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Posted November 15, 2002 

Boulder, Colorado
Daniel Conroy, Director,

Visit September 26, 2002
By Loi Eberle, M.A., Educational Consultant
Editor of Woodbury Reports

During my visit to Aim House, once again the difference between a “structured emotional growth boarding school” and a transitional program for adolescent males who are eighteen and older, was accentuated. Aim House is definitely a transitional program, designed to help its residents gain the educational, occupational, social, and psychological skills necessary to successfully move into adulthood and integrate into the community. I doubt that most people in Boulder, Colorado are even aware of the presence of Aim House, which is as it should be. Certainly the program facilities already blend into the community. Aim House residents live 2-4 roommates per apartment in a complex a few blocks away from the Aim House offices and meeting rooms. Their offices, housed in a second story converted loft above one of the many storefronts in the downtown Boulder community, are indistinguishable from any of the other storefronts in that neighborhood, except possibly for the red and white stripped awnings on their windows. Aim House offices are entered from an iron stairway in the alley that leads to an outdoor deck where residents can sit, or can enter the community room through the French doors.

When I arrived to attend a group meeting, residents were cleaning up after the meal that they had cooked and eaten together, and were arranging the chairs in a large circle for their 18 community members. They meet in this way at least twice a week, to discuss both personal and group issues. A major goal of the Aim House program is to mentor these young men to help them discover their interests and abilities, and help them develop the resources and life skills they need in order to maintain a clear direction. Director, Daniel Conroy, was unable to attend this particular meeting, however the other Aim House counselor/mentors were well equipped to guide the direction of these young men. After the general meeting, the residents divided into smaller groups to discuss the struggles they encounter as a result of their interactions with each other, the program, and maintaining their sober life style.

The group I attended took place in the nearby offices of Bill Sell, L.P.C, C.G.P., Aim House program director and faculty member at the nearby Naropa University. During the walk to his office I was able to observe and participate in the friendly interaction between the residents. This carried over to the group session, in which I was impressed with the level of honesty and insight the residents possessed. After Bill gave each of us a chance to introduce ourselves, he encouraged me to ask them questions. When I asked what kind of person would be successful in the Aim House environment, and what characteristics would cause difficulties, what ensued was a fairly frank discussion of the challenges of maintaining a drug free community. Self-knowledge seemed to be important; residents needed to be clear about their intentions to remain sober and stay focused, and their know their vulnerabilities. If someone was delusional, especially if there were psychotic features to their behavior, they would not be appropriate for the Aim House community. After some descriptive examples of past behaviors, at one point Bill asked them to ask me whether their conversation shocked me. I responded that I actually found the discussion to be refreshing, since they were dealing honestly and openly with the kinds of drug-seeking behaviors that are often kept underground.

Residents at Aim House require a good deal of support to maintain their intention to remain drug-free, especially in Boulder, Colorado, a community where drugs are so readily available. At the same time, the availability of drugs, unfortunately, is fairly widespread throughout the country, and the lack of honesty about the true challenges of drug seeking behavior can enable users to maintain their surreptitious use of drugs. Being able to speak openly about the variety of experiences leading to drug use and abuse is what enables those who are struggling, to receive help and support for remaining drug-free. What also came out in our discussion that evening was that some young men have learned from relapsing, and the community can be quite supportive in helping them confront and integrate that life lesson. Yet others must adhere to a strict “no tolerance” policy – one mistake and they are out of the community. Actually, in those cases, it is a matter of not making one more mistake, since they had earned the no tolerance policy based on a previous relapse.

The Aim House residents have jobs or internships in Boulder, and many of them attend classes in the area. There are a variety of educational options, including the University of Colorado at Boulder, Naropa University, various community colleges, as well as an adult education high school diploma program. At least three have taken on the role of being a part time assistant mentor, after first being an Aim House resident.

The community had a feeling of commradery, even though the residents I spoke with were open about the challenges they experienced from time to time, since there were definitely rules and expectations concerning their behavior. I spoke to a number of residents, all of whom had successfully completed from some form of emotional growth education or psychiatric placement. Some were more motivated than others, with some having their main motivating force being the conditions their parents had placed on their continued financial support. Yet, as time went on they had accepted the situation, and were finding ways to make it work for them. Of course this level of freedom does not work for everyone, and I heard stories of former residents who didn’t make it there, due to continued relapse. Even so, some continued to live in the Boulder area and were on friendly terms with the current residents. At the same time, the residents seemed pretty clear about why the behavior of the former residents was not acceptable in their environment.

Boulder, Colorado is definitely full of options and temptations. The positive side of this is that there are many classes, meditation groups, and social events that are focused on providing alternatives ways to feel good and interact socially with out drug and alcohol use. I can see how the Aim House environment could be a stimulating and helpful way to find a true direction for one’s life, especially after leaving the enforced structure of a more restrictive program. The Aim House mentors and counselors have many skills and a strong desire to see the young men become successful, which I felt was appreciated by the residents, even though the young men at times want more freedom. It seems the Aim House environment is showing its residents that freedom can be a state of mind, while at the same educating these young men about the various kinds of obligations that accompany the illusive concept of adulthood.