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News & Views - Oct, 1996 Issue #42 

by: Mitch Cole
Second Chance Youth Referral Services 
Milford, Utah 801-387-2533 

(Mitch Cole worked for Redcliff Ascent for two years. He left Redcliff Ascent on positive terms for personal reasons, and is now exploring the possibilities of establishing a practice as a consultant, based on his experiences in working with programs for young people) 

RedCliff Ascent is a wilderness program located in picturesque Southwestern Utah that has maintained a spotless reputation. RedCliff staff, from the office to the field, strive to maintain the highest standard of care. Attention to quality shows in the organization, and in results. Contact with a RedCliff receptionist is a pleasant experience. They are friendly, and genuinely care about their jobs.  Thelma Hamblin, RedCliff’s Admissions Director, is known to the youth in the program as “grandma”. She has truly earned the name by the love and care she lavishes on each youth. A common goal among all RedCliff employees is to have the greatest positive impact on the life of the youth possible in the time allotted to them. Mark Whartle, the Field Director, plays an important role in the program as he balances the needs of the field staff with the policies of the company. Morale is good, partly due to Mark’s emphasis on professionalism. All staff are encouraged to take and complete a Wilderness First Responder’s course provided by the company. All staff are required to certify in CPR. All staff are required to complete training in managing emotional crisis situations. All staff are required to attend in-service training sessions designed to enhance existing abilities, and add to competency in the field. In addition, Mark has introduced a system of accountability for field staff as instructors for the youth in the field. Called the Feather System, it lays out a series of progressive skills which field staff need to master before moving on to a position of higher responsibility. 

The effect is to ensure each youth in the field is entrusted to those who exhibit quality in leadership, and in caring. RedCliff Ascent is licensed by the State of Utah to provide outdoor therapy for youth ranging in age from 12 to 18. The program duration is from 30 to 60 days. At the present time there is an open enrollment policy. Each youth is required to pass a physical before entry into the hiking phase of the program. They are each likewise given a thorough psychological assessment that is used to create a treatment plan that reflects the needs of each individual youth. 

Therapists visit the field weekly to follow up on the treatment plans and recommend to field staff suggestions for individual daily treatment. Field staff are encouraged to follow the treatment plan, and their observations are assessed by the therapists. The youth’s therapist reports weekly to the parents updating them on the progress of their child. The first phase of the RedCliff program is the Coyote Phase. Like the Coyote, each youth must learn to adapt with ingenuity to his surroundings. They must develop stamina as they learn to backpack in the rugged wilderness of Southwestern Utah. Traditionally the first phase of a wilderness program has been called “impact” for obvious reasons. It is not a time of deprivation at RedCliff's, but a time to realize the difference between true basic needs, and culturally imposed norms. No youth is denied food, clothing, water, shelter, or medical care during their stay at RedCliff. Each must learn to adapt to a change in diet and habitat. This phase is successfully completed when the youth learns that enjoyment of the experience depends entirely upon his/her choices and his/her willingness to change. 

The second Phase of the RedCliff program is the Buffalo Phase. In this phase the youth are encouraged to learn to solve problems as a group. They are urged to develop and deepen their relations with their peers in an environment designed to nurture correct behavior, and help them gain control of and mold their attitudes. They learn the fundamentals of group dynamics as they interact with each other and learn to confront each other without hostility. 

The third phase of the program is the Eagle Phase. In this phase individual choices are emphasized. Leadership skills are nurtured and relational skills are fine tuned within the group. By now the youth has been in the program long enough to become comfortable with the experience, and deeper issues can be dealt with as his focus changes from adapting to his/her new environment to utilizing the program to meet his/her individual needs. After the youth has completed the Eagle Phase, graduation is the culmination of all the efforts made by staff, student , therapist, and parents. It is truly the most rewarding part of the program to see a reunited family with new hope for the future. 

Prior to the actual graduation, parents are notified as to the possible date, and are given time to make the arrangements. When they arrive, they are briefed on what their youth has undergone and given a mini preparation seminar to prepare them for their reunion. They are then reunited with their child in the field and encouraged to participate in some structured, trust building activities. 

They learn some of the wilderness skills their child has become proficient in as they spend the night in the field together. When the family leaves, they have been helped to develop follow-up plans that fits the individual needs of their child. That can be therapeutic options open to them in their own communities, or another long term school or program. 

An informal survey conducted within the company suggests up to 80% success at having a positive impact on the lives of the youth. This includes parental perceptions about how well their youth has done, and includes follow-up surveys up to a year after graduation. 

One of the owners, Steve Peterson, sums it up best when he states that his personal goal for RedCliff is to take kids in obvious need of help, bring them into a setting that is new and unfamiliar, and help them break with their past self defeating behavior. He feels the unfamiliarity of the wilderness environment enables them to clarify their values better, and either return to their roots or find new ones. 

His philosophy for how this should be done is to avoid the militaristic or punitive approaches in favor of a nurturing and introspective style intended to make more lasting differences. RedCliff Ascent is a success at providing the nurturing environment, and the testimony of changed lives is a tribute to Steve’s philosophy. 

Copyright © 1996, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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