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Opinion & Essays - Jun, 1996 Issue #40 

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 the future. 

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.)

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