Pictures of success

Pam Mesmer, executive director of Brookwood, says of the wall of pictures: “This is their place in history, so to speak.”

DIRK SHADD | Times

Pam Mesmer, executive director of Brookwood, says of the wall of pictures: “This is their place in history, so to speak.”

The world's most beautiful wallpaper contains nearly every color and hue, but has no distinct pattern.

It doesn't match the carpeting in the office, it doesn't contrast with the decor, and it can't be found in design magazines. But trust me, it is undoubtedly the world's most beautiful wallpaper.

Photographs of smiling girls cover every spot on the four walls in Pam Mesmer's office at Brookwood, a group home for adolescent girls in the shadow of downtown St. Petersburg.

Nearly 32 years ago, she started collecting snapshots of the girls because many never had anyone take their picture, or purchase their school photos.

"Years after they would leave here, they would come back to make sure we still had their pictures up," said Mesmer, who has served as executive director since 1992.

"That's when we realized something we took for granted was important to them. It took on a life of its own. Now I have kids who are almost 50 coming back and checking the wall to make sure their picture is there."

Mesmer ran out of room in her office 10 years ago, but colleagues have extended the practice.

The photos represent mighty triumphs over difficult starts in life.

Brookwood draws girls ages 11 to 21 from around the state. They have been victims of abuse, neglect, violence, family dysfunction or homelessness.

Mesmer, 62, became acquainted with the home as the first female patrol officer for the St. Petersburg Police Department. She patrolled the neighborhood where Brookwood sits while working to get a master's in counseling.

The prevailing thought among her peers was that if she could counsel teenage girls, she could counsel anyone. So in September 1978, she joined the staff of at what was then known as Young Women's Residence.

She just wanted to acquire a few years of experience.

"And I'm still here," laughed Mesmer.

Helping young ladies break the cycle of abuse sustains Mesmer. Not that staffers use a magic formula.

They build relationships, helping the girls realize they can have positive relationships with adults.

They help them create life plans involving education and/or workplace success.

They help them understand the consequences of choices.

Most of all, they love them.

"One girl sat on my sofa many years later and said, 'I tried to do everything to make you hate me, but you still cared about me,' " Mesmer said.

"She said, 'You wore me out. So I decided to let you care about me and see where that takes me.' Now she's a trauma nurse. That's her way of giving back."

Such success stories provide the biggest rewards for Mesmer and her staff. You can learn more at Brookwood's Breakfast of Hope May 13 at Feather Sound County Club.

You'll discover that some of the girls made it because Brookwood staffers were the first to believe in them.

Some say a reassuring hug after a tough day kept them going.

Some say the biggest factor was Mesmer taking their photograph, oohing and awing over it and putting it on the wall.

You know, nothing makes a room warmer than the world's most beautiful wallpaper.

That's all I'm saying.

Pictures of success 04/27/10 [Last modified: Friday, July 29, 2011 11:59am]

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