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Posted: Nov 20, 2008 09:24


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Newport, WA
James Brewster & Sherry Brewster
Owners and Co-Directors

Visit By: Kristie Campbell, July 29, 2008

The day I visited Penrith Farms, just outside of Newport, WA, the campus was busy with activities. Penrith Farms is a full-member of NATSAP (National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs), organizational member of AEE (Association for Experiential Education) and EAGALA (Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association). When I first arrived in the morning, Jeremy Hastings, Executive Assistant of Penrith, led me down to a large organic garden where a handful of young adults were weeding and spraying all-natural fish emulsion on the garden to ward off bugs. The residents each looked up, greeted me in a respectful manner and then continued their duties. Jeremy explained that Penrith supplies a lot of the organic offerings to restaurants throughout the northwest region.

After the garden visit, Jeremy took me up to Jim and Sherry Brewster's house, where I sat with Jim, Sherry, Jon Brewster, the Assistant Program Director and therapist, and Jeremy for a while to talk. The room we sat in is where all the admissions take place. Jim brings the candidates into his home, and sits them down in his study for a no BS interview. Although we discussed the typical information one might gather from a brochure, we also discussed trends in kids these days, changes in parents and details of how Penrith selects the population in its therapeutic community. We discussed returning residents, how often graduates stayed in contact, and where the young adults mostly came from. Many of the facts we discussed gave me a better idea of the population in this small community than the best of brochures able to be printed.

Penrith Farms offers young adults many vocational opportunities. While I was there, several residents had ongoing projects in the woodworking shop, roofing and construction projects and landscaping projects. All residents at Penrith participate in the Independent Living Skills Curriculum. Over the course of their stay at the farm, they learn many essential life skills. Penrith's staff helps residents understand the importance of financial, occupational and academic responsibility. With supervision, they engage in the process of planning, shopping for and preparing meals. The Independent Living Skills Curriculum also focuses on general self-care and the daily maintenance of shared and personal living space. In addition, residents are encouraged to participate in furthering their education at one of the local or regional educational facilities.

Located on 320 acres of timber and farmland, Penrith Farms is, as their material suggests, "an ideal setting for young men and women, ages 18-26, to make the transition into responsible adulthood." Many have a combination of social, emotional, academic and behavioral challenges, including but not limited to depression and other mood disorders, anxiety disorders, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), learning disabilities, attachment disorders, eating disorders (mild severity), substance abuse (in remission), emancipation and adoption issues, poor impulse control, strained family relationships, lack of responsibility, accountability, motivation, realistic goals and/or problem solving skills, low self-esteem, poor judgment, ineffective communication skills, anger management problems, defiance and oppositional behavior, involvement with the legal system and/or history of abuse (e.g., victim of physical, emotional, sexual, verbal abuse, etc.) . Because these are young adults, rules and restrictions are not prevalent. Residents are free to do, or not do, daily tasks; however, their decisions directly affect their outcomes.

On the day I visited, one young man had been struggling with not wanting to get out of bed. He was lying in bed reading when we knocked and asked permission to enter his room. His eye contact was good, and although I could tell he was in an emotionally blocked place, he was polite and communicative. One thing that impressed me was that although this young man was unenthused about his current position at Penrith, there were aspects he appreciated. He proudly told me a story of how he'd gotten to go hunting, and upon bagging his first goose, got to help a local taxidermist with a full mount of the bird. Although hunting isn't for everyone, this young man was obviously proud of his "artwork."

The goal of Penrith Farms is to teach young adults skills that are necessary for them to succeed in an increasingly competitive society by providing them with a strong sense of self-worth, positive work ethics and communication skills. In addition, they strive to assist residents in becoming productive, self-motivated and responsible adults.

I thanked the young man for sharing his story with me and we moved on through the men's home. All the young men live in the upper level, while the lower level of the home consists of a group room, therapy rooms, the nurse's station, a kitchen and the dining area.

Penrith employs a positive peer culture, and members of the community work together to encourage each other to succeed. This was apparent as I watched the young men work together to make everyone lunch.

After touring the men's home, Jeremy led me up a narrow trail to the women's home. A young woman was just ending a session with a therapist on the porch when we walked up. They followed us inside. I was shown around the house, a much different atmosphere than the men's cabin had been. The rooms were cozy, adorned with personal affects, and all the girls had collages or crafts they had made that displayed motivations. I talked briefly with the house mom, who explained some of the projects the girls participate in, like baking and crocheting. Teaching girls the value of self-worth appeared to be a strong goal of the staff at the home.

When we finished visiting with the women, it was lunchtime. We returned to the men's house, where lunch was set out buffet style. I grabbed my lunch and sat down by Dr. Stephen Carraras, Clinical Director, and Angela Tanner, Equine Specialist. The residents were participating in Equine Therapy the day I visited as well. Many of their families were at the farm working on family specific issues. Dr. Carraras discussed some of the benefits of working with residents, describing how sometimes the "ah-hah" moments appear through horses in ways they've never been able to reach residents before.

After lunch, it was time for me to head out. I thanked everyone for taking time out of their otherwise very busy day and headed back to my car. I took one last look at this peaceful valley and drove away.

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