Call us at  808.937.5806
Established 2004

February 3, 2020

Written by:

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!

October 22, 2019

Written by:

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

Written by:

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.

August 20, 2017

Written by:

Adventure to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

A group of PQ students recently has an adventure at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park! The group packed up the cars and headed up the Southeastern coast towards the park, listening to music and playing fun games along the way. The car ride followed a highway that took the group past stunning panoramic ocean views over Whittington beach park, where everyone could see the Pacific ocean spanning off into the horizon. The group also drove through the Ka’u desert, into the lowland Ohi’a Lehua forest on the gentle slopes of Mauna Loa, and finally into the national park and its vast, lush expanses of tropical forests.

The first stop on this outing was the Thurston Lava Tube.  Known as Nāhuku, the lava tube was discovered (or possibly re-discovered) in 1913 by Lorrin Thurston, a local news publisher at the time. The group stopped for a brief lesson on how lava tubes are formed before setting off on a winding trail through a forest of tree ferns.  At the bottom of the trail the large, ominous mouth of the lava tube became visible and the group was soon inside it’s lighted passageways. The group entered the tube and took a moment of stillness to observe the cavernous silence of the tube, imagining a river of molten lava flowing through the spot where they were standing over one hundred years ago. After this moment, the group took a few group photos and then made their way through the remainder of the tunnel, pausing to touch the walls of the tube, feel the moisture and moss, and observe spiderwebs hang from lights lining the tube. At the end of the tunnel, everyone made their way up a series of winding staircases that joined a path to complete the trail loop.  After the lava tube, everyone was ready for lunch. The group enjoyed a picnic while a student read stories about Pele, the goddess of fire, and her journey through the Hawaiian islands before finally finding a home in a crater at the national park.

After lunch, the group was ready to head out on the next excursion, a trek that would take them around and across the floor of the nearby Kilauea Iki crater. Descending again through the lush rainforest, the students arrived on the crater floor. The crater’s most recent natural history is dominated by a 1959 vent eruption that spewed a curtain of lava 1900 feet into the air for five weeks. This eruption filled the valley floor to create a lake of lava weighing an estimated 86 million tons and rising to a depth of 400 feet. As the group walked and talked together, they couldn’t help but pause periodically to marvel at the natural beauty of the crater as everyone looked out in awe over the crater, under Mauna Loa, and across the steam vents.

As the group continued across the crater floor, everyone paused to learn about and observe some of the steam vents, and look for interesting geologic marvels such as ‘Pele’s Hair’ – thin strands of rock lifted from the lava lake of Kilauea’s caldera and blown by the wind to settle in cracks and crevices all over the surrounding area. Students marveled at the Ohi’a Lehua trees that took root in the otherwise desolate crater floor, ruminating on how life finds a way to endure, even in the harshest conditions.  Everyone hiked back up the switchbacks on the opposite side of the crater and made the short hike back through the rainforest to where the cars were parked. Just before leaving the crater, the group stopped at an overlook to take one last look at how vast the crater was and how far they had come. A tired, but very fulfilled ohana climbed back into the cars to relax and reflect on the ride back to Pacific Quest.

March 16, 2017

Written by:

Horticultural Therapy Training at PQ

By:  Dara Downs, Alumni and Family Services Liaison

Pacific Quest recently offered a Horticultural Therapy training for all staff members at our Young Adult campus at Reeds Bay.  This training was a unique experience where field managers came alongside field guides, and logistics staff worked side by side with nurses. Therapists and administrative staff traded their computers and phones for a trowel and some compost. In order to participate everyone left their job titles in the parking lot and put on their close toed shoes, long pants, and work gloves. They all knew, it was time to work in the garden!

Horticultural Therapy Training at PQ - Pacific Quest: Wilderness Therapy for Teens & Young Adults

Back to Basics Gardening Stations

One of the main goals of this training was to assist all employees in developing a relationship with the garden, and increase individual’s confidence on the land.  In addition, the training was designed to help staff members understand the role of Horticultural Therapy (HT) and the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics® (NMT) at PQ. In doing so, our Academic Coordinator was able to weave in parts of the HT curriculum into the training events to help set guides up with applicable lessons to use directly in the field.

The day was filled with numerous hands on activities and as every farmer knows, the best way to learn something is to get your hands dirty!  The group started off with a scavenger hunt in the ethnobotanical gardens at Reeds Bay called “The Village”. These gardens focus on growing traditional Hawaiian plants which are referred to as canoe plants. Everyone used the clues in the scavenger hunt to find specific plants. Upon finding each plant, participants followed a lesson from the curriculum based off the acronym CARE (Commitment, Awareness, Relationship/Responsibility, Effort).  They were able to practice caring for these sacred plants while also racing the clock!

After this competitive challenge, everyone engaged in “Back to Basics Gardening Stations” around campus. These stations focused on educating and providing hands on experiences in the following topics:

  • Compost and Soil Health
  • Tree Health and Bed Maintenance
  • Nursery and Transplanting
  • Square Foot Gardening

Presenters at each of these stations role modeled the three “R’s” of NMT: Regulate, Relate, and Reason. Each station started off with a breathing exercise, or something tactile and rhythmic, before jumping into relating to the environment, reasoning and teaching a lesson.

Following this, the group enjoyed lunch, and afterwards set up to process what they gained from the morning activities.  PQ’s Horticultural Therapy Director, Travis Slagle, MA, led the group discussion on how to use these activities to engage students in meaningful conversations. He touched upon practicing these gardening techniques while developing

Horticultural Therapy Training at PQ - Pacific Quest: Wilderness Therapy for Teens & Young Adults

Travis Slagle leading group lesson

relationships with students who may be challenging or disengaged. He comments, “It is essential that we are able to successfully translate skills of intuition and observation from a gardening experience to our daily lives.”  Staff members began sharing their stories and openly discussing techniques and experiences of successes they’ve had on the land. Participants shared ideas and methods that worked and helped to reach a wide variety of students.

After this open forum discussion, everyone broke into their groups again for afternoon stations which were focused on specific activities for assisting our students in the NMT model (regulate, relate and reason). The groups included, cordage making, weeding/bilateral movement, planting play, and wellness. These groups introduced themes of music and play into the garden, while also demonstrating tools like cordage making where you can bring the garden to a student. The wellness department also led a group that focused on EFT (a breathing/meditation technique), the bucket theory, and connecting plant health with gut health.

To end the day, everyone was invited to a garden party where music was played and pineapple paradise was saved from weeds and invasive species like african tulip trees.  Amanda Moreno, PQ Therapist, mentioned that, “It was a gift to spend a day in the garden connecting with my peers and collaborating with my colleagues. I learned a lot about gardening and can’t wait to use it with the students.”  An Adolescent Program Field Supervisor also commented, “One of my key takeaways from this training was the value of regulate, relate, and reason. I learned so many ways to engage in each of these in the field.”

February 13, 2017

Written by:

Oh Coconuts!

By Kate Goodwin, Young Adult Wellness Medical Supervisor

Coconut Harvest at Pacific Quest Wilderness Therapy Program

Coconut has many uses and health benefits

The tropical coconut is an incredible superfood with endless uses, especially in Polynesian cultures.  The Hawaiians used “Niu” or coconut for drink, food, thatching, hats, baskets, furniture, mats, cordage, clothing, charcoal, brooms, fans, ornaments, musical instruments, shampoo, containers, oil for fuel, light, ointments, soap and more.

Traditionally, a coconut palm was planted at a Hawaiian’s birth with a he’e (octopus) under it for fertilizer.  After the tree fruits at age seven, it will continue to fruit for 70-100 years to provide food for the individual or community.  Just one tree can produce 50 coconuts a year!

Coconut meat contains high quantities of lauric acid, a rare medium-chain saturated fatty acid.  Lauric acid is the reason coconut oil is so good for your skin, it can reduce bacterial and fungal infections while moisturizing.  Consuming the coconut meat provides B vitamins, vitamin C, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and zinc.  Coconut water is an alkali producer in the digestive system and can help balance the body’s pH.  The water inside a coconut is sterile, yet packed with nutrients and electrolytes, it could even be used in a pinch for IV rehydration.

During a recent wellness training with Annie, the students learned how to pick a perfect coconut and “tap” into it to drink the water.  The coconuts were then cracked open to enjoy the delicious meat inside.  They also learned how to fashion a makeshift deodorant out of coconut oil as well as learning how the niu is culturally relevant to the Hawaiians.

How to select the perfect drinking coconut:

Coconut Harvest at Pacific Quest Wilderness Therapy Program

Coconut ready for drinking!

The perfect drinking coconut is full-sized, yet immature. Green and picked from the tree is ideal (yellow color and found on the ground is okay and still delicious).

Up to one quart of water is inside, but you should not hear “sloshing” when you shake it.  If the nut sloshes, it is no longer sterile and could cause some digestive irritation.

The yellow or browning coconut is mature when it drops to the ground. There is still some water in the cavity, which can be combined to make coconut milk. Coconut milk is a blend of coconut water and the scrapings of the coconut meat. This milk is a good source of iron and contains calcium, phosphorus, protein and vitamins.

Wahi ka niu, break open the coconut!

December 14, 2015

Written by:

Hawaii: A Prodigal Paradise to a Gardener

By Erin Gustin, PsyD

erin-gustin-450Students come to Pacific Quest from various parts of the country. Some have never traveled to the warmer, more tropical parts of the world. The plants, weather, and culture of Hawaii are unfamiliar and sometimes shocking to them. Working in a garden is likely something they have not felt like doing before, or have never considered working on the land as an activity that might create self-esteem, or help with anxiety and depression issues. Horticultural therapy is one the five petals of the Pacific Quest model, and it involves a process by which the young person engages in gardening and plant-based activities to achieve their treatment goals.

At Pacific Quest, cultivating and caring for plants are viewed as a metaphor for healthy development, both mentally and physically. Take, for example a plant that is not growing:

A student looks at the seedling questioningly and says “Maybe it needs some water?” and proceeds to water the plant. After a day, the plant is still not growing well. A staff intervenes and asks, “Did you water it?” “Yes, I watered it yesterday,” responds the student. The staff responds, “Why don’t you put it outside where it will get some sun?”  “That’s a great idea. I will put it in a place where it will get sunlight. I just hope it’s going to grow well now.” Over the next few days the plant is growing well and the student and staff look in amazement at the beautiful process that just happened of problem-solving and growing something together.

The process of growing a healthy plant, and metaphorically a relationship with yourself and others, involves the same type of work. The student will be required to make strides to grow and make changes to better suit their environment. They will come to understand that things in the world are delicate and sensitive, and that all things can not only grow, but thrive. For each student, the emotional and personal work differs. It may include creating a list of things that they like about themselves, or writing a “not to send letter” to someone who has hurt them in the past. It may involve growing and cultivating things on the land that create self-esteem for the student, or learning to weed to ease their anxiety. For students struggling with anger, they may find release in using a sickle to chop down cane grass or an o’o bar to break up rocks.

Pacific Quest is located in the backdrop of a beautiful island paradise that can support a vast array of plant life. Beyond the physical environment, Hawai’i is an incredibly unique place because of the Hawaiian culture. Native Hawaiian perspectives resonate very strongly with plants growing on the ‘āina (land). Take for example the taro plant:

Early Polynesian settlers brought the taro plant to Hawaii over a thousand years ago. Taro is synonymous with food and nourishment in Hawaiian culture. The taro plant is considered part of the family. The Hawaiian word for family is ‘ohana and is derived from the world ‘oha, which is the name of the stalk that grows from the corm of the plant. Taro is regarded not only as a material object (plant) but also a set of beliefs that pervade every aspect of Hawaiian life from birth to death and from past to future.

Therefore, the interconnectedness between plants and humans permeate all aspects of Hawaiian culture. This perspective is beneficial when facing problems and provides a template for looking at the world in a slightly different and unique way. If we can learn to respect plants, we can learn from them and they will benefit us, just like they have done for people for generations.

November 21, 2013

Written by:

Tree Growth: A Metaphor For Our Lives

By Bridger Jensen, Therapist

Each morning, our newly-arrived Nalu and Kuleana adolescent students and staff travel from our sleeping quarters up the mountainside of the great volcano Mauna Kea. The short trip to our day camp is performed in silence to aid in self-reflection. From these historic, rolling hills through which we travel, sugar cane was once harvested, and constituted the majority of Big Island export. It is here, in the shadow of Mauna Loa, that our students spend their first few weeks. They reflect from a 1,200 foot-high vantage point over crashing waves, as the sun rises over Pacific Quest.  It is spectacular.

The magnificent hillside itself has therapeutic value for us as well. Majestic trees along the route have been sculpted by the near-constant trade winds blowing through them. Consistent winds push each branch and bud as they grow. Each leaf produced must adapt to the windy environment, or be absconded from the tree and carried away by the wind. The tree trunks grow accordingly to support the burdened branches. Thus, the hillside itself has become an excellent source of natural metaphors. Students often mention these windswept trees as a metaphor for their own growth.

As the students and employees learn about and teach horticulture in our gardens, we learn how plants grow intentionally and sustainably. Each seed planted grows to reach sunlight if needed, or even to face away from the sun if it must shade itself. In dry locations, a seedling may grow roots with the purpose of reaching water, while on a riverbank a plant may grow to stabilize itself as the ground beneath it erodes away. In therapeutic settings, students often talk about “Hehu stories.”

These Hehu stories are the stories of what shaped our lives. Like the windswept trees we pass by every morning, we each have stories about what shaped our lives. Were we depraved of nutrition like a seedling that grows in craggy rocks? Were we forced to struggle for each ray of sunlight like a seedling that grows on a dark forest floor? Perhaps our roots and branches languished, due to less-than-optimal resources? Or maybe we can liken ourselves to a healthy tree that has recently been damaged by a traumatic hurricane? Perhaps excessive pruning from our well-meaning caretaker stunted our growth? As we talk about our Hehu stories, students bring up the trees they pass by each morning. Often relating to the wind-sculpted tree that knows only how to grow with the wind.

There are so many variables that sculpt the beings we become, perhaps too many to account for. Some variables appear environmental, some internal. While we can’t completely control the environment that we grow in, we can choose to grow in our environment. Life events are opportunities to grow uniquely, resiliently and with strength. Like trees, we need the right conditions to grow and we will flourish, even amidst adversity, and sometimes because of adversity. Truly, trials beautify and strengthen us when care is given to our growth.

For some fun and interesting trees and Hehu stories, check out the links below:–the-crazy-tree-guy-saves-a-legacy-of-gettysburg

September 6, 2013

Written by:

Huaka’i Ola at Reeds Bay

By Todd Ransdell, Young Adult Program Director

Maiden Voyage-Huaka'i Ola2Polynesian people throughout the Pacific Ocean have long used the many types of Wa’a (pronounced vah-ah) to travel, explore, and fish. It is an integral part of Hawaiian history – Polynesian sailors and navigators crossed immense distances to find and colonize the islands of Hawaii without the use of any navigation instruments.  Rather, they used only their deep knowledge of the stars, weather, cloud formations and ocean currents to find their way. They brought with them many varieties of plant life to their new home, carrying them in their canoes from islands below the equator. An old Hawaiian proverb says, “the canoe is an island, and the island is a canoe.” I believe this describes the belief of many Polynesian people–that the relationship with the land and the ocean are interlinked and inseparable.

In the early ‘70’s there was a resurgence in Hawaiian culture and language, some believe brought on by the construction and launching of the first Voyaging canoe in centuries – the Hōkūle’a. This Voyaging Canoe was successfully sailed to Tahiti using only ancient navigation techniques. The Hōkūle’a is still sailing today, in fact she recently embarked on a worldwide voyage (with her sister voyaging canoe Hikianalia) launching from Palekai Beach Park – about a mile down the road from our Reeds Bay facility. The Hawaiian Canoe has become very prevalent here in the islands; on any given day you can see quite a few wa’a plying the waters around Reeds Bay.

bow with leiEarly on during the development of the Young Adult Program in Reeds Bay, Mike McKinney, our Executive Director decided to have a wa’a built for the program. It was completed earlier this year and we gave it the name Huaka’i Ola, which means “Life’s Journey”. Huaka’i Ola was launched on June 20, 2013. We have since integrated our wa’a into our Young Adult program, taking weekly trips out into Reeds Bay led by the experienced waterman Kalani Kahalioumi and Murphy Fonseca. Our students have been learning how to successfully operate the Hawaiian Canoe, and some staff are working towards becoming a Kapena (Captain) under Kalani and Murphy’s tutelage. We are very excited about this part of our program, and look forward to increasingly integrating Huaka’i Ola into our program structure in the future.

August 7, 2013

Written by:

Students Visit Kahuku Ranch

By Mike McGee, Program Supervisor

IMG_1378Students recently had the opportunity to visit Kuhuku Ranch, a special area of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  Kuhuku Ranch was one of the largest ranches in Hawaii and sprawled out over almost 200,000 acres on the western slopes of Mauna Loa.  The ranch was purchased by the National Park Service due to the unique ecosystems found within the ranch. The ranch includes several large pit craters, visible reminders of Mauna Loa’s violent past.  The largest of the pit craters is about 500 feet across and almost 300 feet deep. The crater contains species that are found nowhere else in the world and only a handful of humans have ever been to the bottom, preserving the ecosystem as it had originally developed.

The students were excited to explore the area!  The ranch has the appearance of a mystical movie set.  Ancient Ohia Le’hua and Koa trees dot the landscape of deep flowing grass.  Collapsed lava tubes give the landscape a rolling feel of mounds and valleys.  After unloading the vehicles, the group began the short 1.5 mile hike to the crater while discussing the geological history of the land.

When the group arrived at the crater the students were amazed!  The group spotted an I’o, or Hawaiian Hawk, swoop across the crater as well as an Apapane, one of the last remaining species of the endemic honey-creepers.  These rare birds are found nowhere else on the planet and are currently listed as endangered species.

During lunch break, the group did an activity where students were given vague instructions on how to draw an animal.  Everyone shared their drawings and spoke to how animals will adapt to fill niches in a ecosystem and how sometimes that can look a little weird (Hawaii originally had a duck fulfill the niche of grazing herbivore). That lead us to a conversation about our roles in social groups and how people adapt depending on the situations they find themselves in.  We may find ourselves the leader on a sports team, a class clown in school, and a peacemaker in the family all in one day!