SUWS Teen Wilderness Program Celebrating 30 Years of Service to Youth & Families
By Staff Writer
SUWS Wilderness Programs
, the nation’s longest continuously operating therapeutic wilderness program, has reached an unprecedented milestone: 30 consecutive years of service to youth in crisis and their families.
To commemorate three decades superior service, SUWS will be hosting a variety of events throughout this anniversary year. The schedule will include gatherings in Philadelphia, Dallas and Los Angeles, as well as a celebration for staff members and program alumni on the SUWS campus in southern Idaho.
A Tradition of Excellence
In 1981, when SUWS opened for business, the Oakland Raiders were Super Bowl champs, the Soviet Union was an international power, and MTV was a tiny new network that most Americans had never heard of.
Clearly, much has changed in the ensuing decades. But at SUWS, certain elements – namely, a commitment to the highest quality of care and a dedication to helping struggling youth and their families – have remained constant.
“We’ve had a lot of changes over the years,” said SUWS Executive Director Kathy Rex, “but our underlying philosophies and our dedication to helping children and families get their lives back on track has been a constant through the decades.”
A History of Innovation
Rex, who has been with SUWS for more than 17 years, said the program’s core values have provided the ideal foundation upon which to build a dynamic program that continues to evolve and improve.
“SUWS has definitely evolved,” she said. “For example, in our earlier days, we worked primarily with the child in crisis. Today, we identify the entire family’s struggle, not just the child’s struggle.”
In addition to ongoing dialogue between parents and SUWS staff members throughout the student’s time at SUWS, the centerpiece of the SUWS family outreach effort is a weeklong Family Camp that parents attend near the halfway point of their child’s enrollment period.
“The Family Camp has been unbelievably successful,” Rex said. “The parents come out to Idaho & spend five days immersed in the program. It’s a life-changing experience for the families.”
In addition to providing services for parents as well as students, SUWS has also been a leader in the effort to promote licensure and regulation throughout the therapeutic wilderness industry.
“In the mid-1990s, SUWS became the first youth wilderness program in Idaho to be licensed,” Rex said. “We have always emphasized the benefits of establishing standards and regulations for programs throughout the United States.”
Since receiving that initial license, SUWS has earned a number of additional accreditations, including CARF (Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities) and AdvancED (an academic accreditation organization that serves more than 27,000 schools in 69 countries).
Focused on the Future
While the anniversary events will certainly involve some reflection the program’s past successes, the SUWS staff won’t spend much time resting on their laurels.
Rex said that she and her colleagues remain focused on ensuring that SUWS continues to evolve – both to meet the changing needs of students and families, and to remain one of the nation’s premier providers of therapeutic wilderness services.
“We’re all on a mission to help others,” she said. “We are always looking to the future and exploring how we can make SUWS an even better place for children and their families.”