and maintaining traditions are important both for families and organizations.  They are a vehicle for supporting positive aspects of an organization’s culture, spotlighting what makes the group unique, and make for great stories. Some of my favorite traditions from my family and my previous work experience include:  the ugly Christmas sweater passed down to other family members, monthly ice cream socials, making holiday cookies with Grandma, dressing up like your therapist at Halloween.

The best traditions are those that are organic – those that come from the bottom up.  At Mountain Valley we are filled with fun, unique and resident-developed traditions.  Here are just a few with their reason/purpose:

  1. The “Elder Stick” – a walking stick adorned with holiday lights and sayings from past residents.  The most senior resident (by number of days at Mountain Valley) is handed down the stick the evening after a graduation.
  2. The “Auction” – the evening before a graduation, the resident graduating auctions off specific items collected while at Mountain Valley.  Things like specific clothing, books, or crafts made in the art module are examples of the most common items.  Other residents make their “case” for why they want the item and the soon-to-be graduate awards items based on the case made.
  3. Graduation Day Meal – the resident graduating picks the lunch meal that will be served to the whole community, family members and staff.  Classic meals include sweat potato gnocchi,  pasta bar, and make your own ramen bowl.  All flawlessly prepared by our Chef, Pete Bayless.  During the graduation ceremony, ice cream from the local dairy, McNamara Dairy, is served.  Who is hungry?

Again, all of these have been resident-driven.  These, in addition to so many other things about Mountain Valley’s model are what make our treatment program special.  While being clinically intensive, we also strive to make a resident and families’ experience memorable and effective.  What are the traditions within your family or workplace?  I’ll bet they don’t include an ‘Elder Stick.”


Don Vardell, Mountain Valley’s Executive Director, is seasoned healthcare administrator and operational leader with experience at the helms of private residential treatment centers, therapeutic boarding schools and non-profit service organizations.