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November 19, 2012

Written by:

A Sense of Community-Giving Thanks for the Imu

By Martha Bouchard, Operations Director

The holidays are coming upon us. It may seem slightly early, but let’s face it, there have been “winter holiday” decorations in the stores since long before Halloween. Holidays have always been such an interesting and rewarding time in working with adolescents and children for nearly fifteen years. Admittedly, there are times that it has felt like double duty; just this past year I marked the first time I took a holiday to be with my family and not to be at the “office” as well.

This is one of the many things I must share my appreciation for regarding my “work” and my fellow employees. The holidays are a time when we make space for our loved ones as well as for the students and families we have dedicated our careers to. We celebrate two Thanksgivings, a winter extravaganza and many of the individual winter holidays as well; it is one of the most pleasurable times of the year.

Pacific Quest Wilderness Therapy ProgramA few weeks ago, a member of the community had the opportunity to begin the preparations for these special times of celebration, of thankfulness, of appreciation for all we have and all of those whom support and love us.

A group of students and staff headed down to the coast to harvest kiawe (prosopis pallida) for the upcoming imu that will be prepared for our Thanksgiving celebrations. This wood has been drying in the gardens and soon will start the fire that will burn throughout the night, heating the stones upon which our food will be placed before the hot oven is covered to steam for many hours. Some of the students who participated in the wood harvest will no longer be at Pacific Quest when it is time to start the fires. This legacy they have left will be appreciated by us all, as we share our feast. For those students who did participate they will be able to tell the story of the adventure with members of our dedicated and committed logistics crew that most students do not have every day occasion to interact with and whom have the inside knowledge of the best trees to harvest from. This all day trip was topped off by a dip in the ocean at a secluded cove we visit only a few times a year.

Pacific Quest Wilderness Therapy ProgramThus, this season gives us many opportunities to come together as the unique community that we are. As students tell the story of the adventure to gather wood, they will tell the story of a community that put intention behind each activity, a community that does not rush the process and that takes the time to ensure that things are done right and the proper amount of care and attention is given. These students will likewise tell the story of a community that is dedicated to them and to honoring our traditions and their role in creating those traditions as they participate in the community.

Story is such an integral part of the work that we embody at Pacific Quest. We take ownership of our stories, of our roles in the creation of our new stories and in understanding that our actions help to influence the stories of those that will follow in our footsteps; this is the essence of legacy. The legacy of the imu is not just that of a Pacific Quest Wilderness Therapy Programgreat meal and celebration of thankfulness. Don’t get me wrong, it is undoubtedly all of those things, but it is also the coming together for a common goal and the learning of a different way which helps to strengthen and magnify the sense of community that is created in this time of year.

When I first started working in this field, I would sometimes dread the emotions that I perceived would accompany this season, both for me in my work and for those I was working with in being away from their families. What I have come to realize is that this sense of dread was not warranted. I have found that contrary to these fears, the sense of community and appreciation has always grown as we come together to celebrate, and that student’s ownership in this process not only supports their growth, but mine as well as I head into my second celebration with my ohana outside of Pacific Quest.

April 10, 2012

Written by:

Sustainable Community

By Martha Bouchard, Program Director

What feeds a community?

There are the rote answers: food, water, shelter. But let’s assume your basic needs are being met. What comes next?

For me, it is being part of a community that allows space for people to learn, grow and change.

One of my greatest joys in working for Pacific Quest wilderness therapy program is being a part of a community that is not only open to change, but embraces it. As a leader in the Pacific Quest ohana, I often find myself working within teams to evaluate the effectiveness of each of our systems and resources, creating goals to improve each of those systems, and reflecting on our sustainable growth, as individuals and as an organization.

One of our recent undertakings as part of this process has been the visioning of a 3rd addition of our student curriculum. This new version will be organized to best reflect the building blocks of Sustainable Growth, and will thus mirror a student’s journey of exploring their Sustainable Well-Being, the Sustainable Self, a Sustainable Garden, a Sustainable Community and, ultimately, a Sustainable Transition.

At the heart of each of these curricular themes we find the word “sustainable”. What does that really mean? Is it possible to truly create a sustainable system, a sustainable curriculum, a sustainable learning community, or sustainable growth, in such a fast paced world?

Pacific Quest Wilderness Therapy ProgramBy definition, in order for something to be sustainable it must be able to be “maintained without depletion”. Students, staff, family members and professionals working with the Pacific Quest community understand that the work we do can feel pretty depleting at times. Each of these roles requires a great deal of time and commitment; physical and emotional output. Frankly there are moments in the process where everyone can feel down right exhausted. So what creates the Sustainable Growth? What is the key to not becoming drained by the process?

At Pacific Quest, we create a sustainable community by acknowledging that the skills which we use to maintain our natural world without depletion are the same skills that can help us to maintain ourselves without depletion. While there are many layers to what we do at Pacific Quest, ultimately it’s pretty simple.

We all know, logically, that you can’t keep taking, harvesting, benefiting from a natural environment and expect that it will keep giving, growing, providing. In order to expect the we can continue to harvest food from the garden we understand that we must honor the change that goes on within it. As the plants grow they absorb the nutrients of the soil and when those plants are harvested, that soil is downright tired. If we kept planting and harvesting in that same soil, if we refused to acknowledge how much it had just put out and didn’t give it the time and resources to replenish it would not be fruitful. So we allow it to rest and be fallow, we nourish it with humus; we take time to prepare it for the next step. Finally when we plant the new seeds we give them plenty of attention to ensure they have all they need to grow. At each step of this process we observe what works and what doesn’t and learn to incorporate that knowledge into the next attempt.

It’s the same approach we take with people whatever role they play in the PQ ohana: student, staff, family member or other professional. We understand that we can not expect an “ah-ha” moment, after an attempt at a new achievement, after emotional risk and still maintain the energy needed to incorporate this knowledge, learn and give to a community, without going through a process similar to that of the garden. We understand and teach that this process can take a lot of energy from our physical (body), mental (mind) and emotional (spirit) reserves and if we do not incorporate techniques to refill these reserves we will feel depleted.

This is why we rest, eat well, exercise, garden, play; it’s why we teach a process of mindfulness and continual observation. This allows us to acknowledge what needs attention and what needs to change in order to take on our next challenge, “ah-ha” moment, attempt at a new achievement and emotional risk in a new way. We acknowledge that we are in a continual process of learning and changing and that we can take on each challenge as an opportunity for lessons learned, and ultimately for growth.

By embracing these techniques at an organizational level we not only practice what we teach, we also provide evidence for the effectiveness of the model as we continue to strengthen our reputation as a leader in the wilderness therapy industry. This truly makes us a Sustainable Community.

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