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New Perspectives - Apr, 2000 Issue #68 

Margaret Lannon

Tucson, Arizona

VisionQuest is being reviewed in these pages because they have just recently indicated an interest in accepting private pay children. Over their 25-year existence they have worked exclusively, up to this point, with adjudicated teens, as an “alternative to traditional methods of juvenile treatment and rehabilitation.” They describe their funding sources as “more than 70 placing agencies, primarily county and state governments….” from throughout the country. As of 1998, they claim to have 1250 staff, providing services to 1500 youth. Founded in 1973, they describe serving a total of 20,000 youth during their 25-year history. 

The most popular image of VisionQuest is the Wagon Train, designed for youth who have successfully completed the orientation and impact camp phase. “Youths participate in a journey via horse and wagon, sleeping, eating and attending classes within the confines of the wagon train camp. The lifestyle and demands of a wagon train require the development of certain skills, such as cooperation, self-discipline and a strong work ethic. Youths learn to successfully operate and maintain the wagons and horses, while continuing their academic studies. They also learn to confront personal and interpersonal issues with the help of VisionQuest staff.” “Youth and staff travel an average of 15 miles per day on a mule drawn covered wagon, which teaches the importance of hard work and cooperation.” 

Initially, a student will attend one of six “Impact Camps” located in Arizona, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Florida and New Jersey. After completion, when appropriate, the student will be referred to one of several other camps. One option is a Boot & Hat Camp, consisting of a 30 or 90 day program where “participants live in a military boot camp environment that combines marching and drill exercises with school, treatment, and community service.” There are three of these camps, located in Pennsylvania and Oklahoma. Another referral might be to a Quest Experience such as the Wagon Train, or Buffalo Soldiers, where “youth learn the history of the all-Black 9th and 10th Cavalry of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and practice elaborate precision marching drills and horseback formations… re-enact history and educate the community by performing these drills in parades and for elementary school students.” Other referrals might be to Specialized Quests which can include hiking, biking, rock climbing and animal pack trips to “explore new challenges and accomplish specific goals.”

VisionQuest also provides several non-residential programs including seven HomeQuest programs in Arizona, Pennsylvania, Florida and Delaware, which work with “at-risk and delinquent youth” while they are living at home. There is also an Independent Living Program in New Jersey, a Shelter Care in Pennsylvania, and an Alternative School in Pennsylvania. 

They call their treatment approach “Guided Centering,” which includes Competency Groups that focus on dealing with issues such as “Grief and Loss, Anger Management, Conflict Resolution, Drug and Alcohol, Cultural Competency, Life Skills, and Victim Awareness.” It also includes Specialized Activities such as ceremonies derived from traditional Native American cultures, physical challenges, medical safety and health education, individual and group therapy, community service, and vocational assessment and planning. In addition, their Family Services are designed to “guide families of our youth participants in identifying their needs, confronting issues of concern, and locating community resources so they are better able to support their son or daughter in the home environment.” 

In addition, they say all “participants attend classes five-and-a-half hours per day, five days a week, year-round.” Students can earn diplomas, receive GEDs, or complete their present grade levels. 

VisionQuest has been a high profile alternative program with extensive experience in working with adjudicated teens, and of course has been controversial at times. It will be interesting to see if they can successfully translate their experience with adjudicated teens into working with at-risk teens that are not yet in the legal system. 

Copyright © 2000, 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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