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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.

June 9, 2017

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Pacific Quest to Donate a Portion of Profits to PQ Foundation

We are pleased to announce that Pacific Quest will now be donating a minimum of 1% of our profits annually to the Pacific Quest Foundation, a 501(c)(3) public charity whose mission is to support the Hawaii County community and its existing non-profit organizations.

Pacific Quest was founded in 2004 and over the years we have developed relationships with more than 60 different local non-profit organizations through donations from our company, its employees and its clients. With the generous support and donations from alumni, families, community members and businesses, we are excited to continue our tradition of stewardship within the Big Island community.Pacific Quest Announces Formation of Pacific Quest Foundation

Martha Bouchard, PQ Foundation Director, reflected on this decision to donate profits to the foundation, “It is essential to our mission to both be sustainable and in right relationship with the community in which we work and in which Pacific Quest has built such life changing programming for students. This has to go beyond the community service that our staff and students do. For us, being able to increase our capacity to give back to the island by helping to fund organizations that are the heart and soul of our local communities is a direct reflection of that commitment.” Donations to the foundation help to fund the organizations that sustain our island’s diverse communities, which benefit both residents and visitors alike.

Pacific Quest Foundation will begin accepting applications in Fall 2017. Requests will be considered from Hawaii Island based non-profit organizations in four general categories, including:

  • community or public service
  • environmental issues
  • health and education
  • youth and senior citizens

For more information on how to help support the Pacific Quest Foundation, please visit:

http://pqfoundation.org/donate-now/

November 21, 2016

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PQ Presents at IECA Conference in New Orleans

By: Yvette Slagle, Communications Manager

Pacific Quest’s Clinical Director, Dr. Lorraine Freedle and Medical Director, Dr. Britta Zimmer recently co-presented at the 2016 Independent Educational Consultant Association conference in New Orleans.  Their presentation “The Gut Brain Connection: Emerging Trends in Integrative Health” began with the simple question, “What comes to mind when you hear the term ‘gut feeling’?”  Audience members commented “intuition,” “instinct,” and “trust”.  With more than 90 % of the body’s serotonin being created in the digestive tract, this collaborative presentation highlighted how “gut feelings” are real, and how a “second brain” consisting of millions of neural networks and micro bacteria work together to send signals from the gut to the brain.  Research suggests an imbalance in the gastrointestinal tract can lead to an imbalance in the brain resulting in a myriad of issues ranging from anxiety, depression, mood dysregulation and autoimmune disease.

Pacific Quest Presents at IECA Conference New Orleans

Dr. Britta Zimmer and Denise Westman at IECA New Orleans

The session focused on the importance of treating the whole person in an informed and targeted manner to maximize the effectiveness of treatment.  Dr. Zimmer shared current research that suggests inflammation in the gut directly correlates to inflammation in the brain, and the ways in which gut microbiota affects the state of mind.  She highlighted the importance of consuming probiotics found in yogurt and fermented foods.  In addition, she discussed inflammatory substances – processed foods, environmental toxins and emotional stress and the importance of decreasing inflammation in the body through sleep hygiene, physical activity, deep breathing and stress resiliency.

Following the presentation, Pacific Quest’s Outreach Director, Denise Westman, commented, “I’m always so energized after hearing my colleagues engaged and excited to learn more about this important work we are doing with our students. We are so fortunate to have Lorraine and Britta collaborating on such a timely subject and working closely together to positively impact our students.”

To learn more about Pacific Quest and our integrative, whole person approach, please visit the following links:

October 23, 2016

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Pacific Quest Receives AHTA Therapeutic Garden Design Award

By: Yvette Slagle, Communications Manager

Pacific Quest’s Horticultural Therapy Director Travis Slagle M.A. recently accepted the national award in Therapeutic Garden Design from the  American Horticultural Therapy Association (AHTA). The nomination process included an outpouring of inspiring testimonials from families, alumni, educational consultants, and mental health professionals from across the country. Travis comments, “The greatest part of this award is knowing that our gardens are saving lives, re-invigorating families, and changing the face of wilderness therapy.  Receiving this award is a humbling reminder that hard work pays off, and why healing gardens belong at the center of our communities as a reminder of our own resilience and of life’s endless possibilities.”

Pacific Quest receives AHTA Therapeutic Garden Design Award

Travis accepting award at AHTA Conference in St. Louis

Pacific Quest’s commitment to stewardship and their neurosequential approach to garden design and program structure makes them well deserving of this recognition.  Here is one of the many testimonials that the AHTA committee received during the award nomination:

“Our daughter was lost, struggling, and unhappy. She reconnected to nature and her healthy self through Pacific Quest’s horticultural therapy program.  Simple and hard work in nature helped her strip away unhealthy behaviors and unproductive patterns, and empowered her to understand how good process leads to good outcomes. In the garden, she learned how to work with others, delay gratification, tend weeds (psychological and natural), embrace discomfort, and envision a positive future. She developed resilience and sense of self by getting a little dirty and doing a little hard work. Every day, PQ’s guides and therapists helped her see how her work was helping her heal. We will be forever grateful to PQ and that patch of dirt for helping our daughter get past a dark period in her life.”

Upon his return from the AHTA conference and award ceremony, Travis shared, “Looking back to when PQ first began, we spent most our days hauling rocks and burning piles of dead grass to clear the jungle to make space for a visionary garden that would one day become the epicenter of our values as an organization.  As we cleared the land, one by one we planted fruit trees and built garden beds that have become a beacon of hope and inspiration for so many people.  I feel honored to be a part of it!”

September 5, 2016

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PQ Presents at Wilderness Therapy Symposium

Pacific Quest’s Horticultural Therapy Director, Travis Slagle, M.A. recently co-presented with Darcy Ottey, M.A. at the 2016 Wilderness Therapy Symposium in Park City, Utah.  The three hour experiential workshop focused on the ecological perspective of rites of passage and provided conference attendees hands on activities to activate the senses and deepen their understanding of the integration of rites of passage and nature assisted therapy.  Travis comments, “I believe this is the next wave of innovation in wilderness therapy.  The challenge of the future isn’t going to be climbing a mountain, or hiking in the desert, it’s helping young people learn how to live a more sustainable life.”

Travis Slagle, Horticultural Therapy Director

Travis Slagle, Horticultural Therapy Director

This breakout session brought together clinicians and direct care staff from across the country and included a PQ alumni, now finishing her last semester of college. Together, Travis and the alumni led the audience in a lesson on transplanting; offering participants a tangible experience to reflect on the biological process of stress and adaptation in nature and how to use this as a metaphor for the life transitions that clients experience in treatment and beyond. Participants commented that the highlight of the workshop was hearing the PQ alumni talk about her journey toward self-acceptance and describe the role that working in a garden played in overcoming the debilitating effects of depression.  The alumni commented, “Two years ago, I would have never imagined that I would be here today planting flowers!”

As the presentation concluded, audience members had the opportunity to reflect on their experience.  Participants reported that they felt “deeply moved,” “inspired,” and “hopeful” after the workshop.  As Travis states,”We are promoting a paradigm shift in wilderness therapy, and the greatest reward in my work is seeing the change that our alumni students are bringing to the world, and the love and hope they bring to their families!”

To learn more about Horticultural Therapy and Rites of Passage at Pacific Quest, please visit the following links:

May 20, 2016

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Family Fridays: Walking the parenting path together

By: Alumni Parent

I have stood in your shoes. I still wear them, although I am further up the path. My child was struggling to the point that sending him to Pacific Quest became our best choice. I had been scared, frustrated, sleepless and worried and deciding to send him so far away added a new, and unwelcome, level of fear to me. If this sounds familiar, then I bet it will also ring true that you are also afraid to hope that this will work. Our hope for our children is fragile, and though surprisingly tenacious, we have learned to hide it for fear that one more failure will finally crush it. I sent my child and my hope to Hawaii. Here’s how it turned out.


Before PQ: Our son had struggles on and off during high school. He was uneven in his academics, but passionate about his extracurriculars. During college however, he spiraled down into a serious depression. He had reached out to the mental health services at school at the urging of friends who saw him changing. He was going to therapy and was on medication. Then I had to drive to his school after he stopped responding to calls and texts. I found him in his room with the curtains drawn, piles of dirty clothes and garbage around him as he slept in his bed. He had barely gotten up, showered, eaten, etc. for the past few weeks. Take a picture and put it in a text book – this is full blown depression. We packed him up and took him home.

The next steps: therapy, medication, a day program that seemed to help him get some traction, then working during the summer full time but still exhausted from that effort. He insists that all the work he did over the past 5 months has given him enough knowledge and preparation to return to school for the Fall semester. By Thanksgiving he was struggling. He failed many classes due to absences and didn’t return for the Spring semester. Now what? He stayed home. More intensive therapy and changes in medication as he worked as a laborer. He was growing hopeless that his situation would change. He was embarrassed to fail and it was hard for him to watch his friends move on without him.

We started with a new therapist who said: weekly therapy and medication will help, but what your son really could benefit from is a more intensive experience to really do the hard work and process what is at the root.

What program could be right? Our choices were traditional wilderness programs or Pacific Quest. Traditional wilderness programs focused on physical challenge and isolation to lead to mental strength. Pacific Quest focused on horticultural work, exercise, diet, whole-being wellness and community along with therapy and processing to build the idea that people, like nature, are imperfect, but by adaptation, experience, and using resources we learn to thrive.

We had so many questions about programs: Can a program get someone mentally healthy in 10 weeks? Can a program modify his behaviors in 10 weeks? For us, the goal was wellness – inside and out – and to start to understand what it takes to maintain wellness. Everyone has overarching issues that will be broken into smaller pieces. He will struggle with practical and emotional obstacles with support of peers and professionals. He will begin to identify ways to grow and support the changes he experiences at PQ.


During the time at Pacific Quest: My son set the following goals for himself: accept the past and the future, love himself, think about the future as opposed to worrying about the future and look in the mirror to see — not to criticize.

Your child is not the only one doing work during this time. You and your family will work too. Weekly calls with your child’s therapist and working through the parent manual is an opportunity for growth for all of us. Confession: I wanted to avoid this component. Isn’t this program for him? The reality dawns on me that I want him to work at this hard stuff and I don’t want to work on this hard stuff. My child has to accept and do the work and I have the same choice. I chose to walk with him. I made the time and put forth my best effort.

What did my child learn at Pacific Quest? Increased ability to handle stress because he experienced stress in a healthy, safe place where the focus is learning these skills. Also, how to make healthy choices when stressed, how to reach out to process stress and discomfort and finding a way to move forward in a way that is healthy and sustainable. Another focus was the power of opening up and being vulnerable and how better relationships lead to self-acceptance.

How was this accomplished? There’s a lot to that answer, but here is some of it. First, individual therapy happens twice a week minimum. Therapy groups are also a part and they are staff-led and peer-led at times. Working with staff one-on-one to develop goals and impromptu peer one-on-ones where they reach out to one and other for support. Finally, there is exercise, in depth wellness with nutrition, curriculum and a lot of horticultural therapy and work.

ya-rites-1An interesting example for me was that my child struggled with quiet. Therefore, something like meditation was very difficult. A therapist discussed this with him and suggested that he learn about it by teaching it. So, my child was assigned to learn about meditation, practice it, journal about it, refine it and then he taught a class on it to his peers. The thinking was: Learn what you don’t know.

This is a lot of work for your child. It may be located in Hawaii, but it’s no vacation. There were many ups and downs that would be too long to chronicle. Again, it is by design that there is discomfort in this supportive environment so that the person actively learns the skills to handle obstacles in the real world.


Post Pacific Quest: During transition from PQ, our therapist took time to prepare us thoroughly for the road ahead. PQ is a start. It can be a foundation, but life isn’t easy and there will be setbacks and pitfalls ahead. A wise man that we know said: “Success isn’t measured in the day-to-day stuff. Success is measured by what happens when he falls into the same old hole. What is he doing to get out of the hole?” He is saying that by identifying what works and using what works, then the holes gets shallower. You build on those skills and build resiliency. Next, can you see the hole coming and avoid it?

When my son left PQ, he was excited to go back into the world. It took about five weeks for the first hole to appear. Somehow, he hadn’t embraced the idea that the “hole” or that a challenge would happen. It was very hard. He felt like a failure, but the foundation held. He got out of the hole and began again. There have been other holes. He is disappointed when they happen, but from the long view, some have been shallower and, more importantly, he does go back to the skills he learned and practiced at PQ.


Parting thoughts to those who are walking the path
If I could take away this struggle from you and your child, then I would. Just like you would like to spare your child what he or she is facing. However, there is no way around it. The only way is through it. I hope that you find the best fit for your family. The key thing to remember is that there is no magic. Neither Pacific Quest, nor any other program will take away the challenges of life. The real goal is to develop skills and form a foundation in a safe, therapeutic place so that our children are well prepared when their challenges occur.

May 19, 2016

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PQ Welcomes Tim Mullins to the Clinical Team

Tim Mullins, MA, LCPC has joined the PQ Clinical Team and brings over ten years of experience in the outdoor therapeutic industry.  He offers a wealth of personal and professional experience and has the unique ability to balance clinical insight with his sense of humor, a perfect match for working with young people.

tim-mullins-pq-therapist

Tim Mullins, MA, LCPC

Becoming a therapist has been the natural outcome of a lifelong interest in the inner workings of the mind and central to Tim’s professional interest is his recovery life. With 19 years of sobriety, Tim has had a remarkable journey from a seemingly hopeless frame of mind to a life directed towards health, study, and service.  Dr. Lorraine Freedle, Clinical Director, comments, “Tim is rock solid.  He blends years of experience in wilderness therapy and addictions recovery with a holistic and transpersonal perspective that deepens the work in a unique and powerful way.”

Working at Pacific Quest aligns with Tim’s integral values. As a yoga practitioner and instructor, he came to understand how people can become attuned to their inner landscape through working in a natural environment. As an organic gardener, connecting with the land and the environment is a spiritual endeavor that feeds the body and the mind. Tim believes that it is a disconnection from the natural world that is at the core of many modern problems. “Getting back to the garden means reconnecting to the source of our physical and psychological sustenance,” adds Tim.

Tim is a licensed clinical professional counselor and considers himself an integrative practitioner. He has a Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology from Prescott College, and is currently pursuing his doctoral degree in psychology at California Southern University, with a focus on the integration of science and the perennial philosophies into an interdisciplinary psychology.

Tim’s interests are wide ranging and eclectic. He is an avid chess player and an Argentine Tango dancer. Tim enjoys hiking, biking, backpacking, and scuba diving. He also designs and (occasionally) builds residential and commercial structures with a particular interest in the psychology of constructed spaces that are attuned to their respective environments.

May 6, 2016

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A letter of appreciation: Our son’s growth and our journey as parents

We are thankful to the entire Pacific Quest team who have chosen to help others in such a meaningful way. Our son graduated the program and has entered a new and healthier chapter in his life. While we know our son’s journey will continue to have ups and downs, it is nice to know he is moving on in a good place.parent_testimonial

We enjoyed reconnecting with our son when he transitioned out of Pacific Quest. He was in great spirits, very talkative and open and surprisingly, not very anxious (wow, what a change!). We talked about his experience at PQ and he shared some fine memories, including cooking chili for everyone. He shared some of the growth that he experienced, and importantly, demonstrated it through his mood and demeanor. He continues to be in a good mood and a joy to be around. Wow.

Integral to our son’s experience, and our’s as parents, was his primary therapist, Erin Gustin. We must admit that this has been a journey for us as parents as well. testimonial pic 2We feel like we have welcomed Erin into our homes and our family these past three months. We will miss those Wednesday evening pre-dinner phone sessions. It has been so instructive, helpful and insightful, including the ‘ups and downs’ of our son’s journey, sharing hopes and triumphs and frustrations. We want to thank Erin more than she can know for all she has done for our family!

April 8, 2016

Written by:

A Story of Hope: My Daughter’s Journey of Healing

By: Alumni Parent

My daughter spent three and a half months on the Big Island in your program and I will be forever grateful for all that she gained from being part of your program. I am writing this review in the hopes that other parents can gain a sense of hope.

My daughter started her life as a happy, dynamic, strong kid.  She had plenty of friends and was always engaged in whatever life had to offer her with a smile on her face. Her father and I divorced when she was 13, and she started to lose her ability to cope with life the following year. Her first negative coping mechanism was anorexia. Her weight went from 145 to 95 in a matter of three months. After many eating disorder programs, she turned to self harm by cutting herself. Extensive therapy helped but she still had a need to be numb from her pain of not being able to cope. She then turned to alcohol and lastly drugs. She had five psychiatric hospitalizations when she was 16. Her fifth hospitalization was when her dad and I knew she would not live if we kept her in regular society.  We needed help but did not know how to help her or us in finding help. Internet research and an educational consultant, pointed us in the direction of Pacific Quest.  I remember the first phone call and hearing the costs and feeling like it was so impossible to come up with that amount of money. We knew we needed to do everything in order to help our daughter.

I asked her father to bring her to PQ because I knew that drop off would be tough. I had no idea just how tough the first part of her PQ journey would be until we were in that first week together. She was stripped of every single negative coping mechanism that had carried her for the past two years. I knew she needed to go through that period but I also knew how hard it would be for her. That week was the first week in two years that I was able to really sleep. I knew we were starting a profound journey.PQ alumni review

As the PQ process continued, we were asked to participate in parenting therapy sessions.  We thought our divorce had gone so smoothly because we didn’t yell or hire expensive lawyers to fight anything out in court. We were very wrong. All of our anger had been under the surface and needed to be expressed. It was during this process where I started to realize that our way of coping with our divorce of not expressing feelings…had been passed on to our daughter.

Flying to PQ for parents’ weekend was another hurdle for us: we knew it would benefit her, but neither of us really wanted to do it.  We did though… and it did help our daughter. The lessons of how to talk to teenagers in a healthier space so that the words can actually be heard, was invaluable to me. Thank you so much PQ! Later, my youngest daughter has benefited greatly from that lesson. We were also faced with the realization that she could not be brought back to mainstream society yet.  After attending a longer term therapeutic program, she graduated from high school in December and is now a full time college student living in off campus housing with five other girls in her suite. She has a job and is taking classes to get her Bachelors in Sociology. She now says how grateful she is for going to PQ, and talks about working at PQ someday to give back to kids who have gone off course.

I cannot stress enough how close to leaving this earth my daughter was. The only coping skill that soothed her was to be numb from drugs. Pacific Quest not only saved my daughter but it saved me too. PQ provided a much needed basis of removing all the negative coping mechanisms and beginning to chip away at my daughter’s inability to find healthy coping skills. She was also taught the very important lesson at PQ that there is no such thing as normal. There are many different ways to be a human being and express the feelings that we all experience. My daughter was part of a program that encouraged health for her body and her mind when she was with PQ.

The appreciation for PQ can been seen in her most recent Facebook profile picture. Thank you PQ!