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Posted: Oct 23, 2007 14:27


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Taos, New Mexico
Dana Taylor, Admissions/Marketing Director

Visit by Larry Stednitz, PhD, Visit August 17, 2007

Shadow Mountain Academy, a transition/recovery program for young men ages 17 through 24, opened its doors in May of 2007. Located 8.5 miles outside of Taos, New Mexico, Shadow Mountain is located on 37 acres surrounded by National Forest land. The program is operated out of nicely built and comfortable living, dining, and auxiliary buildings, providing a pleasant outdoor experience. The presence of wild life provides a venturous feeling at this remote Academy.

The program is owned by Robb and Deb Holub and the management & staff running the program. Jason Moscartolo, President/Program Director and Dana Taylor, Managing Director & Admissions, are the main contacts for the program. Pam Marsten is the Clinical Director who heads up the critical family workshop component and Ed Cardenas oversees the clinical/substance abuse training. The management team and staff include a diverse collection of people who are either in recovery or products of families who suffered from alcohol and drug abuse. The management team began its work in recovery at a variety of larger programs and was left to develop its own ideas about recovery and treatment of substance abusing young adults. Shadow Mountain Academy is focused on empowering its management and staff to proactively communicate with students and families emphasizing the family healing and teaching of a lifetime commitment to recovery.

The program is unusually diverse and includes a strong 12-step focus with each client, working with a therapist weekly and participating in a wide variety of activities. They believe it is necessary to substitute alcohol and drugs with exciting and healthy activities. Included in these activities are work projects around the property, full participation in a Taos baseball league, culinary arts, boxing, fly fishing, a complete recording music studio and woodshop. Healthy hot meals are served as part of the culinary arts program. The young men participate in four AA support groups, and one open to the community is held on site.

I spent the day with the staff and boys, beginning at 8:00 A.M. with a meditation group, followed by a full hour of rigorous boxing training. All boys are trained by Jason, whose career included amateur boxing and being a professional musician. The boxing is not focused upon actual “in the ring fights” but is more focused on fitness, heavy and light bag work, ropejumping and basic and advanced boxing techniques. Jason said that peer leadership is a primary motivation of the boxing program. I participated in the hour long training and was impressed by the genuinely rigorous work out. The young men obviously enjoyed taking me under their wings and helping me to understand what they were learning. The training was conducted at a high level and participation is five days per week. The peer influence and support comes from those who have had enough training to assist the newer students.

Following boxing, the young men participated in 12-step group counseling which is held daily. The boys were comfortable sharing with each other, confronting when appropriate, and demonstrating respect and care for each group member.

I met with the three boys in the program. All had been in at least two programs prior to Shadow Mountain. One of the boys reported that he had been in other programs, but when he left the last program, he had been drinking and was hit by an automobile. He was seriously injured, being in a coma for several days. He had been at Shadow Mountain for several months. The other boys were equally involved in substance use and realized the importance of their sobriety. I asked them what their experience of Shadow Mountain was. One boy said that what he liked best was the usage of “teaching moments,” referring to participation in activities which provided great learning opportunities. The boys focused their attention on the wide variety of activities which provided constructive opportunities to work and play with staff. These activities allow for natural interventions in the “here and now” of their day. It was very obvious that the boys respected and enjoyed their relationship with the staff. These relationships were profoundly apparent the second evening of my visit. Jason and one of the young men performed at the Taos Center for the arts. The fundraising event for at-risk youth included top Taos performers and was attended by over one hundred people. The young men, the staff members and I were touched by the high quality performance that Jason and the young man presented. Of course only the Shadow Mountain staff and young men realized the magnitude of their great performance. Much was overcome that night and the accomplishment of this young man was wonderful to see.

I left Shadow Mountain, again realizing the very high risk of substance abuse among teenagers and young men. These young men are at a serious cross road in their lives. Shadow Mountain’s focus upon exciting activities that teach appropriate risk taking in the se young men seems to be a step in the right direction and the program has unique promise in the field. All of the critical components of recovery were available. In light of recent closings of programs, I pursued a discussion with Robb Holub, the principal owner of Shadow Mountain. Robb said, “simply put, I have been involved in sales and marketing and have been an investment advisor for 25 years.” He was proud of how they went into the property and program. The property is free and clear with no debt on the property. Robb and his wife Debb decided to fully fund the project with their own money without any obligation to banks or other lending entities. This provides them the flexibility to do what is right with the program.

He reported that “We are happy to say that within three months of start-up the program is on the status of break even cash flow.” Their intention is to continually upgrade the program and facilities in order to deliver quality programming for families and their young adults”. At SMA, 25% of the program is owned by the management and staff. Robb said that they developed this arrangement for the purpose of assuring that they maintain stability. Robb and Debb see staff turnover as the greatest obstacle to a program success.

Licensing for this type of program is not required in the state of New Mexico.

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