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November 20, 2020

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15 Honu Teach Students the Art of Being ‘Chill’

By Anthony Florig

Today we had three young adult students attend a record-breaking outing to the various beach parks of Keaukaha in Hilo. Never before on an outing have we had so many turtle sightings; 15 in all!

The Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle, or honu, is the largest hard-shelled turtle in the world. They grow over 4 feet long and can weigh over 300 lbs. They were hunted close to extinction but have been a protected endangered species since 1973, and the population has been on the rise ever since.

A student floats in a tide pool after learning a bit about relaxation from resident honu.

We learned some valuable lessons from these turtles today, most importantly how to relax. There always seems to be so much going on in the world, and we all need to rush around every day from this to that, making sure we are all doing all the things. Well, not the Honu. The students remarked how “chill” they were.

We observed them casually floating around blissfully in the shallows, or better yet sprawled out and basking in the Sun. We tried to copy their behavior and adopt their laissez-faire attitude. After talking about it, we realized we would only want to be a sea turtle for a day or two, then we would probably get bored.

We trekked along an outcropping of lava rocks to a secret remote tide pool known as the mermaid pool. We floated. We embodied the chill vibes of the Honu while we could. We soaked up the Sun and the salt while it lasted, before having to return to our normal responsibilities.

Over lunch we talked about transition. What comes next? What happens after Pacific Quest? What are my responsibilities when I leave? We can’t just all float in tide pools all day like giant turtles. But, it sure does seem like a good idea to embody the honu every once in awhile… I might go so far as to say that it is our responsibility to do so.

November 9, 2020

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Voting Counts at Pacific Quest!

With motivation “to have a voice and participate in our civic duty” Pacific Quest students successfully cast their votes in this year’s election.

With the support of therapist Sarah Blechman, students actively explored what voting means to them and learned how to obtain and properly complete their mail-in ballots.

“By voting, our students are using their voice and contributing to the power of the electorate— something greater than themselves,” said therapist Sarah Blechman.

Using Vote 4-11, students explored the candidates, their position on policies, and also made inquiries about the ballot initiatives. After completing their ballots, they tracked its progress. When ballots successfully arrived, the students celebrated with each other.

“By voting, our students are using their voice and contributing to the power of the electorate—something greater than themselves,” said Blechman, who supported students through the six-week process. She views voting as an important rite of passage.

“Being informed about the steps in the process helped them to take action. It was especially gratifying to see many of our students voting for the first time.”

September 9, 2020

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Flowing Through COVID-19: Reflections on Summertime at PQ

By Andrea Sussel, MSS, LCSW

WORKING IN THE HAWAIIAN HEAT wearing a mask during a pandemic requires internal cool. We’re all facing a scary reality that requires a fresh perspective. Are you, like so many, finding it challenging to keep your internal cool these days and flow with life’s challenges? Fear can be a barrier to experiencing flow. What interrupts your flow? Do your fears take you out of the present and take you into catastrophic thinking?

Here’s a little Zen story to illustrate this common habit: A monk returned to her modest hut to find a snake coiled on her bed. She felt panic and intense aversion. Next, her mind raced to the future to plan her escape! But then the light shown through the window and she saw the snake was not a snake at all, but merely a rope, and so the illusion was unmasked. How often does this happen to you?

As the well known Zen teacher A.H. Almaas so wisely offered: “To contact the deeper truth of who we are, we must engage in some activity or practice that questions what we assume to be true.” You may ask yourself: Am I sure my fear is serving me well or is even true? Can I face this challenge and see the situation with more clarity and return to my ‘flow?’

Life has been pretty great at PQ since we re-opened, and I attribute this, in part, to what positive psychology calls ‘a flow state’, or ‘being in the zone’. This is the mental state in which a person performing some activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. Essentially, when we are in a flow state, time transforms or flows, as a result of this full absorption into the present moment.

At PQ we frequently notice that our students ‘future trip’ or ‘past trip’ and so we encourage them to return to the present moment. Yes, we do plan for the future and address unfinished business from the past, but we do this with present moment awareness without the distractions of technology or a chaotic home situation.

Come join me in the present moment. Do you feel like playing today? Sand play therapy is one of my choices to help nurture this feeling of flow through ‘play’. One recent student was a perfect example of being ‘in the flow’ as she worked in the sand non-stop for 45 minutes, shocked at the passage of time and the ‘art in the tray’ she so proudly created. Sand play can help students come out of their heads into their hearts and bodies, and to drop deeper into present moment feelings in a safe and protected space.

PQ does a fabulous job of providing a protected space for young people to ask these important questions. The benefit to my students and their families of staying in my ‘flow’ is that they can experience their PQ therapist as safe, centered and present.

Students and their families are safe to challenge assumptions, face fears and learn how it feels to land wholly in the wonderful present moments of their lives. Here they can experience the well being that comes with ‘flow.’

March 16, 2020

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Tips for managing anxiety surrounding COVID-19

As the global public follows guidelines to “social distance,” people are feeling more anxious and depressed.  Many are glued to internet news, fueling a sense of doom. While it is important to stay informed from reputable news sources, and practice health measures to mitigate the impact of the virus,  it is also important to stay balanced in your mental health. Here are a few tips for managing your stress and depression as we hunker down and do everything we can to not spread the virus:

  1. BALANCE: Give yourself a time limit for checking news and social media.  Unchecked internet surfing will put your stress hormone (cortisol) into hyperdrive, inflaming a domino effect on your entire emotional state and immune system.  Give yourself an hour in the morning to check the news, and an hour in the evening (or whatever ratio you feel is balanced), and otherwise, shift your attention to positive things in your life (play games with loved ones, read a good book, watch an uplifting movie, etc).
  2. SELF SCAN AND BREATHE: Pause three times throughout the day and do a simple mindfulness exercise.  Self scan…. Slowly pay attention to each part of your body and notice what is happening there. Is your chest tight?  Are your shoulders hunched up? Is your stomach in knots? Notice where you are holding stress and sadness. Then, do some slow steady breathing into each of these areas, and see if you can release some of that stress.  Simply noticing and breathing for a period of 10 minutes can have profound effects.
  3. EXERCISE:  Gyms and yoga studios have closed their doors. Exercise is critical for mental health.  What can you do to exercise? Do you have access to local trails to hike? Or even a neighborhood to walk in?  Maybe you have an ab routine you can do in your living room. Nevertheless, be sure to get some exercise each day.
  4. GARDEN: Spring is in the air, and the days are getting longer. We are big fans of horticulture, and know the value of horticulture therapy.  Gardening has a profound effect at regulating the nervous system and combating depression. Get outside, build a garden bed, plant some seeds.  Nurture your garden each day. Besides, you get the added benefit of having food to eat:)
  5. TALK TO SOMEONE: You may want to hire a therapist via “telehealth,” as emotional support is critical right now.  Many therapists are moving their practices on-line to help with social distancing. Talking about your feelings can be extremely relieving and validating. Alternatively, find some space to talk with family members, video chat with friends, have a conversation with the neighbor from the driveway (although keep 6 ft distance).  Be sure to emote and find healthy outlets.

If you would like to discuss mental health strategies in more depth, please feel free to contact Mike Sullivan at

Stay healthy and balanced everyone! 

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.”