White River Academy is the 2016 recipient of the Best of Delta award, which in this case, honors local schools that enhance the small-town positive image through community service. WRA's program director Jason Nielson took time out to share his appreciation for the award as well as his excitement over the 2016 goals the academy's staff has already achieved.
Becoming part of the community
The staff and I here at White River Academy are happy to receive the distinction, and add it to our three other exemplary service recognitions from the city of Delta and the local Bunker Hill Motocross Track.
The Delta Award Program pinpoints companies who have achieved outstanding marketing success locally. For us, marketing is not pursued; it grows organically from rubbing shoulders with community members in sincere service.
When we first began in 2002, I went to the neighbors to listen to what they thought about residential therapy for boys. I heard the stigmas and explained what we do: provide therapeutic positive growth through holistic treatment.
At this point, people understand White River Academy is an asset to their neighborhood, not a threat. Truth speaks for itself where pretty brochures can't - it naturally works.
For our students, you can't be self-centered and engaged at the same time. Likewise for residents, when they are standing side-by-side filling sandbags with our young men, natural conversation takes place. They realize these boys are sincere and willing to put in time and effort. People want to get involved with that kind of momentum. As a matter of fact, we have 10-15 volunteers on our staff who go through all the rigor of application and background check just to be a part of what we're doing.
Enhanced aftercare and postgraduate assessments
We have intertwined our aftercare program with discharge planning. A centerpiece to each boy's rehabilitation is a self-governed service project from design, to fundraising, to implementation. Now, we've woven phases of the student's aftercare into his discharge in incremental doses well before he leaves us. Two home visits, replete with family feedback sessions, are interspersed throughout his service project process. This way, milestones can be achieved naturally and the transition back to home and school life will be smooth.
WRA has also incorporated our emotional outcome tools assessment into aftercare. Now, students are given the survey 30 days after graduating our program and once a month for six months. We aim to give the assessment every six months for two years after they graduate WRA and every other year thereafter.
Initially the kids try to give the answers they think you want to hear, not unlike how adults do on job personality questionnaires. But when they see their development charted, they get encouraged and become transparent. We want to maintain that self-awareness through adulthood.
I'm excited to say we're going through our archives to gather data on alumni from the last 14 years to check in on their development since graduating and see how they've navigated life's challenges.
Other new additions to the program
We've added a weekly group specifically for sex-related process addictions such as pornography and sexting. Katie Soli, MFT, has made great strides with students in this area. We are improving upon reactive attachment therapy and look forward to adding two dialectical behavior therapy sessions a week.
We're also preparing to provide monthly webinars by psychologist Dr. Daniel Sanderson for students' families. Sanderson has a wealth of information we'd like to share with struggling parents and caregivers.
Equine therapy is doing remarkable
This alternative therapy provides a level of self-regulation and a return to compassion that is unmatched in other modalities. A horse doesn't care if you have an attitude or roll your eyes or cry. Neither do they respond to aggression. Through grooming maintenance, walking the horses, saddling, bridling and eventually riding, the boys absorb the calm assertive presence of the horses and learn how to set aside their emotions for the good of another.
We have a partnership with the Delta Wild Horse and Burro Facility; the boys who've participated in equine therapy have assisted the ranch with several service projects and even joined in the recent "Days of the Old West Rodeo!"
We are thankful for the Delta award and are encouraged to keep up the meaningful work WRA is doing here in Utah!