Prior to being hired, Pressley Ridge administrators who interviewed me looked at my resume and queried how long I would stay at Pressley Ridge. It was obvious that I had moved around a bit professionally and geographically. In fact, my wife and I had just completed a two-year, 3000-mile mule journey across the U.S. They asked if I thought I could engage in a structured job working with troubled and troubling children and their foster families after such an experience. I don’t remember my exact reply. After all, that was thirty years ago. Now I’ve been asked to reflect on those thirty years with Pressley Ridge. When my mind’s eye looks at those years, it’s a kaleidoscopic array of experiences rather than a simple reflection.
I am an MSW by training, and I started my career at Pressley Ridge as a community liaison working in treatment foster care (PRYDE). After two+ years I moved to the Day School Pittsburgh as a Family Liaison Specialist. A year and a half later, the Day School introduced an Experiential Education component to the curriculum. For the next 15 years, I worked with various partners planning, implementing, evaluating and generalizing ways to have kids learn experientially. We utilized on- campus activities, field trips and camping at Hopi (the Day School’s own campsite at Pressley Ridge’s wilderness school near Ohiopyle). Along the way, I became certified as a wilderness first responder and challenge course facilitator. In the clinical realm, I was certified as a Life Space Crisis Intervention (LSCI) trainer and a Response Ability Pathways (RAP) trainer. Since the camp closed in 2008, I’ve remained at the Day School as an Experiential Group Facilitator, continuing to espouse the benefits of experiential learning for our students.
So why have I stuck around so long? In a word: relationships. Pressley Ridge has afforded me the opportunity to work intensively with like-minded colleagues serving children and families in need. And, as a career, I believe that’s what I’m called to do.
How the organization operates has certainly changed over time, but the core value of service has prevailed. Corporate realities, liability concerns, and advances in neuroscience have, in my opinion, influenced the model of care. In some ways, these factors seem to have supplanted the Re-ED principles and ecological model I embraced upon coming to Pressley. Regardless, I still get to work with good people doing good things for those we serve. As has been demonstrated during the current pandemic, Pressley Ridge has stayed open for business – the business of “serving children and families since 1832.”
Finally, I’ve been asked to share my most memorable experience as a Pressley Ridger. Instead of a single event, I’ll share this repeated experience over fifteen years of camping with our students and teacher/counselors. Whether on the beach at Assateague, backpacking in a state or national forest, on a scenic trip to Niagara Falls, biking on the Great Allegheny Passage, or countless trips to Hopi, the last night of the trip was celebrated with this ritual. With group members circled around our final “pow wow” campfire, individuals shared their completion of the day/trip remarks to the acknowledgment of the others stating, “Good pow wow.” Then, all group members were asked to take a small piece of wood, and when signaled, to simultaneously throw them into the fire while making a silent wish for the future. The resulting sparks rising into the night sky were deemed symbolic of our wishes being sent out into the universe. I guess you had to be there; but for me those moments were priceless.