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Posted February 1, 2005


Interview by: Kathy Nussberger

During his recent visit to Woodbury Reports, we decided to write the February profile on Bob Hanna, Executive Director of Phoenix Outdoors, headquartered in Roswell, GA. Phoenix is a new wilderness therapy program that is set to open in March/ April 2005. Field operations for Phoenix Outdoors will be southwest of Asheville, NC.

Bob said he's worked with troubled youth most of his life, beginning as a YMCA camp counselor, he saw how the combination of adolescents and wilderness created positive transformations in the kids' lives. “This was my introduction into the field of psychology and more specifically, the integration of psychology and wilderness programs.”

After graduating from Long Beach State University in 1988 with a Bachelors psychology, Bob attended Brigham Young University where he completed his doctorate in psychology. “At that time there really wasn't a specialty field you could tack on to your doctorate, but my focus was in working with adolescents.”

In 1990, Bob began working for Aspen Achievement as a therapist. “That was a very exciting time for me to be a therapist. While I was working with the kids in the field, I discovered how different my relationship with them was in comparison to working with kids in an office setting. In the field they were more receptive, willing to work on their issues and made significant gains. The whole healthy experience of living and working outdoors with a group was remarkable to me.”

While at Aspen Achievement, Bob completed his dissertation on the impact of wilderness programs. His research included a study on eight former students of various wilderness programs and their parents.

“The students, all who had graduated from the wilderness program at least two or more years prior, talked about their sense of self-efficacy, the positive changes in their self-esteem and confidence, and their newfound ability to relate to others,” he explained. “They talked about changes in their self perception, confidence and team concepts. A lot of the kids said that after attending a wilderness program, they felt that no matter what life threw at them, they would survive and continue believing in themselves.”

Bob left Aspen Achievement in 1993 to complete his internship at Notre Dame University. He worked with college students at the university counseling center, as well as teenagers and adults at a traditional psychiatric hospital. “After my internship, I rejoined Aspen Achievement Academy for another two years which included helping Aspen Ranch in its early inception.” He then moved to Salt Lake City and oversaw the therapeutic care of adjudicated youth in residential homes, and worked for a Utah-based employee's assistance program.

While working at Aspen, Bob met his wife Caryn, and they were married in the desert at Capital Reef National Park. "We've been married for seven years and Caryn is an amazing woman who is my best friend. My daughter Danielle is the light of my life. I am truly blessed."

With no room for advancement at the employee's assistance program, Bob began looking for something in the Southeast area of the country that offered an increased responsibility and would allow him to use and advance his skills.

“I found SUWS of the Carolinas during their start up phase and I became their first clinical director,” he explained. “It was a very exciting time for me because I was involved in the process of starting up the wilderness program. I worked with SUWS for three years, and I realized that this was what I wanted to do with my life. I knew I wanted to work in this industry, work with this type of kid and in this type of program, so I began to focus on developing my relationships and skills in this industry.”

At this point, Bob accepted the opportunity to work with Jim Glaeser, the former director of SUWS of the Carolinas, to help open Adirondack Leadership Academy in up-state New York. “However, my family wasn't ready for the harsh winters, and we decided to explore other opportunities. When I was offered the position of clinical director with Rocky Mountain Academy in Bonners Ferry, ID, I saw it as a great opportunity to experience firsthand the benefits of long-term residential care and wilderness programming. I worked there for about 15 months until CEDU downsized and eliminated my position in June 2004.”

After leaving RMA, he met the founder of Phoenix, Carolyn Bradfield, who asked him to join her team as the executive director. “I can't tell you how excited I am about this new venture because it provides me the opportunity to develop what I have learned to be invaluable in wilderness programming. Our team emphasizes working collaboratively which is incredibly important to me. I want people who work for Phoenix to feel empowered and that their input, ideas and efforts are valued. I want people to know they can talk to me about their experiences and problems, and that I am invested in helping them grow personally and professionally.”

Bob added that he plans to participate in the fieldwork of the program and be accessible and supportive to both the students and the employees. “I want the students and field staff to feel comfortable about discussing their experiences in our program.”

Carolyn lives in Roswell, GA, and founded Phoenix Outdoors based on her experiences as a parent whose daughter completed a wilderness program. “After her difficult experience with her daughter, Carolyn was inspired to build a wilderness program that focused on meeting the emotional needs of the family as well as the teens in the program. Their input is invaluable in designing this program, and I hope that as our students graduate from the program, I can follow up with them and their parents to get their feedback on what we are doing and use that information to make our program stronger over time.”

Phoenix Outdoors will begin accepting admissions in March/ April 2005. In the meantime, their phone lines are up and running for parents who are considering a wilderness program for their child. “If parents call in a crisis situation before we are open, we will do what we can to connect them with the necessary resources, such as educational consultants, the website or a program that may fit their needs. The goal of this industry is to help the kids and their families get past a crisis, moving in a positive direction. There are a lot of good programs out there; I feel our unique spot in this industry is that we offer a high level of family support, safety and overall expertise of our staff.”

Copyright © 2005, Woodbury Reports, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
(This article may not be reproduced without written approval of the publisher.)

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