Golden Girl Group Home celebrates 35 years

September 24, 2018

Micheal Lambert, of Huntington, and her daughter, Raelyn, 3, meet with others as the Golden Girl Group Home celebrates its 35th anniversary with a reunion on Saturday in Ceredo.

CEREDO — In the past 35 years, Golden Girl Group Home, a home serving West Virginia’s abused and neglected girls, has changed countless lives.

Hundredsgat here d at the Golden Girl complex in Ceredo on Saturday for a 35-year reunion to celebrate the success of the program, its graduates and the possibilities for the future.

Golden Girl Group Home serves girls ages 12 to 18 from across West Virginia, mostly victims of sexual abuse and neglect or behavioral and addiction issues. Founded by Judy Gilkerson in 1983 as a way to counsel, educate and mentor vulnerable girls in a safe environment, the home has since served an estimated 800 to 900 young women.

Right now, about 34 girls live in the home and the program has expanded to support an independent living program for girls over 18.

All the girls who have lived at the home any point during those 35 years were invited to return with the families to reminisce about their time in the home and share stories of their time before, during and after the time spent at the shelter.

The party featured inflatables, Disney characters to entertain children, food and music.

While the graduates range from 18 to 50 years in age, all of them regressed to their teenage years upon crossing the Golden Girl courtyard, whether it be by seeing friends they hadn’t seen in years or teasing Renee Harrison, executive director of Golden Girl Group Home, by calling her “mom” — a title they weren’t supposed to use while living at the home. Harrison embraced each woman as if she were her own as they approached her Saturday with the families they have created in tow.

Harrison and her husband have been part of Golden Girl Group Home since 1984.

“Of the 800 or 900 girls we’ve had, we’ve known all but two,” she said. “When we came, we were newlyweds. Our plan was to stay here for a year and move to California. God had other things in store for us.”

Harrison said she went through tens of thousands of photos, even having to redevelop some from old negatives, which were combined with testimonial videos from the graduates to make a video encompassing what Golden Girl Group Home means to its graduates.

Love and family are the two things that help the program thrive, she said.

While hundreds of girls have gone through the program, they never really left. As the program saying goes, once a Golden Girl, always a Golden Girl, Harrison said.

Harrison laughed when asked to count how many celebrations, showers and weddings she had been to for the graduates. She couldn’t count, but did say staff was present when one graduate birthed her baby and at least one wedding has taken place at the complex.

Many said the Golden Girl Group Home ideals about love and family are what taught them how to create a healthy life of their own. Quotes from the past girls were posted across the complex to show that.

“I often said that my time at Golden Girl probably saved my life. It gave me the drive and desire to make helping kids my chosen profession,” said graduate Summer.

“I was finally understood without judgment or pity, accepted for who I was and taught that the world wasn’t as bad as I had been previously shown,” graduate Alicia said. “I was given direction and opportunity to grow. Most importantly I was loved.”

A memorial was also set up to honor the program’s “Golden Angels,” about 20 staff and participants who have died.

Those seeking more information about Golden Girl Group Home or wanting to donate can contact the organization at 304-453-1401.

life of their own. Quotes from the past girls were posted across the complex to show that.

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