Over the past 30 years I have had a number of jobs and diverse responsibilities with in these jobs. This has been one of the core reasons I have stayed at Pressley Ridge. I have always felt that my skills where valued and that I could make a difference in the lives of children and of Teacher/Counselors (T/C). For me, this is the uniqueness of the leadership at Pressley Ridge. They recognize that skills need to be nurtured and developed so we can grow as a service provider:

  • Front line T/C, Ohiopyle Wilderness Program
  • Roving Group Work Supervisor, PRSO
  • Mental Health Specialist, Day School Pittsburgh
  • Experiential Education Specialist, Day School/PRSD
  • Senior Coordinator, “Mario” program
  • Research Facilitator for Therapeutic Alliance collaboration project with Vanderbilt University
  • Program Direction, Delaware IRT Program
  • Coordinator, Day School (Implemented grant-funded services for Northgate School District)
  • Coordinator, Day School (Classrooms)
  • Facilitator of Working Alliance Research project and ABEL development
  • Coordinator of program services, Satellite program development and implementation (Penn Hills, Sto Rox, and Kriste Transportation)
  • Clinical and Behavioral Coordinator, Partial Hospital Program

I am often asked why I have stayed at Pressley Ridge all this time. I don’t have a simple answer, but as I reflect, I think I can put it into four categories:

One, definitely the people I have met and or worked with or beside. Heck, I met my wife here! Of the people I call friends, most of them I worked alongside or with in some capacity. But it is also the T/Cs that I no longer see or have little to no interaction with. These men and women made a choice to take on a job that is incredibly hard. For the most part, they did this with a smile on their faces and joy in their hearts. This continues to happen year after year. Even when these T/Cs stay one or two years, their enthusiasm and youthful ideology becomes contagious and reenergizes my soul to continue to work with our students.

Secondly, I would have to say all of the incredible opportunities that I have been given. This goes beyond the jobs I have held and expands to trainings I have been allowed to attend, a Master’s Degree made available, travel to conferences representing Pressley Ridge as a presenter, and travel to the Ukraine to train a group of Social Workers new to the field. All of these have made me feel valued and respected for the job that we do.

This leads me to my third reason: the work we do for kids and families. I can remember learning about the Family Liaison position after reading the chapter in “Troubled and Troubling Children.” Tim Bauman was sitting in a ready area at camp explaining to me how he and the other “liaisons” coordinate visits with families to support and help them. This was such a crazy concept for me. But after all of these years I see the importance of working with the whole ecology and its effect on what we do for our kids and families. Time is an ally! As you see students you have worked with the come back and visit, you can hear the joy in their voice as they talk about a river trip or a field day or even just something you did in class. This is good stuff and it certainly makes the aches and pains of life as a T/C worth it. Finally, it is being presented with new/different challenges every day. I have often said, there has never been a day that I dreaded going to work. I attribute this to being challenged, in a new way, every day.  Just like Re-ED evolves and changes to meet the needs of our students, so have I (at least I hope so). When you are put into new and challenge situations it keeps you fresh and challenges you to perform your best.

I have always felt like our delivery systems where ahead of the norm. As people started to talk about working with the whole ecology of a child in the mid 90’s, I remember thinking that we/I have been doing this for years. Pressley Ridge has been a leader in service delivery, so I feel like it has changed as we have changed it. From our foundation in Re-ED as one of the first trauma-informed models to our most recent successes with our Treatment Foster Care model, we have always been on the cutting edge. But, I would say that two things that have changed the most, in my opinion, in service delivery stem from the research done with Therapeutic Alliance and trauma-informed care. This has changed our overall approach to move from compliance-based to a more caring approach. Understanding the brain science behind all of this has been critical for our staff to understand trauma, thus helping to develop strong working alliances with all of our kids and families.

There are have been so many memorable moments over the past 30 years. I suppose first would be how I met my wife. She brought a group of Day School kids (as a Den Mother for the Boy Scout troop) up to the School at Ohiopyle, and her campsite got flooded in a bad storm. I was one of the “chiefs” that went to help them relocate to high ground. Remember it like it was yesterday….

One of the greatest learning experiences was a trip to D.C. when I was a group work supervisor at camp. We had done five days of canoeing on the Potomac River and then went on a five day camping trip to visit Washington D.C. The trip was great until the last morning. The kids had some problems, and the Prince George County police got involved and arrested two of our kids. The rest of the group decided they wanted to break them out of jail. This went on until more police arrived and told us we had to leave ASAP or we would all be arrested. This lead to us packing up quickly, driving to the police station and picking up the two. Then for the 4 hour drive home to Ohiopyle, we had kids still trying to destroy the van and take over driving. Craziest thing ever…. But what a learning experience!

All of the Re-ED conferences were awesome. What an experience to share stories and exchange ideas with like-minded individuals who share the same values. I include, in these, the “off year” conferences we had as well. The informal training, connections with other T/C’s, and sharing of ideas continue to be the foundation of the T/C I am today.

Luke McDonough
Clinical and Behavioral Coordinator,
Day School Pittsburgh