Iconic Excelsior youth center shutting after decades in Aurora and roots that go back a century

“This was a very difficult decision given the strong legacy of care Excelsior has brought to Colorado since its founding in 1973,” said CEO Susan J. Hébert in a letter to clients and partners of the organization

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Excelsior Improv

Jessica Austgen, a teaching artist from the Denver Center for Performing Arts, has her class stretch for the sky during warm ups, Oct. 17 at the Excelsior Youth Center. DCPA is partnering up with the Excelsior Youth Center and holds weekly improv workshops to enhance self-esteem, increase teamwork and improve self-expression among its students. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

Excelsior Improv

Jessica Austgen, a teaching artist from the Denver Center for Performing Arts, has her class stretch for the sky during warm ups, Oct. 17 at the Excelsior Youth Center. DCPA is partnering up with the Excelsior Youth Center and holds weekly improv workshops to enhance self-esteem, increase teamwork and improve self-expression among its students. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

Excelsior Improv

Jessica Austgen (right), a teaching artist from the Denver Center for Performing Arts, encourages her students to communicate, listen and have confidence in speaking through an exercise called "translator", Oct. 17 at the Excelsior Youth Center. DCPA is partnering up with the Excelsior Youth Center and holds weekly improv workshops to enhance self-esteem, increase teamwork and improve self-expression among its students. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

Excelsior Improv

Jessica Austgen, a teaching artist from the Denver Center for Performing Arts, encourages her students to listen to each other and make bigger characters during an activity called "driving", Oct. 17 at the Excelsior Youth Center. DCPA is partnering up with the Excelsior Youth Center and holds weekly improv workshops to enhance self-esteem, increase teamwork and improve self-expression among its students. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

Excelsior Improv

Danielle feeds off of her improv partner during an activity called "driving" which encourages students to listen and make big character choices, Oct. 17 at the Excelsior Youth Center. DCPA is partnering up with the Excelsior Youth Center and holds weekly improv workshops to enhance self-esteem, increase teamwork and improve self-expression among its students. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

Excelsior Improv

Danielle pretends to be an old lady during an improv activity called "driving" which encourages students to listen and make big character choices, Oct. 17 at the Excelsior Youth Center. DCPA is partnering up with the Excelsior Youth Center and holds weekly improv workshops to enhance self-esteem, increase teamwork and improve self-expression among its students. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

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Katy Bell (left), a volunteer from Petal's Fine Gardening, helps fill raised planting beds Friday morning, April 20 at the Excelsior Youth Center. About 20 female members of the Associated Landscape Contractor of Colorado (ALCC), along with several male colleagues, volunteered their time and expertise to improve the vegetable garden at the Excelsior Youth Center, the largest residential treatment program for girls, ages 11 to 18, with emotional and behavioral difficulties. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

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Volunteers break ground on a community garden Friday morning April 20 at the Excelsior Youth Center. Fourteen raised planting beds were placed and filled with soil. "The landscape industry is increasingly comprised of women business owners, managers, designers and employees," said Becky Garber, Associated Landscape Contractor of Colorado (ALCC) director of communications said. "We hope to show (the Excelsior students) career opportunities they may not have considered before and demonstrate that women are a powerful force in the landscape industry." (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

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A wheelbarrow full of dirt waits to be dispersed Friday morning, April 20 at the Excelsior Youth Center. About 20 female members of the Associated Landscape Contractor of Colorado (ALCC), along with several male collegues, volunteered their time and expertise to improve the vegetable garden at the center. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

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Volunteers help build raised planter boxes Friday morning April 20 at the Excelsior Youth Center. Joan Gabrielson, executive director at Excelsior, said gardening is one of the activities that helps empower teens who are in the treatment program. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

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Volunteers help build raised planter boxes Friday morning April 20 at the Excelsior Youth Center. Joan Gabrielson, executive director at Excelsior, said gardening is one of the activities that helps empower teens who are in the treatment program. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

AURORA | After more than four decades and a local history that goes back more than a century, Aurora-based  Excelsior, which offers services for youth facing social, emotional and behavioral issues, will end all of its clinical programs and begin a “wind-down” process to end the non-profit organization at the end of November, officials said.

“This was a very difficult decision given the strong legacy of care Excelsior has brought to Colorado since its founding in 1973,” said CEO Susan J. Hébert in a letter to clients and partners of the organization.

Over the past three years Excelsior has transformed from a residential treatment facility to offering a network of community-based services. But now, Hébert said there just isn’t enough funding to keep operating the organization.

“Unfortunately, the costs of operating our programs are not adequately covered by Medicaid ‘fee-for-service’ reimbursement and other more sustainable payer models could not be developed quickly enough to sustain our organization going forward,” Hébert said in the letter. “We understand and deeply regret the impact this decision will have on our communities.”

Programs will continue through November, and Hébert said therapists will work closely with its clients to establish some kind of plan for after the organization shuts its doors.

“It’s an especially challenging time in our state and in our country to sustain the missions of nonprofits serving the growing mental and behavioral health needs of children, youth and families,” Hébert said. “I believe it will take all of us, as leaders in our own state, to champion the cause of our most vulnerable, youngest citizens who deserve their best chances in life for health and wellbeing. More public dollars are needed for early intervention and prevention of childhood and youth trauma, both to save lives and lower the much higher costs of ‘downstream’ services.”

In 2016 alone the organization reported it served 523 youth and nearly 400 families through its programs. Excelsior has held an Aurora address since 1973, but the organization has deep roots in the Denver metro area.

In 1912, the Catholic Order of the Good Shepherd Sisters opened a home for young girls in Denver. There, they would do laundry for the railroad and local hotels. In 1968, the Sisters moved the home to Aurora. But a short five years later the home closed because there weren’t enough resources to keep it running. Then, local community leaders were able to swoop in and save the home. Since the organization evolved into serving both girls and boys up until the age of 24 with an array of services.