In a 2000 visit report, Carol Maxym, PhD, concluded that "AIM House promises to be one of the growing number of new, small, independent programs, envisioned and founded by a younger generation of committed, idealistic, educated and talented people who may well set the tone for the next stage in residential, therapeutic/emotional growth education and treatment." This writer traveled to Boulder, CO to visit AIM House and could not agree more with Dr. Maxym. Loi Eberle, MA also wrote a program visitation report in 2002, which did an excellent job of describing AIM House. These visitation reports and program descriptions are available on www.strugglingteens.com.
Seven years ago, Daniel Conroy made the decision to develop a mentor-based program for young people ages 17 ½ to 23. AIM is one of the programs listed in the Parent Empowerment Directory published by Woodbury Reports, Inc. as one of the better transition programs in the country. Located in stately buildings near downtown Boulder, AIM House is designed to be a real life experience and their location allows this opportunity. In this real life experience, the program uses a variety of approaches, including mindfulness-based techniques to assist the participants in broadening their exploration of what they want out of life and how to replace self-sabotaging behaviors. Each young adult at AIM House is viewed as "unique," responding differently to their world and the environment. Learning to deal with varied emotions and change engrained behaviors appropriately is important to success of the participants as they move out into the world and the environment.
AIM stands for Actions and Intentions Merge.
AIM House incorporates James Prochaska's seven stages of change into their program. Research shows that people who successfully change a major self-defeating or harmful behavior tend to move through each of these seven stages by utilizing several processes which allow them to be successful at lifestyle change. People who use appropriate change processes for their stage of change are far more successful at making and sustaining change than those who do not.
AIM House stresses the importance of young people making choices in life and develops a plan for each person that stresses the development of interventions for each client. These plans encompass a wide variety of interventions in education, work skills, treatment components like relapse prevention, individual therapies, physical health, etc. Discussions with several boys made it apparent that AIM uses a different philosophical approach than most programs. The boys were open and honest with me about their progress with little, if any, false endorsements, instead holding "sober" discussions of the enormous struggles young people experience if heavily involved in alcohol/drugs or other difficulties like depression and anxiety. They discussed relapses and appeared willing to talk openly and honestly with staff and visitors. Many participants come to AIM House with no real commitment to a life of recovery, although at admission, many "present" a willingness to live sober. In many cases, relapse is a normal part of developing that commitment. If a participant relapses, it is important for him to learn from the experience. The mentors use the relapse as a way to provide positive feedback and encourage participants to begin taking personal ownership of their recovery. The AIM House staff accepts that relapse is a reality in many cases with the curriculum structured to deal with the issue directly, but the staff is in no way permissive of relapse.
Many of the critics believe Boulder is a town where drugs are readily available partly due to the large student body at the University of Colorado. The reality is that alcohol and other drugs are available wherever and whenever someone wants them, whether it is Boulder, Boise or Boston. These young adults do not arrive at AIM House by accident. The AIM environment provides them the opportunity to learn how to be responsible for their lives in a world where there is a preponderance of alcohol/drug use by their peers. It is all part of the recovery process. The goal is to encourage open discussions and provide opportunities for these young adults to learn how to make the right choices.
The City of Boulder offers the opportunities for a young person to explore their interests and to find their passions in life. The thinking is that when a person is able to find that which excites and interest them, they will discover ample reasons to make choices that do not include an excessive use of drugs and alcohol.
While the above program comments are in my opinion well founded, I discovered the leadership of AIM House to be most interesting. If it is true that strong leadership is critical for success, then AIM House offers a strong performance history in developing successful and inspirational programs to create new lives through personal transformation. In the early days of AIM House, its founder, Daniel Conroy, received support and mentoring from his uncle William T. Odonnel and from Joseph De Nucci. Bill was the founder of Sierra Tucson and Miraval, Life in Balance Resort and Spa; and both operations are internationally recognized leaders in their respective industries. Joseph managed and operated both of those companies for Bill over many years.
In the announcement that Joseph was formally joining AIM, Daniel said, "I couldn't be more excited to be working with Joseph." It was easy to understand his enthusiasm. Joseph's experience is significant along with other colleagues who have rallied around Daniel. Kathy Shingler and Daniel worked together at CEDU and Sierra Tucson and have known each other for 17 years. His Director of Operations, Kelly Corn was the executive vice president of Sumaato, an advertising firm in Denver, CO. He and Daniel met in college 20 years ago. Kelly's graphic design and marketing experience has blended well in providing opportunities for the program's participants. This emerging team has an abundance of experience and it is notable that these close friends have come together to develop AIM House.
Joseph DeNucci is responsible for the day-to-day operations of AIM House, its programs, facilities and staff. Joseph has a demonstrated professional background, which includes senior management positions in addiction treatment centers, psych and behavioral health companies, and as the interim COO of Duke University Health System.
Joseph indicated that the program model AIM embraces includes the factor that 25% of the students are committed to recovery. The other 75% are in the program for a variety of other reasons, which may include being cut off financially, or some sort of legal pressure is making them choose to be in treatment. It is important for these youth to experience repeated processing and reassessment of their life goals. The goal is to help students learn to make coherent decisions, discover what they want in life and participate in selecting a personally appropriate treatment menu.
Joseph provided the following analogy to help me understand the leadership's direction for AIM. If a person finds that they have cancer, the Dr. may refer them to a hematologist who may suggest radiation therapy, chemotherapy or perhaps surgical procedures. They may also be encouraged try to control the cancer in a natural way as the patient may try naturopathic treatment processes. Variations in diet would be important, as well as a vitamin regime specific to the patients needs may be used. The patient may learn meditation techniques. Mindfulness techniques may help a patient choose different treatments. The patient may also find work that may fit with treatment. The focus is to help people become personally more responsible for their treatment through mastery of their mind and emotions. Knowing who they are and what they need to do for themselves is an important aspect of treatment.
Joseph said, "We know what a person has to do to manage alcohol and drug use and develop clarity about a sober life." It is eventually a matter of the young person's readiness to participate in the decisions that are necessary to be successful in recovery. Through the AIM mentoring process, the young people begin to understand and realize their interests and talents; AIM utilizes sophisticated opportunities with a wide range of services from which residents select to produce the right combination of personalized services to maximize the opportunity for success. This process is considered the "best practice" for young adults in the care of AIM House. AIM House prides itself on being a real program in the real world. AIM is licensed as a business in Colorado.