Dear Medicine Wheel,

I’d like to let you know how delighted I am with your program and how impressive the hard work and dedication of the staff is. Like all other parents, I was desperate when I sent my son Steve to you. He was locked in a downward spiral that seemed destined to end in jail or the hospital I was out of options and almost out of time as his eighteenth birthday loomed on the horizon. I felt that sending him to a wilderness therapy program was a drastic move, but, when he ran away, I doubted that even a move this drastic would lead to a solution. I began to resign myself to accepting that Steve’s stay would probably just be a vacation for me – a vacation from the anxiety of rounding him up when he ran away, dealing with the sheriffs, surreptitiously searching his backpack, his room, and his car, a vacation from worrying about his determination to self destruct, and a vacation for his explosive rages. When the reports from the staff began to reflect positive changes in Steve, I doubted. Even during the night before his graduation, I tossed and turned and doubted. Now, even though I know it’s too soon to tell for sure what Steve will do with his life, I have no doubt that the downward spiral is broken and that Steve has the tools to fix his life and achieve his goals.

I have you, the staff, to thank for creating an environment in which Steve could make this kind of progress. The combination of direct teaching, the modeling of positive behaviors by the staff, experiencing the consequences of his actions, and the encouragement to reflect on his life and explore his feelings helped Steve to regain control of his life. He now has the tools to identify.

After leaving your program, we drove to the Sierra Nevada Mountains for a fishing trip. During most of the drive, Steve shared his new knowledge of survival skills, geology, rock, plants, etc. and told stories he had read and heard from the field staff. I don’t think he will forget what he learned at your program.

I especially enjoyed the graduation. I don’t think it would be possible to even begin to understand what the students have accomplished without being out there with them for at least one night. I believe we were lucky to have bad weather because the rain helped us to understand a little more what the students had been through and to better appreciate their accomplishments as we had to depend on them to build a shelter from the storm. The wilderness stay also opened my eyes to the dedication of the field staff who deal with these kids 24-7 through their progress and their set-backs. The parent seminar presented by Dr. Dan also gave me much to think about. I’ve drawn on his model of healthy and unhealthy relationships as I’ve made decisions at home.

So to you , Andrea, and to Coyote, Standing Bear, Lone Pine, Red Feather, and other staff members whose name I don’t know-many thanks. Your program wouldn’t work without heart, and you are its heart.