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Schools & Program Visits - Apr, 2002 Issue #92 

SUWS of the Carolinas
Reid Treadaway,
Director of Admissions
Black Mountain, North Carolina

Visit on March 1, 2002
Steve Bozak, MA CEP, Educational Consultant
Phone: 518-373-8069

SUWS of the Carolinas is a therapeutic wilderness program where boys and girls ages 13 to 18 spend twenty-eight days in the Black Mountains. You would never be able to find the place unless a staff member comes out and meets you somewhere in civilization. Equally true, then, most kids cannot find their way out, which keeps them from walking away from the program.

The base camp is an old boy scout camp with many offices and cabins. During my visit, the place was crawling with staff. They had 30 kids out in the wilderness and it looked like they had as many staff as they did students. The staff geared me up with shoes and sweatshirt, hat and gloves for the hike up into the mountains to see one of the four current groups. We drove five minutes west from base camp and parked. After walking for just about Ĺ mile we came to a group of seven girls and three counselors.

The girls had been in the wilderness anywhere from ten days to two weeks. Students can enter the group Monday through Friday anytime. In the woods we all sat down in a circle on stones and logs as we introduced ourselves. The girls were from both the east and west, with about half of them knowing they where going on to boarding school after this SUWS wilderness experience.

The girls, aged 14 to 18, told me they were there because of drug use, depression, eating disorders, general bad behavior and disobediences at home and school. They went on to explain that each night they sit around the campfire and talked about their issues. They sleep in sleeping bags and a fleece blanket. All the girls talked about how much they loved the blankets and how they looked forward to taking them home after they leave SUWS.

In the morning, after eating their breakfast of rolled oats, the girls packed up their campsite and hiked to the new location for the day. I would say it is a soft hike, about two miles, though other groups may go as far as ten miles. The counselors are sensitive to what the kids can and canít do. The girls said they have plenty of food but the menu is a bit simple.

All during the day and into the evening SUWS students work on issues and skills as the counselors help them move up a level system. The kids didnít know how long they will be staying in the wilderness, but they seemed motivated to move up the levels, leave, and get on with a more successful life.

Each group has three counselors in the field who rotate in and out every 2 weeks. A field supervisor comes out and visits the groups weekly and reports back to the parents. Communications to and from the parents, counselors and kids seemed to be the standard of weekly contacts. The kids told me their parents write them an impact letter the first days they are there and they have to read this letter from their parents to the group in order to tell them why they were sent to SUWS. The kids said reading the impact letter was hard but insightful as they tried to understand their parentsí perceptions of them and their behavior.

The six girls spoke very politely, they were not too dusty, and didnít seem like the kids who where living on the edge weeks earlier, as they talked about missing their families behind teary eyes.

Would I send kids to SUWS of the Carolinas to calm them down and get them lined up to go away to a new school? Yes I would.

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