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March 10, 2020

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Staff Highlight: Nick Vejvoda

The Pacific Quest team is made up of incredibly talented individuals who are passionate about working with our students and providing a safe and structured environment for them to learn and grow.  This month we want to highlight our Adolescent Program Manager, Nick Vejvoda.

Nick’s early years found him in the Czech Republic where he attended an international school and gained invaluable cultural experience. For high school and college, he moved to Michigan with the beautiful Great Lakes nearby for inspiration. Nick received his BS with a focus on Human Biology from Lyman Briggs College at Michigan State University. He has a passion for whole-person wellness and its clinical implications. Hearing about Pacific Quest and it’s model of sustainable growth in a unique wilderness setting, Nick knew Hawaii and PQ was his calling.

Joining Pacific Quest as an Adolescent Program Guide in January 2016, Nick worked towards becoming a Senior Lead Guide whose focus became training the next generation of guides. After spending some time as a Program Supervisor, he transitioned into the role of Adolescent Program Manager, where he finds fulfillment and thrives on teaching and creating magical moments that will inspire students and guides alike to realize their potential. He loves to garden and farm and has a steady hand in crisis situations.

Program Director Jody St. Joseph adds, “Nick’s dedication to his team and a job well done contribute to a consistent and safe work environment where our employees and students are able to thrive.  He’s an excellent role-model and we’re so excited to have him in this position!”

Mahalo Nick for all your hard work and dedication!


Learn more about our Adolescent Program here!

February 13, 2020

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Highlights from Hawaii Doc Talks

By: Dr. Britta Zimmer

I recently had the opportunity to attend the annual Hawaii Doc Talks conference to immerse myself in the most up to date research and science in primary care integrative health. This Hawaii Doc Talks conference was conceived of in 2014 to address the need for continuing education requirements to be met by physicians in Hawai’i.  In an attempt to disrupt the prevailing PowerPoint paradigm, the conference is modeled after TED Talks – 25-minute presentations meant to engage and inspire, beyond simply educating. One of the big perks and draws of this conference, held annually in January, is that this conference attracts some of the best doctors from around the country who want to present and/ or get their continuing education credits in beautiful, warm Hawaii during the winter.

This conference feels like a multi-sensory playground for me, there is a tremendous amount to learn and do with experts in my field. Last year, I was selected to present twice at this conference therefore this year felt more relaxing as I was there solely to learn and reunite with colleagues. Some topics included a discussion on how mental health is imperative to physical health and how they are married and inspiring to one another. This presentation boosted the understanding of current evidence-based care to explore the future of mental health diagnostics and treatment.  

Chronic neurological conditions were also the main topic of this conference with extensive presentations on the latest in research pertaining to dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis, and general cognitive decline.  The protocols and research for these neurological conditions coincide with what we know pertaining to attention deficit disorder. How brain inflammation and particular practices set up a cascade of events to increase the risk for these neurologic diseases as well as impede positive treatment outcomes.

One of the many take-home points which I would like to share with you is dementia (and ADHD) risks of oral diphenhydramine (Benadryl) use. Chronic use of this class of medications and other anticholinergic sleep aids leads to increased progression and risk of diseases associated with cognitive decline. Diphenhydramine is critical in allergy medicine but if this medication is prescribed chronically for anxiety and/or sleep this research needs to be heeded. 

Coupland CAC, Moore M, Hippisley-Cox J. Association of Anticholinergic Drug Exposure With Increased Occurrence of Dementia—Reply. JAMA Intern Med. 2019;179(12):1730–1731. DOI:10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.4908

Stella  F, Radanovic  M, Balthazar ML, Canineu  PR, de Souza LC, Forlenza OV.  Neuropsychiatric symptoms in the prodromal stages of dementia.  Curr Opin Psychiatry. 2014;27(3):230-235.

February 3, 2020

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New Video Highlights Training

An important aspect of the PQ model is staff development and the opportunity to learn and grow alongside our students. 

Staff members recently participated in a company-wide training focused on Horticultural Therapy and Rites of Passage.  It was a great opportunity for the team to come together on our new farm property and have time to connect while learning new skills and strategies to work with our students.

One of the main goals was to emphasize the importance of how to incorporate these various lessons and projects into the daily routine with students. PQ Field Therapist Sarah Blechman, MSSW, who helped organize and facilitate the training comments, “The whole day was so engaging! It was abundantly clear the facilitators were authentically passionate about the rich union and incredible effects of the interplay between horticulture, rites of passage and how to facilitate the two using the neurosequential model. My favorite part was when our program guides, managers and therapists all worked together to create our first garden bed in our ethnobotanical garden. Working on such a large project together felt like the whole community was working on a gift for our new farm.”

Many thanks to Nick Vejvoda, Adolescent Field Manager, who made this video!

WATCH the video here!

January 21, 2020

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Staff Spotlight: Anthony Florig

The Pacific Quest team is made up of incredibly talented individuals who are passionate about working with our students and providing a safe and structured environment for them to learn and grow.  This month we want to highlight our Young Adult Program Manager, Anthony Florig.

Anthony Florig, MBA
Young Adult Program Manager

Anthony worked at Pacific Quest from 2012-2016, starting as a direct-care Program Guide, and working through several positions including Young Adult Program Supervisor, Program Coordinator, and Purchasing Manager. Anthony left Pacific Quest in 2016 to pursue an MBA in his hometown of Youngstown, Ohio. In 2018, he returned to the company as the Off-Site Facility Manager to work on setting up new locations and managing the Rites of Passage phase of the Young Adult Program.

Anthony’s tenure with the Pacific Quest program combined with his business experience and education allows him to bring a unique and level perspective to the management team. Jody St. Joseph, Program Director, comments, “Anthony’s passion for horticulture therapy and his keen eye for risk management truly enhance our stellar team.  We are thrilled to have him in this leadership role!”

Mahalo Anthony for all your hard work and dedication!

January 9, 2020

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Big Island Adventures!

Pacific Quest Young Adult students recently visited OK Farms in Hilo, where they assisted in transplanting Mamaki and coffee plants.  The historic OK Farms is over 1,000 acres and is home to amazing waterfalls and exotic fruit varieties. 

After lending a helping hand on the farm, students enjoyed lunch by a scenic waterfall and then returned to Reeds Bay to enjoy some time playing in the ocean!  The group launched kayaks and SUPs from the ice ponds and paddled around Hilo Bay, taking in the beautiful scenery!

Learn more about our Young Adult Program here!

December 17, 2019

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Nature-assisted Therapy and Brain Development

Dr. Lorraine Freedle Travels to Taiwan

Pacific Quest’s Clinical Director, Dr. Lorraine Freedle was recently invited to speak for the Taiwanese Society of Wilderness in Taipei.  Dr. Chun-lin Cheng, a Psychiatrist, Jungian Analyst and officer of the Taiwanese Society of Wilderness (SOW) learned that Dr. Freedle was visiting Taiwan to teach sandplay therapy workshops and thought it would be an ideal opportunity to collaborate.  

Dr. Lorraine Freedle in Taipei

Dr. Cheng is the Medical Director of the Psychiatric Unit of the Far Eastern Hospital in Taipei.  Dr. Freedle had the privilege of touring the hospital and seeing first hand the incredible gardens of their Horticultural Therapy program, where patients have the opportunity to spend time in the garden in the large courtyard.

The main goal of the SOW is to connect people with nature for preservation. Dr. Freedle’s lecture, entitled, “Nature-assisted Therapy and Brain Development” emphasized how to use a growth-focused approach, environmental design, and nature-based activities to target brain development and assist young people to connect more meaningfully to themselves, others and the natural world.   

The audience was made up of  Horticultural Therapists, mental health professionals, and conservationists.  Dr. Lorraine took them on a “virtual visit” to Pacific Quest, where they learned about our program and how students acquire coping skills to manage stress.  Dr. Freedle notes, “We had a great response! People were very excited to learn more about Pacific Quest and nature-assisted therapy. The group had a lot of questions and were very interested in our new property and how we utilize our gardens therapeutically.”

Dr. Freedle with the Society of Wilderness in Taiwan

The SOW motto is ‘Wilderness is where life begins’ and it was evident the efforts being made to connect people with nature and the importance of utilizing nature in the healing process.  Dr. Freedle continues, “It was an amazing experience to be an international ambassador and to collaborate with a group that shares our values in connecting kids to the environment. All of our lives depend on protecting and sustaining our environment, and fostering that connection locally and globally.” 

October 22, 2019

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Staff Training at the Farm!

Last week Pacific Quest staff members participated in a company-wide training focused on Horticultural Therapy and Rites of Passage.  It was a great opportunity for the team to come together on our new farm property and have time to connect while learning new skills and strategies to work with our students.

Horticultural Therapy Director Travis Slagle teaching a workshop on “Rites of Passage in the Garden” highlighting the Polynesian voyage and canoe plants.

The training began with an introduction to the Four Shields and the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics that’s utilized at Pacific Quest and an integral part of our program.  After the intro, the team divided up and spent the morning at various “stations” that focused on different learning objectives.  Staff members had the option of picking which workshop they wanted to participate in. Some of the options included: Meditation & Mandala workshop, Cordage and Ti lei making, medicine walk and planting skills, soil & compost, and hard project skills & “imagineering”. 

Field Manager Anthony Florig leads a workshop on “Tools for Relating with Tools”

One of the main goals was to emphasize the importance of how to incorporate these various lessons and projects into the daily routine with students. PQ Field Therapist Sarah Blechman, who helped organize and facilitate the training comments, “The whole day was so engaging! It was abundantly clear the facilitators were authentically passionate about the rich union and incredible effects of the interplay between horticulture, rites of passage and how to facilitate the two using the neurosequential model. My favorite part was when our program guides, managers and therapists all worked together to create our first garden bed in our ethnobotanical garden. Working on such a large project together felt like the whole community was working on a gift for our new farm.”

August 2, 2018

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HIP Agriculture Receives Award from PQ Foundation

Pacific Quest Foundation helps to steward a healthy island community by contributing to existing 501(c)(3) organizations on Hawai’i. Over the years since our founding, Pacific Quest has developed relationships with over 60 local non-profit organizations through donations from our company, employees and clients. The PQ Foundation was created to continue this tradition of stewardship.

The Pacific Quest Foundation has recently awarded a grant to the HIP Agriculture High School Mentorship and Apprenticeship Program.  We had the opportunity to interview Dash Kuhr, the Executive Director and Lead Educator at HIP Agriculture to learn more about this incredible program and how they are influencing the Big Island community.

Can you tell me a little about HIP’s background info and how it got started?

We have two locations in Kapaau (northern part of the Big Island) the Halawa Campus which serves as  the headquarters of HIP Agriculture and includes staff housing, classroom, office, design studio, and library as well as student kitchen, outdoor showers, community stage and outdoor classroom.  We also have the ʻIole Garden, which is the main pacific-style agroforestry garden, where students have the opportunity to study a more traditional indigenous system of agriculture.

HIP was founded in Spring 2011 and has been growing since!  We now have a team of eight adults we can financially support and a seasonal 6 week internship program.  The foundation of our program is based on the 3 pillars:

Youth education

Farmer training

Community outreach

HIP Agriculture is “Committed to educating and empowering the next generation of young farmers, The Hawai’i Institute of Pacific Agriculture offers a variety of programs designed to engage Hawai’i’s youth in sustainable agriculture, land stewardship, and healthy lifestyles.”

What are some of the projects and programs HIP is currently working on?  How many students do you all work with?

We serve about 1,000 students, offering field trips, after school programs and in-class presentations. We work with Kohala elementary school, as well as middle school and high school students from Honokaa, Waimea, and Waikoloa.  For the elementary and middle school students, we bring workshops and activities to supplement their science curriculum – compost and micro-organisms, pollinators and beekeeping, nutrition and cooking from the garden, and native Hawaiian plants – identification and their uses.

Middle school students have classes on plant propagation, traditional lashing, seed saving and mycology.  High school students have classes in advanced plant propagation, ecosystem dynamics, advanced beekeeping and advanced mycology.

Our high school mentorship and apprenticeship program has 23 students.  The students assist in preparing and planting the fields, laying out irrigation, fertilizing and maintenance. They learn a variety of hands on skills – including compost, harvesting protocol, fertilizer management, soil testing, ph testing, soil work, observation, and recording notes and data.  We have an apprenticeship program over the summer which provides a paid educational stipend.

Future goals of HIP and how can people help?

Our goal is to create a hui network of farmers to supply food to the local cafeterias.  We are also honing our curriculum so this program can be utilized in other locations. In addition, we host volunteer days and always need help!  We will have the Kohala Aina Festival in October and special events including Farm to Table and Full Moon gatherings.

September 15, 2017

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Pacific Quest Fall Tour 2017

By:  Yvette Slagle, Communications Manager

Pacific Quest recently hosted a program tour for some of our referring professionals visiting from the mainland.  It’s always a special treat to provide guests the opportunity to see first hand our beautiful gardens, meet our talented team and spend time on the island getting more familiar with what our program entails.

For some, this was a first time visit, while others had been to PQ in the past and were eager to see what has evolved and developed since their last visit.  The first day of the tour kicked off with PQ’s Clinical Director, Dr. Lorraine Freedle, who introduced guests to our camp system model and the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics and Sandplay Therapy.

Afterwards, our visitors were able to see the Adolescent camps as well as the Young Adult kuleana camp in Ka’u and share a healthy lunch while learning more about our Wellness Program and Integrative Psychiatry with Dr. Britta Zimmer, PQ’s Medical Director.  The afternoon was spent participating in several student led activities, including making fresh garden salsa and learning about the 5 pillars of health, planting taro in the nursery, and learning more about Polynesian history.

The second day of the visit included a presentation with our Horticultural Therapy Director, Travis Slagle who shared insight on the importance of creating connection and meaning in the work in the garden and how this translates to other areas of a student’s life.  Afterwards, we visited the young adult program at Reeds Bay in Hilo and met with a panel of young adult students who shared their experience at Pacific Quest.

Overall, it was a great experience and we are thankful to everyone who made it out to the Big Island as well as to our dedicated team who made this visit a success!  Denise Westman, Outreach Director comments, “We appreciate everyone for taking the time to join us for this full two-day intensive visit.  This is an incredible opportunity to gain a better understanding of our program and take a glimpse into the powerful work occurring at PQ as well as feel the authenticity that shines through our staff.  Mahalo to all!’’

June 22, 2017

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Q & A with Academic Coordinator Isabel Holmes

Isabel joined the Pacific Quest team in 2016 after graduating from Vanderbilt University with her M.Ed in Human Development Counseling. She worked as a Young Adult Program Guide for seven months before moving into her current role as Academic Coordinator.  As the AC, Isabel strives to integrate the curriculum into our students’ daily process through groups and experiential learning opportunities.  This Q & A is an opportunity to learn more about Isabel and her valuable role at PQ!

Isabel Holmes, Academic Coordinator

What drew you to PQ?

I was drawn to Pacific Quest by the unique way our program combines mental health treatment, social-emotional learning, and experience of the outdoors. I was excited by the community approach to care, and have come to respect that even more during my time here. On a personal level, I thought that living on the Big Island and working at Pacific Quest would allow me to live and experience my own life in a radically different way, and that has absolutely proven true! My time here has challenged me in ways I didn’t previously know I could rise to meet, and has opened doors that I never knew existed.

What is your favorite part of PQ?

When I was working as a Program Guide, I used to joke that my favorite part of the job was sitting outside the luas at the end of the day, waiting for students to shower or complete their nightly routines. While it makes for an easy laugh, I meant it honestly, because it was in some of those moments, rolling around on a dirty floor in exhaustion verging on delirium, that I forged some of the best connections I ever had with students, whether through hilarious laughter over something completely silly or in a quiet moment of serious reflection on that day. I think what this really points to, and my real favorite part of PQ, is that the structure of our program gives us the opportunity to observe and help our students recognize and change their own patterns of behavior in a way that just doesn’t exist anywhere else.

What is your academic background?

My parents were both teachers, so I grew up in the world of academia. I attended Bryn Mawr College for undergrad, where I majored in English. I wasn’t the most motivated high school student, and it was at Bryn Mawr that I really found my own drive to learn and explore. I was able to take a wide variety of classes just because they interested me. After graduation, I ended up working at a boarding school outside of Boston, MA. The school environment was a comfortable one for me, and I had many opportunities to experience all the different things that make a school run. What I enjoyed most about that period of my life was my work with students in a residential community setting, and that led me to Vanderbilt, where I earned my M.Ed. in Human Development Counseling from the Peabody College of Education and Human Development. I completed my internships for my degree in a variety of school settings, gaining first-hand knowledge and experience in both counseling and academic program administration.

What about the PQ academic program is unique?

The PQ academic program is unique because it teaches our students to appreciate their environment, to appreciate their history, and to appreciate and care for themselves. Before they can be healthy learners, they must also be healthy people, and we provide access to a wide range of supports, structures, and skills to aid them in that quest, as well as opportunities to practice becoming both of those things.

What does Sustainable Growth mean to you?

In my eyes, sustainable growth means becoming the person you want to be slowly enough that it’s actually possible. We’ve all woken up on January 1st and named a litany of resolutions that we are going to enact to become a completely new version of ourselves right away. And we’ve all woken up on February or March 1st and bemoaned all the ways in which we are failing ourselves yet again, before waking up on August 1st and remembering nothing at all about any of it. These types of resolutions are often unsuccessful because they ask too much at once. A flower doesn’t bloom from a seed overnight, and humans are not capable of such rapid development, either. In order to really change, we must find our own rate of sustainable growth and incorporate new patterns and behaviors into our lives slowly.

How does Sustainable Growth tie into the PQ academic program?

Rather than seeking to completely change or “fix” a student during their short 8-12 week stay with us and consider them a finished product, the PQ curriculum teaches lifelong skills and concepts that students can take with them when they leave, to continue their process of sustainable growth over their entire lifetime.

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