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May 10, 2016

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Transformation Tuesday: Parallel Processes in Gardening and Life

By: Anthony Florig, BSBA
Purchasing and Farm Manager

Almost all of the gardens at Pacific Quest are built from the ground up, and also down, by the hands and hearts of all the students and staff that find their way to the Big Island of Hawaii. I would like to share a story about the construction of these gardens, and the parallel process of the development of our students.

The garden camps have been a work in progress for over ten years, constantly changing and evolving and growing along with our student population. When I was a Guide for the Young Adult Program at Reed’s Bay, our Kuleana (Hawaiian for “personal responsibility”) student group was responsible for clearing an area that has come to be known as The Village, the property adjacent to the main Young Adult building in Hilo. It is a small outcropping overlooking Reed’s Bay, surrounded by rock-walled spring-fed brackish pools known as The Ice Ponds. These ponds connect to Reed’s Bay via a small channel, so you can enter for a refreshingly cold dip and then swim out to the bay where the ocean water is warmer.


Anthony Florig, BSBA

The entire Village area used to be covered in cane grass, and was being overtaken by the coastal jungle. Now it is a beautifully landscaped garden park full of Hawaiian canoe plants like taro (kalo), purple sweet potato (uala), turmeric (olena), and banana (maia). To enter The Village you need to cross a small red wooden bridge that spans the first two ice ponds. You are met with various types and colors of Ti trees, with flowers and herbs planted in tree-trunk planters lining the path, leading to a dug-in stone fire circle. There are large garden beds with taro and purple sweet potatoes on either side of the clearing. Off the main path there is a rock-lined meditation labyrinth next to another ice pond. From the fire circle you can follow another path through more Ti trees and colorful relative Cordylines, with white pineapples growing along their base. From here you can continue on to the compost pile (or ki’pulu as we call it here in Hawaii) past various young fruit trees including mango, avocado, soursop, breadfruit (ulu), and plenty of ice cream and apple bananas. Or you can turn right and head past the Red Cuban bananas towards the final ice pond, which is surrounded by a canopy of thick Hau trees (ocean hibiscus). Over the course of the day the vibrant yellow flowers will turn orange and eventually fall into the pond, creating an idyllic scene and popular favorite spot for reflection.

About three years ago, there was one area underneath a large banyan tree that used to be nothing but vines. I remember a particularly rambunctious group of students who needed to get out some serious energy, both physically and mentally. They wanted a punching bag, so I agreed to make one with them. I got an old tarp and we began pulling all the vines off the hillside. For each bunch of vines we placed on the tarp we spoke about something that was bothering us, or that we were angry at. As students identified people or situations they were mad at, we helped identify the feelings and root causes of their pain. One student in particular who had been slow to open up really led this project, and she was able to speak about many of her resentments and what she called her enemies, and also how she wants to learn to forgive them and to let them go. We packed all the vines in the tarp, rolled it up, and tied it into a pretty solid punching bag. The students really enjoyed themselves getting out some more energy and aggression, but pulling the vines seemed to have already worked as a regulatory activity. In fact, underneath the vines we discovered a small hillside of some very rich soil, which was quite a pleasant surprise and grabbed everyone’s attention.

Today that hillside is now two terraced garden beds that wrap around the banyan tree and produce pounds and pounds of turmeric, taro and purple sweet potato. These beds were created and farmed the same way the vines were cleared from the hillside, by a group of staff and students talking about their problems and working them out on the land, over and over again. On top of the hill is a cleared circle of black cinder surrounded by a small rock wall, inside is a ring of coconut log seats. This is now a popular location for council and ceremony, or just a shady place to talk story surrounded by years of intention mixed with the beauty of Hawaiian tropical agriculture.

April 19, 2016

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Triathlon transitions – great metaphors for life!

Pacific Quest is supporting Mike Sullivan on his “2016 Road to Kona.” Yes, you heard correctly, Mike is taking another stab at the World Championship Ironman, assuming he is selected to participate through the Hawaii Resident Lottery on May 5, 2016. Mike will share insights and perspectives throughout his 2016 races and training, and drawing parallels between the mind-body connection and wellness – important themes at Pacific Quest.

In his first two posts, Mike shared his insights before and after the Hilo Marathon. With this third installment, Mike parallels navigating transitions in racing, wilderness therapy, and life.  

By Mike Sullivan, MA, LMHC
Alumni and Family Services Director

“Ooooh…. Yikes, my body feels so sluggish,” I say to myself as I get off my bicycle and start running. There is that familiar feeling -my feet are heavy, my legs feel tight, and my run pace starts out slow motion. The transition is uncomfortable, as my body begins to reroute blood flow from my cycling muscles into my running muscles. In triathlon training, workouts that combine two sports is a called a “brick.” It is critical to practice brick workouts, as it not only trains the physical body to adapt to shifting from one sport to another, but it also gives the athlete a chance to master transition itself – navigating mental and emotional challenges that are inherent in transition. The lessons of transition mastery in triathlon parallel those in life, and importantly, are equivalent to the transition practice that students at Pacific Quest encounter regularly.

Triathlons consists of racing consecutive swimming, cycling, and running sections, and triathletes refer to the two transitions during a race as T1 and T2. T1 is the point during the race where the athlete exits the swim and transitions onto the bicycle. T2 is where the athlete finishes the bike leg, and transitions into the final stretch of the race, the run. While an athlete may be incredibly skilled at swimming, cycling, and running, the winning athlete will have mastered the transitions as well. They are integral to the race and should not be overlooked. In preparing for the Kona Half Ironman this coming June, I am especially attentive to aspects of T1 and T2, including organization, techniques, and anticipating discomfort. Practicing transitions cannot be overstated.


Transition 1 or “T1”

Similar to what I discussed in terms of preparation for the Hilo Marathon last month, organization is a critical skill to triathlon transition. One should lay out their cycling and running equipment in an organized fashion, being meticulous about the placement of equipment, as each piece has its place in the whole. Also sticking to an orderly routine is a must- this is more efficient as it conserves mental and emotional energy. The more organized and methodical the athlete is, the more smooth the transition is.

Athlete’s are sponges for new skills and must remain open to learning valuable techniques. For instance, in my first triathlon it hadn’t occurred to me to roll my bicycle socks into little donuts. This technique allows the athlete to simply roll the socks onto each foot when you get out of the water. With wet feet, it is much more time consuming and challenging to pull socks over your feet the way you would normally. I lost valuable time and felt frustrated and out of balance trying to pull socks over wet feet. Once I learned the donut technique, my next T1 went more smoothly and I felt more confident and level headed as I entered the cycling section of the race. This is a small example of a much larger lesson- learn techniques to be more successful each time.

Lastly, I will highlight anticipating discomfort. In every “brick” workout, I am getting used to the painful discomfort of shifting gears from one sport to another. This allows me to adapt to the discomfort and creates a higher tolerance. While it is physically grueling to transition, it takes a mental toll on the athlete. The physical and mental are inextricably linked. If the athlete allows the discomfort to permeate his mental and emotional focus, the athlete will suffer, and so will performance.


Transition 2 or “T2”

These transitions, T1 and T2, provide relevant lessons for life. Every person encounters transitions life ranging from small day to day transitions to major life transitions. How do people navigate transitions in life? What skills and metaphors from triathlon are applicable? How do these parallel the transitions that Pacific Quest students practice?

At Pacific Quest, adolescent and young adult students graduate through “stages of growth,” while in the program. They move from stage to stage, and with each successive stage, the students must transition to a new physical camp, with increased responsibilities and challenges. This provides a fantastic medium for internalizing valuable lessons for navigating transition. The students learn important tools related to organization (taking care of their belongings and keeping them orderly), techniques for a successful transition (visualizing obstacles, affirming strengths), and anticipating discomfort. The transitions serve as valuable practice for transitions they will encounter in life, whether it is a simple as some of the daily transitions one encounters (shifting gears between home and school) to larger life transitions (starting at a new school, moving, family shifts).

As the Kona Half Ironman approaches, I look forward to employing these tools in race preparation, and on race day itself. Track me live during the race on June 4th by following the link for the Ironman Tracker through the PEAK Self website. With each race, I am able to review performance, and identify what went well and areas where I can improve. I look forward to following up on this blog post with insights following the race, and highlight important lessons learned!

April 5, 2016

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PQ Welcomes Robert Trout to Clinical Team!

Robert Trout, MA, has joined the Pacific Quest Clinical Team as a primary therapist and brings over 17 years of experience in therapy, group facilitation, rites of passage, wilderness therapy, and experiential practices. He utilizes narrative and experiential techniques that influence people’s belief systems while working with metaphors to encourage the exploration of the self. Of working at Pacific Quest, Robert says “In addition to the experiential therapies we employ, my favorite part of being at Pacific Quest is the team-based approach. I work collaboratively with a team of skilled clinicians, talented direct care staff and professional referral sources to create unique and individualized strategies for each student. The ability to take a fresh look at each student and their situation is truly invigorating as a therapist! One of my personal goals is to challenge individuals beyond their own limiting beliefs.”

Robert received his Masters in Counseling from Southwestern College in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He focused on transformational ecopsychology and rites of passage, which is an incredible fit for his work at Pacific Quest. Robert enjoys working with experiential modalities of therapy, including ceremony and psychosomatic activities.

“Robert is a results-driven leader who brings a wealth of industry experience, clinical skills, and pure passion and drive to his work,” says Dr. Lorraine Freedle, Clinical Director. “He is making quite a splash. I could not be happier with his choice to join our team!”

Robert’s unique perspective was shaped largely through his own time in the wilderness, over 1000 days. Robert began to explore the world in a new way, influenced by the many lessons he had learned during his own wilderness experience as a teen. Of this experience, Robert says “The program I attended saved my life, but more importantly pushed me to find purpose and meaning for the rest of my life.” Robert has worked in many outdoor programs since he completed college and has developed into a leader in the field in rites of passage work with youth and adults.

In his free time, Robert likes to backpack, snorkel, scuba dive, swim, fish and generally just play outside. He also loves to garden at home and explore the outdoors with his wife and daughter.

March 25, 2016

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Preparation and Performance converge: Mike Sullivan qualifies for Boston 2017 Marathon

Pacific Quest is supporting Mike Sullivan on his “2016 Road to Kona.” Yes, you heard correctly, Mike is taking another stab at the World Championship Ironman, assuming he is selected to participate through the Hawaii Resident Lottery on May 5, 2016. Mike will share insights and perspectives throughout his 2016 races and training, and drawing parallels between the mind-body connection and wellness – important themes at Pacific Quest.

In his first post, Mike shared his insights before the Hilo Marathon. With this second installment, Mike reflects on the marathon from this past Sunday:

By Mike Sullivan, MA, LMHC
Alumni and Family Services Director

A marathon is a point of convergence.  It is the point where immense preparation meets performance.  Every athlete strives to maximize performance on race day.  In the Hilo International Marathon this past weekend, I drew upon planning, preparation, routines,  strategy, a sense of belonging, and mental toughness. I have honed these skills bothMikeHiloMarathon in my endurance athletics training and my work with youth at Pacific Quest, teaching youth the importance of self discipline, executive functioning, and resilience.  The Hilo Marathon was a powerful convergence of many psychological factors, which I tactfully aligned, landing me in 5th place overall and qualifying me for the 2017 Boston Marathon

The Hilo Marathon was my first race of 2016.  The race itself started long before race day.  In order to arrive in a calm and balanced mental and physical state, developing routine was a critical tool.  Since recovering from the 2015 Kona Ironman last fall, I have incorporated a morning routine that includes a variety of yoga asanas and foam roller techniques.  The routine takes 45 minutes, and aims to minimize physical injury, and conjure a calm and present emotional state.  It is a mindfulness practice that nurtures mental health and creates a solid foundation for the day ahead.

Mind-Body Training

When it came time to plan out the details for race day, I strove to maintain my routine.  While the race itself is drastically different than training days, most coaches and athletes will advise, “Don’t do anything different on race day than you do in training days.” This advice is meant to calm anxiety within the athlete by de-emphasizing the significance of the feat ahead.  Race events impose increased anxiety with the impending performance apex, applying more pressure on the athlete than a regular training day.  Routines reinforce familiarity and ritual, a major combatant to anxiety.  Thus for race day, I planned a 4:00 AM wake up followed by a mini version of my daily routine.  This helped me to manage race anxiety, however, there is a fulcrum point with racing that thrives on a bit of anxiety.  The neurotransmitters emitted from competition and increased pressure heightens focus, and athletes who are able to harness the balance, are able to achieve amazing feats. My routine kept the levels of anxiety in check, allowing me to calibrate my focus appropriately.

The day before the race I focused on mental and physical preparation.  In order to continue to calibrate my anxiety level, decrease chaos, and minimize mental clutter, I prepared my belongings and mentally walked through my morning routine.  I practiced the order of operations several times to ensure I was prepared and had everything accounted for.  It started with setting my yoga mat and foam roller out in the living room, lining up all my breakfast items on the counter, and then arranging my running equipment by the door– shoes, shorts, nutrition, water, etc.  I awoke before my alarm was set to sound and calmly cruised through my morning routine, arriving at the race 45 minutes prior to the start.  Sports psychologists say it is equally important for athletes to be prepared for unknown obstacles to emerge, however, in this instance I didn’t have to navigate any.  Whew!

MarkandMikeHiloMarathonA sense of community and support flourished and created a positive vibe at the starting line.  Surrounded by many friends and Pacific Quest coworkers, encouragement was abounding. Mark Agosto, my boss and mentor, brought great energy and enthusiasm to the starting line, giving me an extra pep talk and champion-like confidence.  The gun sounded marking the start of the race and the 100+ racers jetted off the starting line.  Spectators cheered and athletes hooted and hollered.  A sense of belonging within a community is widely understood to be important for wellbeing and increased self-esteem.  I am grateful for the Big Island community and all the wonderful connections I have developed through athletics. It certainly contributed to a successful race.

Mind-Body Training & Race Strategy

I ran the first half of the race at a moderate pace – roughly 6:50 min/mile.  This was aligned with my race strategy, a plan I created from studying the course and planning for physical and mental challenges.  The beginning of the course, where it gains more elevation than it loses, is where athletes can burn themselves out physically or mentally. I planned to start at a moderate pace and speed up in the second half.  Indeed, my body was feeling strong toward the second half and I was able to increase my pace.  I never hit a “wall” in this race, and was able to stay consistent through the final miles. I finished with a smile in 2:57:29.

Throughout the race I employed mental toughness I established during training.   I completed 20-mile training runs every Sunday in the blistering Hilo heat leading up the race.  This taught me persistence and proved to myself that I could keep going, despite the aches, pains, and self doubts that emerged.  I used my personal mantra of “keep pushing,” and “you can do this all day,” to maintain a fast pace throughout the race.  I also kept it light and positive, smiling and encouraging fellow athletes along the way.

I meditated on the phenomena of peak performance throughout training and the race.  I thought about the parallels racing has with performance in various contexts.  My mind returns to the organic gardens of Pacific Quest. What lessons from racing are similar to gardening, and can be applied to other spheres of performance?  Whether in a race, an organic garden, or at school, youth must learn to manage responsibility in their daily lives- completing tasks, managing anxiety, overcoming self doubt. Utilizing the same tools I drew on in the race can absolutely be applied to a variety of contexts, whether it is school, job, or an array of emotional struggles.  Check out my PEAK Self article on Seven Tools For Peak Performance for more information.

I want to thank Pacific Quest for the support throughout the race.  I also want to thank the amazing Hilo community, Big Island Running Company, and my elaborate family/friend network throughout the world for encouraging my racing habit and interest in sports psychology.  I will continue to  utilize my own experience and research themes related to sports psychology as I hone my PEAK Self and help others to do the same. Bring on Boston 2017!

Congrats to Mike from your PQ ohana! We are so excited for you!

May 20, 2011

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Welcome Alexander Bingham!

Dr. Alexander Bingham joins the Pacific Quest clinical team!

Dr. Bingham graduated from Skidmore College and went on to earn a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology from The California Institute of Integral Studies. He continued at CIIS and received a PhD in Psychology. Dr. Bingham is a Rosen Method practitioner and Biodynamic cranio-sacral therapist. He has served as adjunct faculty in the School of Graduate Psychology at John F. Kennedy University.

A licensed psychologist, Dr. Bingham has served children and families in many varied settings.  He has worked with children from ages 6-18, and with adults in several counseling and treatment centers. In 2007, His success and expertise led him to a position as start-up consultant for Alta Mira Residential Program in California. Using his education and interest in integrative counseling techniques, Dr. Bingham founded and directed Full Spectrum Psychological Health Center in San Francisco, CA. in 2004.

Dr. Bingham is a perfect addition to our team, bringing his “full spectrum” psychological approach and clinical expertise to our students and families. Dr. Bingham will be available to work with PQ students in June. You can reach Dr. Bingham at

April 11, 2011

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Stellar outreach and admissions team!

Pacific Quest welcomes Denise Westman, Outreach Director
and Rob Jarrett, Admissions Director

Pacific Quest is pleased to welcome Denise Westman, Outreach Director, to our Pacific Quest team. Denise comes to us with extensive experience in admissions and outreach with therapeutic schools. Denise earned a Nursing Degree from Grossmont College and attended Cuyamaca College in San Diego for Psychology and Communications. Most recently, Denise co-founded Silverado Academy in Utah, serving in admissions, marketing, public relations and program development. Denise is available to Educational Consultants and referral sources for admissions and sharing Pacific Quest news and information.

Pacific Quest strives to provide our families and referral sources with the best and most comprehensive team approach to sustainable care. To that end, we have also recently named Rob Jarrett as Admissions Director. Rob holds a BA in Linguistics from UC Santa Barbara, and previously worked with Stanford University and the U.S. Dept. of Energy.  Rob also has hands on experience marketing educational programs, advanced curriculum, and behavior modification training clinics to administrative boards, schools, parents, etc. for high end arts-in-education programs.

Denise and Rob will work together to serve our families and referral sources in a comprehensive and thorough manner.

Denise Westman is based in San Diego and looks forward to talking with you at any time. You can reach her at (808) 345-7315 and

Rob Jarrett lives in San Jose and is available any time for admissions at (808) 345-2182 and

March 31, 2011

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Tune into Interview with Toby Mautz, PQ Clinical Director on April 18th!!

Radio Interview with Toby Mautz, PQ Clinical Director  - Pacific Quest: Wilderness Therapy for Teens & Young AdultsDore Frances will host Toby Mautz, MSW, LCSW on her radio show titled “Family Solutions Today” on April 18th at noon pacific time.  Toby will talk about Sustainable Growth (The PQ therapeutic model) and how to incorporate the lessons into family daily life.  Toby has been working on refining this model for years, drawing on his experience of working with hundreds of teens and families in several therapeutic settings.  His theory is simple yet captivating.  Listeners will absolutely find it applicable to their daily lives.  Tune into LA Talk Radio on the web!!!

Also, stay tuned for a follow up blog posting regarding the radio show and feel free to post comments or questions here on the PQ blog.

March 30, 2011

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Welcome Alicia Goldman!!!!

Welcome Alicia Goldman - Pacific Quest: Wilderness Therapy for Teens

Hilo, HI – March 30, 2011 -Pacific Quest, a wilderness therapy program on the Big Island of Hawaii, is proud to announce that Alicia Goldman joined our team as Alumni and Family Services Director.

This new position will allow us to reach out to all of our alumni students and families in a more proactive way. We would like to better understand where our past students are now in their lives, obtain feedback about their experience at PQ and beyond, and when appropriate offer assistance and support when needed. This program will also most likely include access to online discussion forums with other alumni parents and students, as well as a quarterly newsletter, and potentially, invitations to alumni events. Additionally, Alicia will be available to consultants as a resource while they have students at PQ, as well as assisting with the planning for the transition home or to a boarding school environment. She will also be holding parent workshops and other events in support of educational consultants.

Most recently, Alicia came to Pacific Quest following 5 years as an Educational Consultant on the West Coast.  Alicia received her BA from Syracuse University, and then went on to receive a Masters in Social Work from Yeshiva University’s Wurzweiler School of Social Work in New York City.  Since then, she has accumulated over 15 years of clinical experience working in a variety of settings that serve children and families. It was through this work that Alicia developed a strong passion for combining her interests in education and therapeutic services that can assist families.

Suzanne McKinney, co-founder commented, “Alicia’s experience will serve PQ well and allow us to better meet the needs of our past, present and future students and families.”

For more information regarding Pacific Quest, please visit or contact Mark Agosto, Business Director, at (949) 940-6068 or via email at

About Pacific Quest:

Pacific Quest is an outdoor therapeutic program (wilderness therapy) and sustainable treatment program for struggling teens and young adults, located on the Big Island of Hawaii. Pacific Quest provides an environment that allows for a true discovery process for its students, a place that is safe, structured, experiential and natural. Owned and operated by a veteran team of professionals with over 200 years of combined program experience, Pacific Quest offers a unique approach to treatment that is individualized for each student. Through experiential education, clinical services, a dedicated approach to health and wellness, and sustainable gardening, Pacific Quest provides a structured yet flexible outdoor therapy environment that serves the individual needs of each student, cultivating a therapy experience with personal meaning and importance.


Pacific Quest


April 9, 2010

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PQ employee Billy Barnett practices what he preaches

PQ employee Billy Barnett practices what he preaches - Pacific Quest: Wilderness Therapy for Teens & Young AdultsPhoto from the Hawaii Tribune Herald

PQ field staff Billy Barnett made headlines in Hawaii recently for winning the 13th annual Big Island International Marathon.  Check out the article for details- it captures Billy’s humble nature and good spirit.

Billy dedicates every other week of his life to the students at PQ.  As a field staff, he is responsible for the students safety and therapy, as well as teaching them the hard/soft skills they need throughout the program and life.  Billy has a passion for working with adolescents and it shows.

Billy has inspired students in the past to take care of their health and use exercise as a means of releasing tension and maintain well being.  Students engage in daily exercise at PQ as a means of addressing holistic health.  Billy models healthy living in the day to day.  In fact, the day he won the marathon he was on a short break from PQ for the day.  Great determination and modeling!  Nice work Billy!



September 11, 2009

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PQ staff vision quest in November

Staff Vision Quest - Pacific Quest: Wilderness Therapy for Teens & Young Adults

Here is an excerpt from the initial letter we received from guides Joseph LaZenka and Petra Lentz regarding the PQ staff vision quest.  We are planning a seven day program that focuses on a three day fast and solo experience.

The letter sent chills up my spine, as I am faced with “the call.”  Expect more posts on this topic as there are so many incredible avenues to explore with respect to the solo experience.

Letter 9/09

“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”   Joseph Cambell

For a while now you have been watching the teens you work with prepare and go out for their solos. You have even answered some of their questions and offered your advice. Now the time has come for you to cross over the threshold and enter, empty bellied into the expansive silence of this beautiful island you call home. The time has come for you to move more deeply into the ways you can serve, yourself, the people you love, your work and this mystery we call life. You have heard the call to vision fast!  For three days and nights you will find your own way to claim, give voice to and celebrate the gifts that life has instilled within you. We deeply honor how difficult and sometimes frightening it can be to say yes to that which is calling you.



Joseph LaZenka;  Director, School of Lost Borders

A vision fast guide and trainer since 1986, Joseph joined the Staff of the School in 1993 and co-directed the School with Emerald North from 2001 through 2005. Angelo brings a passionate, dramatic voice to the nurturing of individual character and calling, and a mythic empathy for people, their dreams, and the healing power of nature.

Petra Lentz; Director, Open Sky Journeys

Born and raised in Germany, Petra is a licensed practitioner of naturopathic medicine and shamanic questing in Europe.  Her training in the U.S. ranges from the Bear Tribe, founded by Chippewa medicine man, Sun Bear, to the School of Lost Borders and Steven and Meredith Foster. Her work is focused on the Vision Quest, the teaching of the 4 Shields, earth awareness, counseling, healing rituals and nature ceremony. She has led Vision Quests since 1994.  What keeps the work most alive for her is the depth of transformation in people that she has witnessed in the years of the work.