Dana ran into trouble her freshman year of high school. She started fighting with her mother and stopped showing up to class. Dana then came to SCO’s Madonna Heights, a place for adolescent girls who are struggling at home and in school to learn and grow.
Dana explains: “My old school wasn’t a bad place; it was just big and easy to fall into what you shouldn’t. Classes at Madonna Heights are small. There’s nowhere to hide. It’s also more therapeutic here. They have sanctuary. They have social workers. They have support.”
Dana found patience, confidence and belief in herself at Madonna Heights. She began taking art classes as a freshman. Her first project was designing and sculpting a name plate out of metal, adding enamel for color and style. Vardi Mortellaro, her art teacher, says: “In this room, over the years, I’ve watched Dana’s belief in herself grow. Dana’s presence in the room is such a help. The other girls model her behavior. She’s the first person to offer help when someone’s struggling or unsure of what to do next.”
Family counseling, a standard practice for all residents, strengthened Dana’s bond with her mother. “Sitting down and talking with her made me realize that she did have my best interest in mind,” says Dana. After two years of living on the Madonna Heights campus, our staff decided Dana was ready to return home and she became a day student at the Madonna Heights School.
In her senior year, with years of art instruction and practice under her belt, she was a finalist in the Long Island art competition “Splashes of Hope” for her sculpture called “Proudly, We Thank the Brave.”
“This project took Dana months,” says Vardi, the art instructor. “It takes a lot of discipline. Every little cut you see in that metal was done by hand using a sharp, but thin blade to make each cut. It takes a lot of concentration. It takes a lot of skill.”
Her latest piece may have taken a lot of time, but not enough to stop her from working the room, looking for anyone who needed help or encouragement. Dana served in Madonna Heights’ leadership program as Ambassador of the Commitment to Democracy, where she assists the administration in developing fair policies while addressing the concerns of her peers. Her role is to promote both self-discipline and healthy authority.
“You don’t leave here the same person as when you started. When I came here I was defiant. I didn’t care about things. I didn’t care what happened to me. I don’t think the same way. I discovered that I’m a leader. People really like working with me and they look up to me.”