One person can change a life forever. That’s what Nancy Bunt does with children at Alexander through Reiki, meditation, guided imagery, and relaxation techniques. It all started with ‘Dan the Artist’, a young man who visited Nancy’s second grade classroom just once to lead the class in a guided relaxation exercise. That one moment solidified meditation practice in her life forever. While Nancy does not know Dan’s full name, she made a promise to herself to pay his gift forward.
Nancy discovered Alexander Youth Network through one of her students who was interning at Alexander while she worked on her master’s degree in social work. When asked what inspired her to commit so much time and effort, Nancy responds that “after learning about the integrative approach Alexander takes in supporting the healing of children recovering from the effects of trauma I knew it was a place I would enjoy sharing my skills.”
When she first began volunteering weekly at Alexander she thought she would help out for maybe six months. “That was almost six years ago”, Nancy says with a spirited laugh. “I never imagined just how much joy, inspiration, healing and growth was going to come out of this experience for me personally. I’ve been able to witness the positive impact it has, and I believe it’s a valuable experience for the children, the staff, and myself.”
One of Nancy’s favorite experiences involved a diminutive six year-old boy name Marvin*. Marvin would wrap himself up tightly from head to toe in a blanket on the floor during guided mediation. He would not move a muscle the entire time she was there, declaring that he didn’t want anyone to touch him. This went on for six weeks. On the seventh week, Nancy saw him in the hallway as she was walking to the class. “When he saw me coming his eyes got huge, his face lit up, and he exclaimed to his teacher, ‘I can’t sit here, I have Reiki today!’ She knew in that moment that her small gift was a huge one for Marvin.
When Nancy is not working at A Reiki Life Academy and volunteering, she often spends time in nature, goes hiking, enjoys yoga, and enjoys amazing adventures with her husband Dennis.
“Our fingerprints don’t fade from the lives we touch.” – Judy Blume
You just don’t see many 90-year old women driving a burnt orange Hummer. And if you called it orange, friends say Hazel would remind you it was in fact ‘Solar Flare’. Often spotted jumping into her mammoth vehicle for a quick trip from The Cypress to Blowing Rock, Hazel Solomon was a sight to be seen according to her good friend and money manager Al Winget. Duke and Yale educated, Hazel worked for 39 years as the head nurse in the ER of Charlotte Memorial Hospital (now better known as Carolinas Medical Center).
A close friend of hers in Blowing Rock told us Hazel “loved new experiences, tennis, Duke Basketball and studying at school.” In her eighties, Hazel set out to try a motorcycle for the first time and also dragged friends along for a trip in a hot air balloon. This zest for life crossed over into her professional drive as well. She was one of just a handful of women selected to attend Yale in the 1940’s, breaking down barriers to women’s equality within education.
Introduced to Alexander Youth Network in April 1995 by her friend and business acquaintance Ben Vernon, Hazel began to make small gifts to the agency on a regular basis. She would visit campus to chat with the children, demonstrating her incredible compassion those most marginalized in our community.
Three years after her first visit, Hazel decided to include Alexander in her will. A dedicated member of Pritchard Memorial Baptist Church, Hazel believed in the power of service and philanthropy. Having outlived her parents and sister, she began to invest in real estate ventures to much success. She would immediately invest the proceeds of her dealings and her estate continued to grow. When Hazel passed away in February of 2016, she left the bulk of her estate to charity. Alexander Youth Network was one of those beneficiaries.
We are forever grateful for Hazel’s warm smile and huge heart. For more than 20 years, Hazel provided the children at Alexander the opportunity to heal and realize their potential. The legacy she leaves behind includes countless lives touched, dreams made possible and hopes realized.
There is a special magic that happens when children and dogs connect. An exciting new one-of-a-kind pilot program at Alexander Youth Network launched in January 2018 to accomplish just that. The Bark and Heal program, offered through the support of Furbabies Animal Rescue, pairs dogs in need of adoption with children in our Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facility (PRTF). Daryl Wagner, a long-time Therapeutic Foster parent with Alexander, is also the owner of the rescue. “These children, like the dogs they train, have been treated as though they do not have value. But they have so much love to give and should know that countless people love them in return.”
Drawing on the success of the A New Leash on Life program, the children teach basic obedience, house training, and socialization through positive reinforcement and repetition. Throughout the program the kids learn how to manage their assigned dog’s personalities, including rewarding positive behaviors and redirecting undesirable ones. Lori Douglas, program manager, notes that “the process of teaching the dogs to moderate their energy and emotions allows the kids to model those own behaviors themselves.”
The program is already making a huge difference in the four weeks since its launch. Nikki Cannon, one of Alexander’s residential treatment supervisors, shared that after the first day of the program she overheard one of the participants telling his teacher, “I can’t swim anymore…I am a trainer now and I won’t have time!”
Lori, who first envisioned the program 25 years ago while working as a social worker on the streets of Baltimore, cannot wait to review results of the first eight-week session. The University of Northern Georgia is also conducting a study of the program with pre and post outcomes to help better refine the effort. We are incredibly grateful for the support of Daryl Wagner, Furbabies Animal Rescue, the University of North Georgia and the Bill and Sharon Allen Family Foundation whose transformative gift made this program a reality.