Visit by: Ron & Kristie Campbell, May 15, 2014
Ron and I arrived at Second Nature Blue Ridge in the afternoon on what had been up to this point a very rainy day. We arrived at the office where they fitted us for the weather and climbed into Bryan’s vehicle to head out to a group of adolescent girls.
Second Nature Blue Ridge is a therapeutic wilderness program located in northeast Georgia. Typical group size is 8 to 10 students and students stay an average of 10 to 12 weeks. Ninety percent of the students have an educational consultant. Because of the variety of wilderness programs throughout the country, most students come from the Mid-west, Southeast and East Coast regions.
One thing that always strikes me about visiting Second Nature is that when we are brought into camp, we are welcomed by the group to experience and observe it as it is. The group we visited happened to be in a relationship group when we arrived and we were welcomed to participate. It had been raining all morning, so there was a slight dreary feeling. We climbed under the tarp, sat down in our Crazy Creek chairs and began to observe the group. The smoke from the fire brought back memories of my wilderness experience from over 20 years ago.
Second Nature has always been considered a more clinically sophisticated wilderness program. There is a therapist in the field every week on Tuesday and Wednesday. Field staff rotates after eight days, seven nights in the field. Shift change always happens on Tuesday. All the staff gathers at the office for an in-service prior to heading into the field. Upon the staff’s arrival into the field, there is a group meeting about every student. Each therapist at Second Nature typically has a caseload of 8-10 students.
The relationship group we joined was led by one of the students, who asked all the girls in the group to first name an unhealthy relationship, second list what you could have done better, and third explain how you made the relationship dysfunctional? The final instructions were to then draw the relationship from the other person’s perspective. Every girl chose a relationship with her parents, whether it was mom, dad, or both. Items they felt they could have done better included having empathy, love, compromise, being less angry, or openness. When it was time for each girl to share, each described how her drawing represented her feelings about how the other side of the relationship saw her. The group was very personal and the girls did some hard work, making some real observations of her relationships. When all the girls had shared, we sat quietly for a few moments of silence so the girls could reflect on their process.
After this group, one girl had to leave the circle for a bit, and while she was gone and out of sight, her responsibility was to page out her location. At one point she stopped and a staff member was right on top of the missing page; she hollered out and promptly received a response. There would have been no time for the girl to have disappeared, indicating that the staff is quite attuned to where each student is at all times.
There was also one girl in the first phase of the Second Nature program the day we visited. She was a one-to-one student-staff ratio and sat outside of the group under a separate tarp. Later that day, she would be invited into the group having completed her initial work to be included with the rest of the girls.
As we began the intro group, Ron and I, along with all staff and students joined in to introduce ourselves. We all went around the circle and stated our name, age, where we were from, status in the group, and a fun fact about ourselves. For my fun fact, I shared I had graduated from wilderness over 20 years ago. Suddenly the barrier was broken and the girls flooded me with questions. This was the first time as a visitor that the kids, when asked if they had any questions for me as an Educational Consultant, actually had several good questions to ask.
During this group, the sky cleared up and the sun came out. We finished the intro group and the girls moved on to an activity. The field instructors instructed the girls to put a tarp on the ground, then they were to get on the tarp, and their task was to turn it over without anyone stepping off. If they stepped off, they would have to start over. They went through this exercise twice, the first time all the girls were able to talk to each other and give instructions; the second time only one was allowed to talk. After the exercise, we processed observations, struggles, and ideas. The girls were candid with their reactions to the exercise and as should be in a group from diverse backgrounds, there were diverse reactions. Some found it fun while some found it claustrophobic, and others were irritable about the communication struggles. All the girls agreed the second time was much better as only one person was giving instructions.
The process during our visit was a sobering experience. This group worked well together. Between nature, positive mentors, and a group of girls all at different phases of the program coming together to work as a team, there was no wonder this group felt like they had an environment conducive to healing of the spirit. As we turned to leave, we bid the girls goodbye and good luck and headed back out on the trail. Despite the weather’s attempt to rain us out of the Georgia forests, we felt we had had a good visit.