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Posted: Aug 1, 2005 12:41


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Thompson Falls, Montana
Joe and Marilyn Frields, Owners
406 827 1957

Visit by: Larry Stednitz, June 15, 2005

20 Peaks is a nine bed "mom and pop" organization in the truest sense. The "mom and pop" are Joe and Marilyn Frields who began their program eight years ago. Prior to opening 20 Peaks, Joe worked as a field director for Paul Clark's wilderness experience, Galena Ridge, which is located nearby. Marilyn worked as a foster home parent prior to 20 Peaks.

The program is located in northeast Montana, just north of Thompson Falls on a county road off Highway 200 with roughly 60 acres nestled adjacent to a national forest. The ranch is in a very sparsely populated area in a remote part of Montana.

20 Peaks opened when Paul Clark, Founder of Galena Ridge, saw that some of his graduating boys needed an extended care program. Residents of 20 Peaks attend the Galena Ridge summer wilderness experience while the Frields take a three month sabbatical each summer. The two programs work closely together with Paul Clark providing individual and group counseling for the boys while they are at 20 Peaks.

The Frields call themselves "a wilderness family." It would be difficult to improve upon that name! The property consists of the Frield's comfortable home where six of the boys live. Another smaller cabin houses the three boys who have earned the most privileges. The ranch also has a large barn where the work activity is centered. Much of the ranch work is completed to support a natural habitat for some of the local creatures. When I was there, there was a flock of wild turkeys roaming the grounds acting as though they were tame birds. I also saw a deer and fawn on the property. Other ranch work includes the traditional fence mending, baling hay and other working ranch activities.

The boys have a full day's schedule, getting up early in the morning, doing chores, eating breakfast and then catching a bus to the local public school. In the evening, there are chores again, study hall, dinner and an early bedtime. Joe and Marilyn reported that the boys had very little trouble getting up and off to school. If a boy misses the bus, he spends the rest of the day doing ranch work with Joe. They reported that the boys much prefer going to school than working the ranch all day. A natural consequence if I ever saw one! Furthermore, there is a culture at 20 Peaks to do well in school, and the average resident has a higher grade point average than the local students and shows pride in that fact. Importantly, the boys are encouraged to participate in extracurricular activities which provide an added benefit. For example, I referred a boy to 20 Peaks who very much wanted to be an athlete, and the local school district offered him this opportunity. Most therapeutic schools could not provide this benefit.

The program provides logical consequences, accountability and a structured day. They also have individual and group counseling as well as being able to attend AA meetings. Busy weekends, including skiing, hiking, ranch work and other activities offer a healthy lifestyle for the residents.

Naturally, in a small program like 20 Peaks, Joe and Marilyn are very careful about whom they bring into their home. Boys in the program must not be violent, assaultive or have serious psychiatric difficulties. Ideally, they voluntarily attend the program and while they certainly have had difficulty adjusting at home, they are amenable to re-direction and able to handle their behaviors fairly consistently.

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