As I placed my suitcase in the trunk of my rental car, I took a deep breath of warm, dry dessert air. I had flown on a direct flight into the Las Vegas international airport from the east coast. With another stretch, I lowered into the driver seat ready begin my 1 hour and 30 minute commute to Sunrise Residential Treatment Center. I could have flown right into Saint George, UT, but direct flights are more limited due to the smaller size of the airport. Besides, the drive from Las Vegas to Saint George included one of my favorite stretches of road in the country. When I reached it, I knew it wouldn’t be long until I arrived. The beautiful red rock seemed to rise out of the earth with me, and then over me, as I swerved through the canyon. It took all my might to keep my eyes on the road instead of gazing at the powerful rock walls that seemed to change and evolve with each turn and beam of sunshine.
Once I am through the canyon, I can get excited about reaching Sunrise RTC. This wasn’t my first visit. I work for the treatment program as the Director of Professional and Business Development, but I work remotely. I visited the Hurricane campus first. Located along a slightly bustling small town strip, this campus is home to a community of Sunrise students, a pool, multiple office spaces and, most importantly for this visit, the site of Monday morning staff team meetings.
I sat through multiple meetings designed to discuss all aspects of services to ensure alignment between departments and campuses. We sat in a large room with plush couches in circle so we could all see each other’s faces. Even a few staffs’ pet dogs were seated at our feet in the circle, panting happily as if they were contributing to the conversation about best practices.
Next, I drove through the small town of Hurricane 5 minutes to the Sunrise RTC school building where I was met with a hallway lined with photos of smiling faces adorned with graduation regalia. All the classroom doors were closed, but through the windows I could see teachers standing at the front of the room leading lectures or walking around helping students with individualized instruction. Deciding not to disturb their academic flow, I climbed the staircase into the Academic Director’s office. With large windows facing the dry desert mountains outside there was no need for curtains. Instead, college and university flags hung around the room proudly displaying the alma maters of staff and the current places of study for Sunrise alumnae.
The drive from the school building to Sunrise RTC’s final campus is about 20 minutes back towards Saint George, UT. As I take the final turn into campus, I’m greeted with a huge wall proudly proclaiming the Sunrise logo. The Fields Campus is the largest with three residential houses, a pool and yard space, and offices for staff. Andrew, the office manager, smiled widely and said, “Hey! Welcome back!”, and I couldn’t help but feel comfortable. I meandered around the house as I waited for the girls to finish up at school. I would be joining them for group therapy that afternoon. As I walked through the houses, I saw books everywhere. Lots of young adult novels, thought-inspiring nonfictions, and plenty of resources on wellness. Glancing into some of the bedrooms, I saw photos and artwork on the walls and stuffed animals on the beds. Some rooms were tidier than others, but isn’t that true in all of our lives.
I made my way to one of the large common rooms where the recreation therapy group would be held. The room was host to the largest square couch I’ve ever seen, and when the girls trickled in for group, they immediately made themselves at home. Each girl was different. Different senses of styles. Different types of personalities. Different levels of energy. Some of them wore sweatpants and messy ponytails. Some of them were dressed in high heeled boots and fishnet stockings. Some of them were in jeans with perfectly smooth hair. Some of them looked like they had the weight of the world on their shoulders. Some of them looked like they wanted you to think they didn’t care about anything. Some of them laughed and spoke animatedly with their friends. Some of them were quiet and stuck closely to staff.
A girl with short hair and a blanket sat in the corner of the couch closest to me.
“Who are you?” She stated bluntly.
“I’m Tracey! I’m a Sunrise staff, but I only visit once in awhile. I do outreach mostly.”
“Cool. Do you want to be my partner for the activity?”
“Sure. Thank you!”
The girl on the other side of me had pigtails in her hair and an all black outfit. She rolled her eyes while smiling and said, “She can make friends with anyone! Last week at the skatepark she went right up and talked to some of the other kids there.”
“Great!” I ensured her. “I’ll take a new friend!”
And through the recreation therapy activity I learned that this girl is a competitive equestrian. She taught me proper riding posture and technique, and I saw her for more than a girl curled up in the corner of the couch under a blanket. She was knowledgeable and capable and funny and personable. She told me that at Sunrise she was remembering that she was all of these things and more.
That evening, as the girls put together the dinner the chef had prepared for them, I slipped out the door. The stars were bright, the air was still warm, and I felt an abundance of hope.
Tracey Gerlach, MAPP, CTRS, Director of Professional and Business Development