Alyssa Bomster was out with friends in November 2017 when a police stop involving an older friend driving without a license triggered her grief over the death of her cousin/best friend a day earlier. She had been drinking and the combination led her to confront police, resulting in her arrest for breach of peace.
It was the beginning of a downward spiral for a young woman of just 16.
Fast forward to 2020 and the Alyssa you encounter today is transformed. Now a student with a scholarship at Goodwin University in East Hartford, she’s confident, accomplished and deeply appreciative of the positive arc she’s on.
“I’ve come such a long way in such a short amount of time. I didn’t really expect this of myself,” Alyssa said. “Where would I be now if I didn’t spend those four months at Touchstone? I always knew I was capable of everything I’m accomplishing now. I just needed something. It was the MDFT program and Touchstone.”
Alyssa’s “now” has her living in student housing at Goodwin University, which gave her a 50 percent scholarship. She has a job working at a residential program for men with physical and developmental disabilities, and volunteered during the first semester in 2019 at Riverside Academy Magnet School, providing career inspiration for fifth-graders.
Enrolled in the health sciences program as a pre-nursing student, Alyssa has her sights set on going into the nursing program and working as a pediatric nurse.
“Alyssa’s is a wonderful, wonderful story, and at the end of the day it’s her own inner strength that has to get her beyond her past,” said Kathleen Bolduc, Senior Director, School of Business, Technology, and Advanced Manufacturing at Goodwin University.
NAFI CT’s Multidimensional Family Therapy Program, located on a 55-acres of serene, rural land in Litchfield, is a residential treatment program for young women 13 to 17 referred by the state Court Support Services Division (CSSD). The program is part of NAFI CT’s Touchstone Campus, where services are specifically designed to address the unique needs of adolescent females involved in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems. The site is also home to another Department of Children and Families (DCF) funded residential treatment program for adolescent females and a private special education school, Touchstone School. The expansive campus also boasts recreational space including an indoor gymnasium, hiking trails, basketball court, greenhouse, and fishing pond.
The goal is to provide short-term education and treatment with the objective of successfully returning the young women to their communities and schools. Thanks to a DCF grant, for the past three years NAFI CT has partnered with Goodwin University to offer a Career Enhancement Program at Touchstone School.
The program provides students with exposure to diverse career opportunities including finance, computer aided design, manufacturing, and allied health. Periodic field experiences at area businesses are integrated with hands-on learning provided by the weekly visits of Goodwin’s Advanced Manufacturing Mobile Training Lab.
Alyssa came to the Touchstone Campus and discovered a new world of possibilities because of what happened subsequent to her 2017 encounter with police. It was going in the wrong direction that ultimately brought her to the right place.
Alyssa had a problem with school attendance and ended up being subjected to house arrest. She violated the terms and was sent to juvenile detention. Things seemed to get better, but only briefly. A short-time later, Alyssa was arrested following a car accident.
“After that it was a no-brainer. I was not coming home,” Alyssa recalled. She headed back to juvenile detention and received a lifeline—a recommendation that she be sent to NAFI CT’s MDFT program.
Alyssa landed at the Touchstone Campus on Sept. 11, 2018. Knowing she couldn’t change the fact she would be there nearly five months, Alyssa decided, “I’m not going to be hostile to these people.”
“I wanted to make the most of a situation I couldn’t control,” Alyssa said, “and then there was the Goodwin University program. Every girl looked forward to Goodwin on campus.”
There are two components to Goodwin University’s program at Touchstone School, one classroom-based and the other centered on the Advanced Manufacturing Mobile Training Lab.
Kate Bolduc of Goodwin oversees the program and also travels to Litchfield each Wednesday to provide the classroom activities.
“Our programs are designed to complement where they are in their curriculum,” she explained. “We do everything from considering types of careers to helping the students understand where their aptitude is, and where they might have an interest. We also work on conflict response and have the girls work in teams, complementing the Touchstone work.”
On Thursday, Marilyn Portilla, an Academic Advisor in the Social Science, Business and Education Department, arrives with the mobile trailer, which exposes students to skills in advanced manufacturing. “They can take things right off the floor like a welder,” Kate Bolduc explained, listing other resources such as a 3D printer and computer aided design (CAD).
“I did virtual reality welding,” Alyssa remembered. “That was super dope.”
The Goodwin University program has fall, spring and summer sessions, the latter of which is an eight-week program focused on having the students create a business such as a wreath-making venture.
As the young women develop business and marketing plans, and design and build the wreaths, for example, they’re transformed from disinterested to engaged—and then it gets even better.
Whatever the students “manufacture” has to meet a delivery deadline in August, when the products are transported to Goodwin to be displayed in the main lobby for a week, followed by an achievement ceremony.
“We send a luxury bus out in Litchfield to pick up girls,” Kate Bolduc said. “They get a tour of the Advanced Manufacturing Center and the whole school. To get them ready, we do a dress for success style program on how you present yourself to be perceived in a certain way. That is a quality and a skill we spend a lot of time on with these girls.”
When they arrive at Goodwin, the young women are presented as a group of high school students there for a tour. They get to meet with Goodwin University President Mark Scheinberg or another senior leader, enjoy a formal luncheon, and witness the enthusiasm of people buying raffle tickets for the things they made.
Last summer, the raffle raised approximately $500. The girls can keep the money collectively or spend it with staff approval. That’s not what they do.
“The two years we did this all of the girls decided to donate the money to a charity,” Kate Bolduc said. “That was a very fulfilling experience for us. Clearly they got more out of the experience than we anticipated.” The first year, the funds went to Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, and last summer the students chose to donate to the Mercy Housing and Shelter Corporation in Hartford.
Alyssa didn’t arrive at Touchstone School until after the summer wreath-making program, but the weekly visits by Goodwin educators were so transformational they inspired her to stay on track and ensure she had a shot at attending Goodwin.
When she returned home on Jan. 9, 2019, Alyssa took online courses and finished senior year of high school Feb. 2, 2019. Thanks to Touchstone School and Goodwin, she hadn’t fallen behind and was actually ahead of her high school peers.
“I never considered any place other than Goodwin. I just knew that’s where I was going to go,” Alyssa said. “I felt a level of comfort.” She enrolled in Goodwin’s Educational Opportunities Program, a seven-week early-start program held over the summer, and her efforts resulted in Alyssa receiving a 50 percent scholarship.
“I genuinely believe there would have been no point of recovery for me if I did not get sent away to Touchstone,” Alyssa said. “It protected me and helped me grow. It made me realize that, even if you can’t see it at the time, everything happens for a reason.”