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May 16, 2017

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Queering Wilderness Therapy: Bringing Inclusion to the Forefront

By: Clementine Wilson, Adolescent Field Manager

**A note on the word Queer: “We recognize and honor that the word “queer” has been used in the past as a derogatory term and is still very hurtful for some in the LGBTQIA+ community. Many LGBTQIA+ organizations and communities have reclaimed the word “queer” and this has been both empowering and uniting of the multiple complex identities within the community…” (wording borrowed from the School of Lost Borders Queer Quest description)

I had the privilege of co-presenting and representing Pacific Quest at the Regional Wilderness Therapy Symposium in Asheville, NC last month. Myself, Martha Ratliff, and Samantha Field (collaborators from different organizations) presented a 3-hour workshop on the importance of LGBTQIA+ inclusion and support in the outdoor behavioral health industry. We had 20 participants attend our workshop including field guides, therapists, admissions counselors, educational consultants, and program management representatives.

Our workshop addressed the importance of catching up with Gen Z’ers as they pave the way for inclusion. Through lecture, self-reflection and short experiential activities, we illustrated what it means to build an inclusive and accessible program, asking the questions: Who is not being included? Whose voice is not being heard? Our main focus was field considerations, staff training and facilitating rites of passage ceremonies designed for queer youth and adults.

According to the J. Walter Thompson Innovation Group, in 2016, more than 52% of Gen Z’s (ages 13-20) reported they identify as something other than heterosexual. In the same study, 56% of Gen Z’s said that they knew someone who went by gender neutral pronouns such as “they,” “them,” or “ze.” At Pacific Quest, according to our surveys in conjunction with the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP) taken during the student’s first week of treatment, approximately 28% of our student population (adolescent and young adult) identifies as something other than heterosexual. This number does not include those students who have yet to come out but may do so during the treatment process. In addition, we also serve many trans* identified and gender nonconforming students. With these stats, it is abundantly clear that a significant portion of our student population doesn’t fit into an assumed heterosexual/cisgender identity framework. Therefore, it is important for programs to make their curriculum inclusive and relevant to support healthy queer identity development. It is vitally important that programs are reviewing their policies and procedures to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of their transgender students.

One of our foundational guiding principles at Pacific Quest is Rites of Passage, and many other outdoor therapeutic programs use a rites of passage paradigm to frame the adolescent coming of age experience (i.e., The Hero’s Journey, Jumping Mouse, etc). Rites of passage can be defined as “intentional, meaningful markers of transition from one state of being to another,” (definition from Darcy Ottey) and initiation is defined as achieving adult status in one’s community. With no archetypes, lack of healthy role models, and no clearly defined cultural role; queer youth often feel lost, othered and lonely in their identity development. This makes it hard for them to claim and understand their role in the community. When rites of passage are made inclusive for queer youth, and they are able to learn about queer archetypes and role models, they are able to claim their gifts in meaningful and healthy ways.

Another guiding principle here at Pacific Quest is horticultural therapy and connection to the natural cycles. Through this lens, LGBTQIA+ students are able to see nature as a mirror of their identity experience. They can see that there is queerness in nature and it happens naturally in both the plant and animal kingdoms. Rare and beautiful bilateral gynandromorph butterflies that are half male and half female, and “parrotfish that start out as male or female but have sex organs of both sexes; they are protogynous hermaphrodites, meaning they can change from female to male. Some females will become supermales: larger males with brilliant, lively coloring.”  Seeing queerness reflected in nature helps students see that they are rare, special and gifted rather than different, othered, and ultimately shamed for who they are. This shift in lens can mean the world of difference for a young person struggling to claim and be proud of their marginalized identity.

After participating in our queer inclusive rites of passage experience at Pacific Quest, one student drafted this statement of intent to bring back to his community:

“I am a shameless queer warrior who is fearless, loves himself, and trusts himself unconditionally.”

January 7, 2017

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Winter Solstice Celebration at PQ!

By:  Clementine Wilson, Adolescent Field Manager

Pacific Quest hosted our annual Winter Solstice celebration for our students and employees last month! We were able to hold it on the actual date of the Solstice – marking the shortest day of the year.

Pacific Quest Wilderness Therapy Celebrates Winter Solstice

Students preparing for the Winter Solstice celebration

““Solstice” comes from two Latin words: sol meaning “sun” and sistere meaning “to stand still” because it appeared as though the sun and moon had stopped moving across the sky. This longest night of the year, followed by a renewal of the sun, demonstrates the cyclical order of the cosmos. In this way, celebrating the solstice can be a beautiful remembrance that our lives are part of a larger order, always changing, always renewing.”

The solstice holiday focuses on the natural cycles of life, connection to the land, and the winter harvest. Program Guides led students through themed land lessons and activities in camp leading up to the meal. The students choreographed and performed a “Mele Kalikimaka” hula dance, a live performance of the Lorax, and a guided meditation walk over to the imu where the meal was prepared. They ended the activities with a gratitude circle before sitting down to eat together.

Pacific Quest Wilderness Therapy Celebrates Winter Solstice

Preparing the imu, traditional underground oven

Sharing food, an important part of any celebration, is particularly meaningful during the solstice, as it represents faith in the return of the sun and the harvest. We prepared pork, turkey and tofu in our imu, a traditional Hawaiian underground oven.  To make our imu, we dug a hole in the ground and placed rocks and wood inside.  Then a fire was started, creating a bed of coals and heating up the rocks.  Next, banana leaves and other plant materials were placed in the pit, which created steam. The foods to be cooked were placed inside, and more plant materials got piled on top, followed by water soaked burlap sacks. Finally, everything was covered and weighted down with rocks and dirt to prevent steam from escaping. The food steamed in the imu for hours, until it was moist and tender. In addition, we used much of our own PQ harvest (especially our kabocha squash) as part of this meal.  We enjoyed a delicious feast and it was so beautiful and inspiring to see the students and guides take time to prepare for this celebration. Throughout the day I witnessed a wonderful balance of laughter and reverence!

September 20, 2016

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Guiding the Guides: The Unique Role of the Master Guide – Part III

By:  Clementine Wilson, Adolescent Field Manager & Jody St. Joseph, Adolescent Program Director

This three part series focuses on the Master Guide position and the significance of this special role at Pacific Quest. The first entry looked at the role itself and highlighted Nikki Robinson.  Part II introduced Master Guide Alyson Alde.  In this third and final entry we meet Nick Olson and learn about his focus within this role!

Meet Nick Olson

Master Guide Position: Pacific Quest Wilderness Therapy Program

Nick working with a student on the land.

Nick hails from the high plains of Wyoming. There his wonderful parents worked diligently to instill in him a strong connection to a healthy diet, gardening and traveling. He studied International Studies at the University of Wyoming and in embracing his dream of vagabonding, traveled for two years following college. In the backwoods of Thailand with rambunctious kids, he realized that playing with youth in the dirt rules.

Nick started at Pacific Quest in March of 2015. He finds purpose in this job by helping students foster their own connection with the land, their food and their own self worth. He pulls from growing up in his tight knit community to help students build their sense of responsibility to their community, both here at Pacific Quest and back home. It’s a good day for Nick when his students find themselves deep in conversation, comfortably seated on the earth with their hands in the soil.  He comments, “What motivates me here at Pacific Quest  is when a student transforms a section of the garden and through their hard work they get invested and connected with the well-being of the land.”  As a master guide he hopes to help garden-shy guides feel more comfortable working on the land and getting their hands dirty.

In his off time he enjoys the quirkiness of Hilo, the comfort of his porch swing and the adventures with his community here on the Big Island.

September 7, 2016

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Guiding the Guides: The Unique Role of the Master Guide – Part II

By:  Clementine Wilson, Adolescent Field Manager & Jody St. Joseph, Adolescent Program Director

This three part series focuses on the Master Guide position and the significance of this special role at Pacific Quest. The first entry looked at the role itself and highlighted Nikki Robinson.  Part II will introduce Master Guide Alyson Alde.  Check back next week to meet another team member and their focus within this role!

Meet Alyson Alde

Alyson was raised in a small town in Illinois.  There, she learned how to climb trees, play in the dirt, and plant seeds. Her love for the outdoors has continued to grow throughout her life.  She graduated with a degree in psychology with a focus in environmental studies.  Prior to graduating, it was her dream to work with adolescents in a natural setting. Post graduation, she is living this dream at Pacific Quest. The combination of working with The Girl Scouts of America in New York state and working at an all boys residential treatment center in Tennessee gave her the inspiration to combine the two: wilderness and mental health.

The Unique Role of the Master Guide at Pacific Quest

Alyson working with a student in the garden

Alyson loves empowering her students through education at Pacific Quest. She has a firm understanding that there are several types of intelligences, and she utilizes this knowledge with every lesson she teaches. Through her lessons, students are able to draw parallels between themselves and the garden, relate their lives to the Hero’s Journey, and learn sustainability for themselves and the environment.  Not only does Alyson empower her students, she empowers her fellow guides as well. Alyson makes it a priority to work alongside her fellow guides to develop new lessons plans each week.

Of her role, Alyson says, “The most rewarding aspect of the job is seeing the students’ growth.  Typically, I work the earlier phases in the program – Nalu and Kuleana. Several times a week, a student mentor comes back to Nalu and Kuleana. I love to see how the students have created their own leadership styles and I love to hear their invites on life. Often times, they even teach me something about the garden.”

August 22, 2016

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Guiding the Guides: The Unique Role of the Master Guide

By:  Clementine Wilson, Adolescent Field Manager & Jody St. Joseph, Adolescent Program Director

This three part series focuses on the Master Guide position and the significance of this special role at Pacific Quest. The first entry looks at the role itself and highlights Master Guide Nikki Robinson. Check back next week to meet another team member and their focus within this role! 


Clementine Wilson, Adolescent Field Manager

The Master Guide role at Pacific Quest is a pathway for Program Guides to develop into dynamic leaders and mentors in the field. There’s a belief in mentoring and rites of passage work that “you can only take someone as far as you’ve been willing to go yourself.” All guides at PQ begin their journey as Apprentices, learning the trade of guide work in our unique environment from those who are seasoned and experienced. Master Guides have worked with the widest variety of student profiles and therefore have developed a comprehensive skill set in order to work safely and effectively with the students in our care.  In their extensive time in the field, they have uncovered joy and passion, faced challenges, navigated growth edges, earned respect, built confidence, and have now come full circle to give back to their peers.

Master Guides are an extension of the Field Management team.  They teach and coach their peers through role modeling, open authentic communication, direct leadership, and the feedback loop. With this, they aim to hold a safe and empowering container for our guides to learn and grow.  In addition to collaborating with various departments and being highly respected among peers, the Master Guides at PQ currently have a cumulative total of over 1,000 days in the field.

Each Master Guide has identified a niche they are focusing on in their role. Nikki Robinson has an especially keen eye for safety and risk management in the early phases of the program.  She  holds the big picture of structure and boundaries and is committed to supporting and mentoring Program Guides in this area. Alyson Alde is focused on ensuring our curriculum is being taught with creativity and passion, mentoring guides on lesson planning and dynamic teaching. Nick Olson is our land engagement guide, focusing on working with teams to further incorporate horticulture therapy into activities, and working with guides to increase experiential learning via the garden.

Meet Nikki Robinson

Guiding the Guides: The Unique Role of the Master Guide at PQ

Nikki working with a student in the garden

Master Guide Nikki Robinson graduated from Naropa University with a BA in Contemplative Psychology. She is captivated by human behavior and as a result applied to Pacific Quest to pursue her passions.  Nikki started as a Program Guide at Pacific Quest two years ago and found a passion for holding boundaries and providing a consistent safe space for students.

Now, as a Master Guide, Nikki brings her extensive experience to mentor, train and support the Program Guide team.  She comments, “I’ve worked as a guide for two years and have been involved in some highly intense situations.  As a Master Guide, I want to teach and guide others and be that supportive mentor I believe everyone needs, to not just survive but thrive!  The students are our future.  My passion lies in assisting in their growth and helping them be the change they seek for themselves.”

Nikki values honesty and genuine connection and in return offers that to the students and guides.  She has a strong desire to help others and is driven to create change and continuously grow. She is interested in the human psyche and finds fulfillment in providing support for people who deeply suffer.

When Nikki is not at work you can find her at coffee shops, the beach swimming in the company of friends or studying astrology. She has a passion for reading self help books, studying astrology charts and providing knowledge to others who want to know themselves more.