Visit Reports
Visit Reports

Oct 27, 2009, 11:03

Cusick, WA
Vincent Barranco

Visit by Larry Stednitz, May 5, 2009

The Life Designs transitional program for young adults, ages 18-26, is housed in a large home overlooking the Selkirk Mountains and the Pend Oreille River. Loi Eberle published a visit report three years after the program was founded in 1998. Loi reported: "Life Designs program director/owners Randy Russell and his wife Colleen welcome up to 10 residents into their home, offering them a safe space where they rekindle, or find for the first time, their creativity and passion for life. Life Designs is an opportunity for the residents to decide what direction they want to take in their future education or training. It is a way to help them develop their insights and skills so that when they are ready to take that next step, in some other setting, they can be successful." At this time, the program is under new ownership; Vince Barranco and his wife Bobbie are the new owners as of 2005 and Vince serves as the director.

Vince worked as the program director at Life Designs for three years before assuming ownership. Formerly a teacher and a coach, it is clear that he has a passion for what he does, assisting young adults to learn a strong work ethic and integrity in all that they do. Their motto is, "work hard and play hard."

Kim Minarik is Life Designs clinical director, with 15 years of experience, including as a therapist at Wilderness Quest. She is also a licensed therapist and addictions counselor. Many of the students struggle with alcohol and drugs issues, and the program utilizes the 12 step model, holding several 12 step groups in the community and at the Ranch. All students receive individual therapy as well. A primary focus of the Ranch is to assist young adults to find their passions as a substitution for alcohol and drug use. I met several of the staff, and all appeared to be focused on their work and served as Life Coaches as well.

In January of 2005, Randy and Colleen Russell announced the sale of Life Designs to the program director, Vince Barranco. Randy and Colleen have developed another business addressing the training of parents whose young adults are moving on to adulthood. They continue to be involved with Life Designs by leading the Parent Workshop designed to assess the family and assist the parents in developing successful ways of helping their young adults gain successful independence. Randy also facilitates the "Rites of Passage" ceremony for each student making the transition into adulthood and their families.

The typical Life Designs student is an 18 to 25 year old young man or woman who has sabotaged his/her progress in life and "thinks out of the box." The program uses a wide variety of activities to help these young adults discover their potential, their dreams and the vision that helps them grow into adulthood. The program length of stay is 5 to 7 months. Tutoring is available for students wanting to complete a GED. College classes are also available online.

To achieve these lofty goals, the program uses varied activities to ignite a greater depth of self-understanding. Most activities are experiential in nature and include hands on work like taking on the responsibility of managing their own house. All students, men and women, take on the responsibility of shopping, cooking, house cleaning, managing their own money and all chores associated with life on their own. Other hands on experiences include preparing and harvesting an organic garden. Each day students work in the garden, learning work habits and knowledge as well as awareness of the entire process of growing, harvesting and the preparation of their own food. The garden allows for "in the moment" interventions that expose maladaptive and healthy approaches to work. This allows many work situations to become teachable moments day in and day out. The work in the garden and other activities provides opportunities to be involved in a realistic life experience.

The program also involves the students in many activities of interest to young adults. For example, the students built their own music facility. There is an art studio, a fitness course developed and used by the students, snowboarding, hiking, kayaking and many other outdoor activities. Other activities include a sweat lodge, use of an outpost camp, culinary arts and a meditation hut. Another significant activity involves a Mastery Project. When ready, each student will design a project that contributes to the community. For example, some will develop a demanding project in the community. One recent activity, a competitive skateboarding contest, was developed by a student who happened to be a good skateboarder. In order to take this on, he had to meet with the mayor of the town, present his plan to the city council, and identify a location to hold the competition. This project required a wide range of tasks, like developing and putting up "fliers" to market the event, planning a schedule for the project and making sure participants received the appropriate location for the event. Additionally, the work included raising money through acquiring sponsors. All of the money earned from the event, $1,000, was donated back to the town's youth.

When students have reached the Mastery Project level, they have to demonstrate the discipline and courage to take on a large community project. It is a challenging effort, to say the least. Each young adult has a staff mentor who assists the student in exploring his or her project and overcoming the fear that comes along with the project. Another project currently in process is for one student to develop a short film about his journey in life including his life experiences prior to arriving at Life Designs. All of these activities, daily work and group support are used as a catalyst to enable the students to find their passions and to overcome self limiting beliefs.

I met with all of the students and they invited me for dinner. The students rotate the tasks involved in dinner. Some do the cooking, some do clean up and others shop and harvest food from the garden. They were orderly and organized. We had a great dinner! All of the students talked about how they got to Life Designs, what they had learned and grappled with, and what they were going to do with their lives. They were surprisingly thoughtful in their discussion of the journey that led them to the program. Others were grappling with whether they should go home or relocate to another part of the country, and what they might do when they graduate from Life Designs.

Parents are encouraged to be involved and active in the process. The parents are involved in family work over the telephone every other week and participate in a three day workshop and a rites of passage ceremony with their son or daughter.

Vince and his staff are currently working on opening an Independent Living Phase in 2010.

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