Ella Enchanted

At nine years old, Ella should be a young, vibrant, giggly child dancing safely in her living room under the watchful love and care of her parents. But she is not. Sadly, like the other 211,000 children that cried for help in Colorado last year, “should be” does not apply.

Ella is terrified, at nine she has experienced some of the most horrific abuse that can be doled out onto a human being. At Tennyson Center, we see past the trauma, to the little girl who has experienced so much in such little time. We see a family desperately trying to reimagine a reality devoid of the stress that poverty, neglect, physical and mental health challenges, and food insecurity bring. We see a family trying to hold it together, and we are unwilling to allow them to walk alone.


We entered this family’s life based on the situation in the home going from bad to worse. The Denver Department of Health and Human Services called us, knowing that if a chance was going to be had for this family, our team of Community-Based Therapists and Family Support Specialists could rise to the occasion.

Week after week our therapist, Vanessa, has walked into this home; and week after week has walked out without a word coming from this child’s trembling lips. This is common in our work. Before the healing journey can begin, we must build a bridge of trust that stabilizes the relationship and the home in a way that unlocks a completely different future.

Our team excels at creative ways to build bridges with our families. Vanessa announces a new game for the family to play. “We are going to map out a genogram today, I’ve brought paper and crayons so we’re gonna do a little bit of drawing. Maybe, you can help us Ella?”

Mapping out a genogram is a technique that allows the family to participate in creating their family tree and identifying where abuse, adversity and traumatic events have occurred. Vanessa clears a spot on the worn and stained carpet for a large piece of drawing paper. The red crayon signifies abuse, green is mental health, blue is sexual abuse…” and the list goes on, filling out a sad color wheel of traumatic events and circumstances that may surround the life of each individual around this child.

In the center of the page a little stick figure is drawn representing Ella, they draw a circle around the child a tree branching off in each direction one for mom one for dad. As the family tree takes form all the colors explode on the page. Sexual abuse, assault, homelessness, drug abuse, alcoholism, rape, bipolar disorder, mother, father, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, great grandparents the list goes on no one unaffected by the generations of trauma in this family. By the end of the exercise, fireworks dance around the little girl in the middle of the circle.

They sit with it for a few moments of expected silence. Finally, the child reaches a trembling finger from the closet and points at herself in the circle and squeaks out, “neglect”. Through tears she pours out her loneliness as mom and dad are always gone in treatment. She weeps, sharing how scared she is all the time, how hungry she is. She shares the terror of her expected loss of her mother to the new sickness. Rightly so, she is terrified, but she is not alone.

She will never be alone again.

That moment was six months ago. The journey has been rocky, but the family is progressing, rallying around the little girl in the center of the circle, guided by the hope that Ella’s stars will be reimagined, cutting out the roots of trauma that have afflicted this family for generations.

It is the holiday season, a season of thanks and joy. A season of light. A season of hope.

We will ensure that Ella can dance and sing her little heart out in her living room and that the future holds a picture with all the beautiful colors of hope her future.

Thanks to you, and the work you support, Ella is Enchanted with a new hope this season.