By Erin Porteous, CEO

In a month that’s filled to the brim with candy, cards and flowers, there is an underlying theme that gets to the essence of what it means to be human: showing those we love how much they mean to us. That simple beauty that comes with recognizing each other can often feel as if it is in short supply as we move through adulthood.

This got me thinking recently. How many people are there in my life who I would want to recognize, to single out as special and important and a force for good in my life? Do they even know? Have I told them?

And then I had an answer: Mrs. Harwood.

By Erin Porteous, CEO

In a month that’s filled to the brim with candy, cards and flowers, there is an underlying theme that gets to the essence of what it means to be human: showing those we love how much they mean to us. That simple beauty that comes with recognizing each other can often feel as if it is in short supply as we move through adulthood.

This got me thinking recently. How many people are there in my life who I would want to recognize, to single out as special and important and a force for good in my life? Do they even know? Have I told them?

And then I had an answer: Mrs. Harwood.

Mrs. Harwood was my 6th grade art teacher. She taught ceramics, photography and drawing, and had the most calming and tranquil demeanor. Before even signing up for class I knew nothing about art, except that I felt terrible at it from an early age. I could never really stay in the lines when coloring, stick figures were as far as I could get when asked to do portrait drawings, and I really had no creativity gene when it came to abstract pieces. But, my desire to be in that class had very little to do with the subject matter, and a whole lot to do with the teacher and how she inspired her students. She made each of us each feel like a Picasso, regardless of our talent (which I displayed very little of). To this day, my memory of art class is one that fills me with joy: I remember the smell of the kiln, the concrete floor riddled with colors and permanent paint stains, and Mrs. Harwood’s soft smile, endearing eyes, and willingness to be helpful to others. Did she ever know the positive impact and influence she had during my young adolescence? Because while I did not go on to pursue any type of degree in the arts, I did remember the way she inspired me, and encouraged my love for learning, creativity and exploration. It was just one kid, one teacher and one class. But it changed how I viewed myself and how I could show up in the world. 

At Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Denver, we serve about 10,000 kids per year. So as I reflect on what I would want to say to Mrs. Harwood, I am struck by how many of our Club kids might write a similar note to the staff in their Clubs, a place that for so many, is their second home. It’s a place where a trusted adult is always there to guide them, to affirm and encourage their potential, and to be a north star in young lives that are often tumultuous. Nothing happens without the kindness and dedication of our Club staff. They are teachers and coaches, advocates and artists, mentors and confidantes.  

The reality is that, for thousands upon thousands of kids, we will never truly know the extent that their lives were changed by their time in the Clubs and the irreplaceable relationships they have with our Club staff. Every time I walk into a Club, I am amazed the community, connection and care that I see. And there is no way to quantify or count the millions of “Mrs. Harwood moments” that happen every day, month, and year. Our staff members prepare our kids to go out into the world and soar. And once they leave the Club, we just hope in our hearts that they are flying. 

We all have people in our lives who have changed us, irrevocably, for the better. Whose encouragement made the difference in the passionate pursuit of our dreams and the confidence to believe they could happen in the first place. And we all have letters that have gone unwritten. Valentines unsent. 

So today, I pose to you this question: Who is your Mrs. Harwood, your Club Director, your coach, or your teacher? Who made a difference in your life journey – a difference they may know nothing about? Which of your letters have gone unwritten? Here is mine: