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March 10, 2020

Written by:

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

Written by:

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!

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.

July 27, 2018

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Ultramarathon Fundraiser: Helping Hawaii

Mark Agosto and Mike Sullivan

Many of you continue to reach out and share your concern about the people of Hawaii being affected by the Kilauea volcano eruption.  While Pacific Quest is far from danger and unaffected by the volcano, our wonderful community in the Puna District have lost their homes and been displaced (the total number of homes consumed by lava exceeds 600!).  Relief efforts are in full effect, and we want to help!

Alumni and Family Services Director Mike Sullivan, and Co-Executive Director Mark Agosto are racing a 120 mile ultramarathon in August, and have dedicated their training efforts and racing prowess to help the people of Hawaii.  They have created the fundraiser: Helping Hawaii, and can be accessed by clicking the following link: Ultramarathon Fundraiser: Helping Hawaii.

“Racing for a cause” gives meaning to training and racing, and as Mike and Mark have witnessed the devastation happening in Puna, they became passionate about creating a fundraising goal.  Please consider visiting their fundraiser page to read more about their ultramarathon endeavor or to donate.  And be sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram from August 14-19, as they will be posting photos and stories from the six day race course (yes, that is six days of running through the Colorado mountains)!

July 25, 2018

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PQ’s Clinical Model Published by CTA Press

Dr. Lorraine Freedle, Clinical Director and Travis Slagle, Horticultural Therapy Director received notice that their article on Pacific Quest’s clinical model has been published through the ChildTrauma Academy Press. The article, titled, Application of the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics (NMT) in an Integrative Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Program for Adolescents and Young Adults provides a research-based overview of PQ’s clinical model with an emphasis on the neurodevelopmental applications of horticultural therapy.

First, the article reviews the research behind PQ’s clinical model including its foundations in neuroscience, outdoor behavioral health, horticultural therapy and integrative health care.  Next, the article provides an overview of the five components of the Clinical Model. The camp system and horticultural therapy activities are then discussed in the context of neurodevelopment and the four functional domains of NMT: Sensory Integration, Self-Regulation, Relational Functioning, and Cognitive Problem Solving. Finally, research on PQ’s model is presented.

This article is an excellent, accessible resource for parents and professionals interested in learning about Pacific Quest’s clinical model and how it works. The article is published in Proceedings of the Second Annual Neurosequential Model Symposium available on Amazon.

Read the article here!

May 15, 2018

Written by:

Oprah puts Dr. Bruce Perry and NMT in the Spotlight

By:  Kristen McFee, MA, LPCC

Kristen McFee, MA, LPCC

As Dr. Bruce Perry sat down to an interview with Oprah on 60 Minutes, we watched in anticipation as April marked two years of Pacific Quest being Site Certified in the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics© (NMT).  As Founder and Senior Fellow of the Child Trauma Academy (CTA). Bruce Perry, MD, PhD has expertise in child and adolescent psychiatry, neurodevelopment and traumatology.  Dr. Perry is highly respected internationally and has done extensive neurobiological research on the effects of trauma in young people.  He has led the Pacific Quest team into certification and maintenance of the NMT.

The Neurosequential Model© integrates neurodevelopment, developmental psychology, traumatology, sociology and other disciplines to understand individuals and the family.  Pacific Quest uses this model to inform program design and individualize interventions. Initially, the focus of treatment is developing regulatory capacities to support neurodevelopment and to optimize learning.  Next, students strengthen relational health and problem solving abilities.

Our trained clinicians use the NMT assessment process to collect developmental history, assess current functioning and inform clinical decision making.  This approach guides treatment through a selection of interventions and program design.

To support brain development Pacific Quest utilizes a “bottom up” approach following Dr. Perry’s sequence of engagement:  “Regulate, Relate and Reason.” This is the process of moving from the bottom of our brain (brainstem) up to the top (cortex).  The sequence is very important. When a person is regulated or feeling emotionally and physically settled, they are more able to relate or feel connected.  When a person is connected, they are more able to reason and engage in higher level executive functioning, which is critical for problem solving, prediction, perspective taking, etc.

At Pacific Quest, the garden lends itself to many opportunities to regulate. Regulation involves patterned, rhythmic, repetitive activity.  This includes digging, weeding, breaking apart lava rock to make room for new gardens, building rock walls and clearing land. Regulation also includes daily exercise, expressive therapies such as art, quiet breathing meditations or cooking, chopping and stirring in the kitchen.  Our integrative team works hard to build rapport and relationships with students so they can support and challenge them in their daily goals, living skills and group engagement. Through this regulatory and relationship support, students practice reasoning. Reasoning skills include being a camp leader and having to schedule an entire day and hold peers accountable to camp expectations. Students often create garden projects or legacy projects in which they have to plan, organize and problem solve allowing for a natural method to practice executive functioning.   Students often process and reason in their therapeutic work as they reflect, come into awareness and work to shift from their old story (negative behavior) into their new story (healthy behavior) . But first, they have to tell their story.

In a 60 Minutes Overtime report, Oprah reflects on her experience of doing this story with Dr. Perry. She described the process as “Life Changing” for her and expressed a hope that this story of trauma informed care will be revolutionary. Dr. Perry and Oprah expressed the importance of connection and having a sense of value.  Oprah emphasized the importance of sharing our story and asking the question, “What happened?” She explained, not only is this an important question for those who have experienced trauma, but it is the most important question we can ask of anyone.

To continue and share our work, Dr. Lorraine Freedle, Clinical Director and Travis Slagle, Horticultural Therapy Director will be presenting at the Neurosequential Model International Symposium in Banff, CA, June 13-15, 2018.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dF20FaQzYUI

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqu54ZlhINc

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