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Posted October 6, 2003 

New Horizons Wilderness Program
for Young Women

Orrington, Maine
Audrey Peavey, Director of Admissions

Visit on September 24, 2003
By: Steven A. Carreras, Ph.D., LICSW

On my recent tour of therapeutic programs in northern New England, I visited New Horizons Wilderness Program for Young Women, an outdoor wilderness program for girls. New Horizons is a 6-9-week nature-based program licensed by the State of Maine’s Department of Human Services and the Department of Mental Health. Located in northeastern Maine, New Horizons is based in a rural setting, but is close to physicians and emergency facilities. Founder and executive director Jacqueline Danforth opened the all-girls program in June 2001. By providing a “boy-free” environment, the program offers girls an opportunity to form relationships with other girls as they learn how to cope with body image, power struggles, self-esteem, and emotional difficulties through a five-phase process: Truth, Friendship, Forgiveness, Acceptance, and Transition.

On my recent visit, it was apparent that this program is not a wilderness “survival” program (no bust-a-fire for a hot meal; hot meals are standard fare), but rather an outdoor program designed as a therapeutic experience to promote building and maintaining healthy relationships. Students are out-fitted with hiking and camping equipment with attention to detail (e.g., backpacks specifically designed for females). In winter, full-sized canvas tents with a wood burning stove is provided, as are heated bunkhouses for girls and staff once they return from outdoor activities.

Upon arrival at New Horizons, each girl is transported to a local health clinic for a routine medical exam, and then driven to the field house where she will begin an orientation program. After orientation, each girl is driven to the site to meet with her group, where the other group members, through a “gateway ceremony,” welcome her with writings and/or small gifts gathered during previous wilderness hikes. Upon entering the program, each student begins a journal for weekly assignments and readings. Students also participate in daily group discussions in addition to individual therapy twice a week. Additionally, New Horizons offers private fee-based academic tutoring in the field or in the field house, as well as psychological testing to any student who needs it.

The field staff to student ratio is 4-5: 7-8. All field staff is certified in CPR/First Aid and Crisis Intervention training. Additionally, several are Registered Maine Guides, Swift Water Rescue, or EMTs; while some have degrees in Outdoor Recreation and Adolescent Education. The therapists are Licensed Clinical Professional Counselors or social workers with backgrounds in adolescent psychology. The therapists at New Horizons utilize a “family systems” perspective with the students—including family members in the therapeutic process. The therapists also accompany the students in the field, participating in daily activities such as hiking, canoeing, swimming, snow shoeing, cross-country skiing, dog sledding, ice fishing, maple syrup tapping, and cooking.

To ensure safety, New Horizons provides group leaders in the field with cellular bag phones and Global Positioning Devices, allowing staff members at “home-base” to know where each group is 24 hours a day. In case of an emergency local police, fire and EMT services know where to respond via strategically located helicopter landing-pads.

When I arrived at base camp, I was invited to a field staff transition team meeting. Once introduced to the team, I was immediately welcomed into the group. Field staff members were informing the new team regarding interventions they had utilized during the past seven days. During this time, I met with one student and was allowed to speak with her without the presence of the field staff. She was forthright regarding her issues that led to her placement at New Horizons, and stated that the field staff and her therapist were respectful, competent, and sensitive to her needs and feelings.

New Horizons takes a comprehensive view of girl’s needs as they explore their newly developed interpersonal skills not only in the present, but in the future as well. After girls have completed this program, a Parent Representative remains in contact with students and their families for up to four years. The programs’ therapists also keep in contact with the families after graduation. Overall, New Horizons Wilderness Program for Young Women is an excellent program that provides an empowering environment for girls to reflect on the past, build self-esteem, and set goals for a more positive future.

PO Box 1671 | Bonners Ferry, ID 83805 | 208-267-5550
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