Opinion & Essays
- Jun, 1996 Issue #40
SUWS ADOLESCENT PROGRAM
South Central Idaho
Brian Church, Admissions
May 3 Visit: by Deborah Trounstine
Teen Recovery Strategies
San Jose, California
Spring was settling in on the high desert when we arrived at SUWS: the streams
were gushing, the air crisp and cool and the program operating at full tilt. We were met by Sue Crowell who spent most of the day
with us, visiting with staff and teens in all three stages of SUWS's three-week impact program in which small groups of kids become
a search-and-rescue team -- a wonderful metaphor for lost boys and girls.
We found each group well-organized and supervised. The kids who had been
there only two days had already learned how to pack their gear, keep themselves warm at night by making a "burrito" -- rolling themselves
into their sleeping bag and tarp -- and were beginning to learn how to make fire with flint and steel. Most of these children were
still pretty bewildered, but managed to shake our hands and look us in the eye.
Among the children who'd been in the program nine days, there was marked
change. These boys and girls had just entered the community living phase and spoke about learning how to be a family that functions
so that everyone pulls his or her weight to meet the needs of the group. They spoke about their growing trust in the field staff and
the positive relationships they were beginning to form with one another. The kids looked clean and well-fed and, having begun sharing
their life stories, seemed to be understanding why they were there.
The kids in the third phase had just completed their three-day solos and
were preparing to form a search-and-rescue team. When we asked them what's the worst thing about SUWS, they didn't complain about
food, or cold or the rigors of desert living, they said they missed their families and contact with the outside world. One boy said
he wished he could read a newspaper and that he was worried about his younger brother's health. One girl confided that she was nervous
about leaving SUWS, where she'd discovered strengths she didn't know she had. These were children who clearly had come a long way
from their condition a few weeks earlier when they cared little about their families and had no ability to focus on or anticipate
Later, we watched this group begin work on SUWS's new ropes course. We saw
youngsters who, just weeks ago had no concept of how to cooperate with anyone or to stay on task, work as teams high above the ground
to traverse on parallel swinging logs and on steel cable. We also learned about the program's special-needs group in which hard-to-reach
kids are paired one-on-one with staff and in which llamas are an integrated part of the therapy.
Sue Crowell answered every question without hesitation and introduced us
to more than a dozen field instructors, supervisors and others. One of the program's great strengths seems to be the low turnover
of staff who seem to love their work and the kids they treat. With summer coming, SUWS will begin doubling its courses, allowing 14
openings per week. We were tremendously impressed with the high quality of the work being done by the staff and teenagers. This is
one wilderness treatment program to which we will enthusiastically refer clients.
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.)