The first thing I noticed as I drove onto the Clearview Horizons property in Heron, MT, was the beautiful log cabin that was home to 25 young ladies. The cabin looked rustic yet cozy, as the weather outside was cold and crisp after a freshly fallen snow, three feet of snow to be more precise.
I parked my car and walked in the downstairs door of the home. The temperature inside was indicative of the atmosphere I felt while I was at Clearview, warm and inviting. Several girls were downstairs studying and talking among themselves when I arrived. All of them looked up to smile and some waved at me as I walked through to the office. Tami Gebhardt, Assistant Director, met me just inside the door, and showed me to the admissions office where we could discuss program components. She forewarned me that part of the house was under construction and explained that the girls would soon have a nice new bathroom on one of the upper floors.
Clearview Horizons is specifically designed to work with adolescent girls who experience low self-esteem, lack of motivation and/or purpose, recreational drug/ alcohol use, mild eating disorders or other destructive behavior patterns. The program is Christian based and girls attend Sunday services and bible study if interested.
As we left the office to take a tour of the home, several girls walked up to us and introduced themselves. It was apparent to me that I wasn't the first consultant to visit the program, but I was extremely impressed with their mannerisms, politeness and the confidence they all displayed. They each firmly shook my hand, made excellent eye contact and introduced themselves, proudly giving their name and where they were from. It almost reminded me of a Miss America pageant, except their smiles were genuine Duchesne smiles. Several girls teased playfully with each other, while others, who were preparing to graduate the program, described their plans for the future, and shared their excitement to test their program success.
We walked up to the second floor of the home to discover more girls 'hanging out' in a lounge area, waiting for dinner to be ready. I observed their friendly, natural interactions for a bit before we walked across the room to the kitchen. Every time we passed a group of girls, they stopped what they were doing to introduce themselves to me. Several girls were busily cooking and setting the long family style table for dinner. At Clearview, staff and students all sit around a long table for meals, which gives the feeling of a very large family. I met four additional staff members in the kitchen, who work with the girls as house parents, teachers and Christian role models. The staff is very down home and real, not showing the slightest hint of being uptight. Watching their interactions with the girls brought back memories of some of the high lights of when I attended Mission Mountain School in the early nineties.
We left the kitchen and headed up another level to where an individual girl was hooked up to biofeedback wires doing a one-on-one session with a therapist. We tried not to interrupt her as we passed to look at the girls' rooms. The rooms were tidy and well decorated with personal effects. The interesting part to me though was the closet arrangement. The closet was an entire room the length of the upstairs of the house where each girl had her own dresser and a space for hanging clothes, but the area was fully shared by all girls. Most rooms housed four high school girls, and one room held all the college girls.
After touring the rooms, Tami took me downstairs to a room where Mary Thielbahr, MS, MA, Program Director, was conducting an individual therapy session. Because I had had a similar experience as the girl she was counseling, she invited me in to share my story. The girl had recently turned 18 and had shown success in the Clearview program. She was doing very well at school, attending North Idaho College, but was torn between staying to complete the program and leaving to face life with the partial tools she'd gained while at Clearview. We talked at great length about issues that are very difficult to discuss with friends, let alone strangers, shared our trials, shared our successes, talked about self-sabotage and how that was often our default reaction to personal success. We discussed support networks, both in the program and outside. Throughout the difficulty of our discussion, she kept strong eye contact with me. I was impressed with the level of understanding she had and her problem-solving ability to work through things.
We finished with the therapy session and the girl left to rejoin her friends. Mary and I sat down with Marv Gebhardt, the Lead Teacher, to discuss the academic portion of the program. Students have the option of attending school through correspondence courses or (if earned) can attend the local high school. Others attend classes at North Idaho College in Coeur d'Alene. Many of the girls also participate in after school activities and Clearview offers tutoring or special assistance for those who need it. Marv explained that Clearview sometimes uses creative ways to reach the girls academically, and will teach them with non-traditional objectives if that's what the girls need to grasp concepts and internalize the lessons.
Mary took me down the hall and showed me several therapist licenses and degrees she had earned, hanging next to many other documents. She is proud of her girls' home and of her accomplishments, and I feel this better allows her to share that pride with the students. It was apparent to me that the girls shared that pride. After reading through her licensures, we left the house through the front door, where two friendly dogs greeted us. We walked across the snow-covered yard to a building that housed the art/ music room. A couple girls were playing musical instruments as a therapist worked with them. Clearview also has a couple of Shetland ponies that the girls have adopted, which help the girls work through control issues.
Finally, we returned to the house to sit by the cozy fireplace, where Mary and I sat down with Kristine Armstrong. Kristine has a Masters in Social Work and a Bachelor's in Science with an emphasis in Clinical Psychology. She has worked with struggling adolescents for over 10 years, some of that time in known wilderness programs and some as a bereavement counselor.
To describe the feeling I had while at Clearview, I have to use words such as feminine, plush, comfortable and Swiss Boarding school for girls. To many of the people who read this visit report, this description will sound a bit Pollyannaish, and those who feel that way should go visit Clearview, especially on a cold gloomy winter day. I'm not saying that everything here is the best of the best of the best, but the feelings generated from merely being inside this house, surrounded by the staff and students were overwhelmingly positive.
[The information for this New Perspective came from the In Balance Transitional Living website.]