Each girl's story is unique. Project Return's group home residents come to the program often as a result of abuse and neglect that they have experienced at the hands of parents and/or relatives. Most come following stays in institutional settings, hospitals, or foster homes; some have been rejected by adoptive families. They have experienced severe emotional trauma, including abandonment and homelessness, and physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. Some have witnessed the loss of one or both parents through substance abuse, suicide, disease, or murder.
As a result, residents often carry with them challenges such as depression, eating disorders, bi-polar and anxiety disorders, substance abuse, and self-mutilation. The girls in the group home come from throughout Connecticut, and range in age from 14-20. The majority are referred through the Department of Children and Families.
Our Aftercare and Transitional Living participants are primarily alumnae who have lived at Project Return who require on-going emotional and sometimes financial support.
HEAL serves girls ages 14-18 who have been identified by local high schools as adolescents who would benefit from a supportive peer group dynamic. A diverse group of five-seven girls become a community of community-service volunteers for one year.
Sarah looked like a typical teenage girl, attending the local high school, playing softball, and going to the prom. In fact, she was a neighborhood kid. You could have run into her at the bookstore or coffee shop.
What you don't know is that her father was brutally murdered and her mother was in prison. With no family to care for her, Project Return became her home at the age of 14. While the life of a teenage girl is hard enough, it is infinitely more difficult under these circumstances.
Surrounded by the love and support of this community, Sarah was able to spend the next four years healing and growing at Project Return. She is now attending an Ivy League school but calls "home" often.
This is a story of one of our girls who left Project Return several years ago. When she arrived at Project Return, she was a fragile girl without a voice. Her body was childlike despite her chronological age. Recovering from severe anorexia, she had been discharged from the hospital and needed to learn how to eat on her own accord. She worked very hard to get better.
She now lives with her mother and has received her bachelor's degree. Our program and aftercare services clearly helped her heal and succeed. Recovery from anorexia is a long-term process. Many times in stressful periods during the last few years it was our staff who helped her turn a downward spiral and resurgence of her anorexia into a push toward health.
Here is an excerpt from a piece that she wrote about her experience at Project Return:
When I first arrived, I did not want to get better. I wanted to starve myself back down to 70 pounds. I wallowed in my misery and shut everyone out. But something magical happened. The love and support I received allowed me to learn to feed myself again—that it was okay to like food. The staff lovingly encouraged me to eat when I was afraid. They battled the depression with me when I felt I couldn't. And they accepted me with all my flaws, something I had a hard time understanding….
There is so much love and compassion that each (staff) has for every single young woman. And it doesn't go away after you leave. I have developed wonderful relationships with several of them, the people who've known me in my darkest hours. In fact, in the last several months I have walked through those doors so familiar to me, both standing tall on my way to an interview, or on the verge of tears, terrified of the transitions I am making.
I've learned so much from Project Return. They've taught me how to laugh again, to be good to myself, and to believe in myself. I was the only child in a divorced family, and that can be a very lonely place. Coming to the group home I gained 6 sisters and many mentors. While at times I found it difficult, mostly I loved it. In fact, while in college I had an assignment to make a family genealogy and I altered mine from the traditional biological one, to a social one, so that I could include Project Return, my other family.
-Past Project Return Resident