I have worked with AIM House off and on for the last ten years and can even remember when they were brand new, but I have never seen "the Castle" in person or met any of the residents until this trip. AIM House is a program for young men and women who struggle with a variety of issues, from addiction and substance abuse, to anxiety/ depression, learning and life skills issues. They have for some reason or another found negative coping strategies, yet all of them have a definite desire to change these patterns. AIM House is designed as a transitional program for residents who need a positively structured living environment with therapeutic support after completing a residential treatment center, wilderness program, drug and/or alcohol rehab or a therapeutic boarding school.
My visit to AIM House for Young Men wasn't exactly pre-planned. Although I planned to visit them, I hadn't announced my visit and made arrangements to see the residents the very morning I intended to visit. The staff was very welcoming and accommodating.
We arrived a little early and watched residents come and go. One new enrollment came in and one very ready young man was moving out to live in the Boulder community as the next phase of his recovery. I couldn't tell that he was anything but an excited and strong individual who had something to share with the world. (I later learned that he had been mentoring a little league team in Boulder during his time in the program and planned to continue his "big brother-like" projects.) We watched staff members interacting with residents and all appearances were that staff honestly cared for the residents.
A newer component of the AIM House program is that residents now typically move into the Boulder community after completing Phase 3, to continue enhancing their independent living skills with staff support as needed. This is the "Manifest Phase" of the program.
After the new resident was moved in, I had an opportunity to meet with Kelly Corn, Director of the Men's Program. He was able to explain some of the main concepts of the program to me, including a brief history of the changes in both programming and people involved.
Although the men's program at AIM House has space for 28 residents, they remain comfortably full at 26, and currently have a waiting list. After watching how the staff interacts with the young men, it was immediately apparent why. The relationships these young men form with the staff felt genuine, mutually.
Kelly and I talked for a while in his office going over program components before we walked through the Castle. When you first walk into the building, you are officially on the 2nd level. Downstairs there is a large open room where the young men eat their meals and, if they choose, learn to cook. Access to the back yard is through a door on this level, where several young men were busily working on a project refinishing the dressers and desks. They appeared to enjoy the project and seemed proud of the accomplishment.
We then went back to the main floor. Several guys were standing outside on a mid-level patio smoking and having a conversation with their vocational mentor. Just before heading up to the next level, a young man approached us to ask Kelly what they should do for dinner. The cook was scheduled to be off the day we visited so Kelly decided the young man should practice some of the leadership skills he'd learned while at AIM House. He left the dinner decision to the young man only recommending he get a few other votes as well. The young man utilized excellent leadership and decision making skills with this encounter. He had excellent eye contact and was very present. Pretty soon, it was decided pizza would be delivered for dinner.
In the living room, a staff member sat on a couch playing a guitar. Kelly had described him to me while we were in the office and as soon as I saw him, I knew this was the "Grandpa" of the house. After only a few plucks on the strings, a couple guys came in from outside and other parts of the house to sit with him and listen. It appeared to me that these young men were actually interested in what he had to share.
We continued up to the next floor where Phase I and II residents live. Each room contains two beds and two dressers. Between every group of two rooms is a common space that can be used to study. For those who want one, a desk or futon is provided.
One aspect of the AIM House program is their use of teams. Upon arrival, each young man is assigned to a peer mentor to help guide him while he gets settled in. Staff mentors also model positive relationships as a way of life.
Although the house feels very comfortable and lived in, the structure that guides the young men is strict at first. Phase I and II residents must attend many required meetings. Because the staff encourages the young men to take responsibility for themselves, they do offer two different schedules so a young man may choose the most appropriate time to attend since they all must also attend school and/or hold a job.
The top floor houses residents in Phase 3 as well as the therapists' offices. Lower Phase residents are only invited up to the top floor for therapeutic appointments and must use the back staircase. There is a kitchenette and the Phase 3 residents learn more independent living skills. They have fewer meetings required of them and much more independence, but also much more responsibilities.
On our way back down, I met a resident who had been at AIM House only less than a week. He joked with me that he was the only "non-addict" in a house full of addicts, but that he was sure he'd learn the true reason he was there soon. His goals were to get into culinary school and become a world famous chef, and had already joined a culinary mentorship with the cooks at AIM House.
I felt I had a pretty good overview of the program AIM House has as well as the relationships between residents and staff. I enjoyed my visit and truly felt they follow their mission. Although I didn't get to see the program for young women, I know the staff is fully capable and compatible to keep both programs consistent.