I often cringe when people use the word unique to describe something that is clearly not one of a kind – yet when I meet with prospective families on our Plainfield campus or a school counselor on their campus, I find myself occasionally employing this mis-used adjective to describe Mountain Valley. Surely there are other fine programs, treatment centers and hospitals using the same evidence-based treatment modalities we do, but there is much about Mountain Valley that is, well, unique.

I have told this story countless times, but one of my favorite moments with an early group of Mountain Valley residents took place in my office in The Creamery on our original campus in rural Pike, NH. As was the case back then, kids would frequently head to my space during lunch time to raid my snack basket and escape the rigors of exposure therapy. On one beautiful summer’s day, four or five young residents squeezed together onto my old, red leather couch and started to tell me that they wanted to return to MVTC.

“Return?” I questioned, feigning incredulousness. “You want to return?”

Knowing where they were going with this topic, but not wanting to let on, I continued my questioning while pointing my index finger at each of them – “You! You came through the door kicking and screaming – and now you tell me you want to return? And you! You sat in your car with the doors locked in the Creamery parking lot for five hours before I could convince you to give MVTC a chance. And what about you? You had to be transported here! And now you all tell me that you want to come back???”

“No, we don’t want to come back for therapy, silly.” they responded in unison. “We want to come back for a reunion!”

And come back they did. Eight families in October of 2012. 15 in 2013. Several of my colleagues with experience in residential treatment scoffed at the notion that kids would be interested in returning, but they did, for a four-hour event. And each subsequent year, more and more returned – from as far away as Alaska, Hawaii and Costa Rica.

We received numerous emails from disappointed residents who couldn’t attend due to school commitments, so we moved the Reunion from fall to summer – a Summer Celebration – and with the move from Pike to our gorgeous campus in Plainfield, our numbers grew exponentially – almost 250 former residents, their parents, siblings and grandparents, former staff and friends attended last summer for our 8th annual event – and there’s little doubt that we could have even more in attendance this summer.

Unique? Maybe, maybe not – but certainly special – and fun. We hope you will return on July 18th for our 9th Annual Summer Celebration, replete with the amazing Fire It Up pizza food truck, Mac’s frozen treats, the ginormous inflatable waterslide and the legendary bluegrass trio, The Sky Blue Boys w/Banjo Dan and Cookie!

In addition to organizing our reunions, my professional responsibilities at Mountain Valley include traveling around the country, stewarding relationships with former residents and their parents by meeting with them for dinners, lunches, coffee, ice cream cones, etc. I love doing this – especially when I get to see the amazing progress our graduates have made – and I cherish the feedback I receive about their MVTC experiences.

Similarly, I am always thrilled to receive emails, social media messages – and even notes left on whiteboards – sharing testimonials regarding the MVTC experience and the impact it had on them or their parents. The first time I heard “You saved my daughter’s life.” I knew we were on to something. Most recently, prior to a resident’s graduation ceremony – an experience that hasn’t changed much since our very first graduation in the fall of 2011 – the grateful grad wrote a heartfelt message on a Gallup House whiteboard for all to see, “I am Mountain Valley – Mountain Valley is my home.”

How fortunate I am – and we all are – to work at such a, I’ll say it – unique place – a place that gives residents back their lives and, yes, at times, saves those lives in a way that few, if any, other programs seem to do. And how fortunate I am to have had the opportunity to get to know these bright, talented, resilient young people – and their amazing parents who share them with us. We look forward to seeing many of you at this year’s reunion on July 18 – and hearing your laughter, enjoying your hugs, seeing your tears, and listening to your stories of strength and success.

Carl Lovejoy is Mountain Valley’s Associate Executive Director for Communications and Development and a member of MVTC’s founding team.