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Schools & Program Visits - June, 2001 Issue #82 

Straight Arrow/Apex
and Shirley Morelli
Northport, WA

[Visit Report from May 25 by Loi Eberle, M.A.,
Educational Consultant & Editor of Woodbury Reports]

Many of us have encountered the eighteen year old male who, while asserting his readiness to go forth on his journey, does not quite have the right combination of skills and attitudes to make a successful transition. Straight Arrow describes themselves as a residential transitional program designed to work with this kind of young man, which was one of the reasons I chose to visit.

Because the program is designed for males who are eighteen or older, they must agree to learn and participate in this rustic environment. It is located in a place that is so beautiful, I can imagine many would choose to travel there simply for the pleasure of the journey, but once there, they would soon learn the program offers more than an attractive appearance. Located near Northport, WA, nestled next to the Columbia River, it is close to Canada and accessible to Spokane by a scenic highway. The property spans 80 acres, boasting high open vistas, orchards, woods and a cloistered pond that supplies water for irrigation. Thirty acres are in fruit orchard, many with apple and peach trees still displaying the last vestiges of their majestic springtime blossoms.

The house on the property contains the kitchen, classroom and office. The young men live comfortably outdoors in large canvas tents in a campsite near the orchard. At the time of my visit, there were eight young men in residence, though they can accommodate twelve. Recently the owner/directors, Bruce and Shirley Morelli, acquired this property to expand their program. Previously the young men were living at their other location in Cusick, WA, which I visited earlier in the year. They are in the process building quarters more suitable for the winter months, similar to the Cusick location. From everyone’s accounts, they have been working very diligently to bring the new place to its current level of repair. The grounds were well kept and I sensed the participants’ pride in their accomplishment. It was well deserved; the place looked great.

I was curious about the voluntary aspect of such a program – why do participants choose to remain? They obviously are working hard, foregoing many of the comforts they once enjoyed. One of the reasons they stay might be due to the natural beauty of the surroundings, but living there successfully requires more from them. They must be willing to reach within themselves and learn to mobilize and focus their energy in order to be a viable member of this community.

I talked with the young men and learned that they were clear that they had made many poor choices in their lives and needed an opportunity to learn how to make some changes. On occasion Bruce and Shirley will accept someone younger than eighteen, as was the case with a few adolescents who had come here from other programs. Other residents had previously gotten seriously involved in drugs and alcohol and were there to get their life back on track. Many were still working on obtaining their high school diploma or G.E.D. All were from different parts of the country, and each looked healthy and strong. They smiled and looked me in the eye when they shook my hand.

Wolf, Bruce and Shirley’s son, was working with the young men helping them to create their own personal workout program. I was surprised to learn that one resident, who looked great, had lost thirty pounds since he had entered the program. They pointed up the mountain to the running trails they had blazed. Even walking them would require great physical conditioning! They also showed me the many workout stations the young men had created.

Wolf, who is an award-winning cross-country athlete, helped the residents create training schedules for themselves. He seemed to have a tremendous understanding of how to self- motivate, and was working very perceptively and effectively with the young men. I asked about conflict within the community, and he explained that Straight Arrow sets the standards as far as hygiene and safety, but how these desired goals are actually achieved is up to the participants. In this way they can take ownership by finding their own creative solutions for satisfying the program requirements. Shirley works with the residents to teach them how to cook, but they create their own menus, prepare their meals, and clean up within the scheduled time frame. In addition they learn about budgeting expenses and time management.

Their campsite was impressive. The residents had decided to build an attractive fire pit and chairs for their evening campfire, tiring of sitting on log ends in the dust. The design and execution were very good. Nearby, wood and kindling was stacked high each day according to their own requirement. The group had decided to do this after realizing that it was quite inconvenient to search for wood when it is time to start the fire. They had also built a very elaborate and private outdoor shower, complete with individual shower bags of water that were warming in the sun. Near the shower was the laundry area, where clean clothes were drying on the clothesline. Bruce admired how clean they were now able to get their clothes, in contrast to the earlier attempts. Wolf had spent time teaching them to wash by hand after some of them had damaged the washer in the indoor laundry facilities by filling it way beyond its capacity.

I was inspired by the sense of comradery and ingenuity these young men were acquiring from being in the program; quite different from the inability to cooperate they had reportedly demonstrated when they had first arrived. They worked hard in the orchard and grounds, but they also had time for their academics and plenty of free time for their personal projects and interests. Bruce Morelli summed up the program rather succinctly by calling it “a place where kids can get a good nights’ sleep, work hard, eat right, and in general, learn how to value their health.” From what I saw, Straight Arrow is an opportunity for young men who do not require a clinical environment, to learn the skills that will help them transition into adulthood a little more smoothly and successfully.

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