Congratulations Pine River Institute Class of 2019!

On a warm spring day, the Minden Room at Pine River Institute buzzed with excitement as students, teachers, staff and family members assembled to celebrate seven Pine River students, who stood anxiously at the front of the room ready to receive their Ontario Secondary School Diplomas.  “I can’t believe that I’m here,” said one parent.  “A year ago, I didn’t think it would be possible for [my son] to attend classes at all, let alone graduate High School.”

Educational engagement is a key element of the Pine River program. Each team at Pine River has a dedicated teacher from the Upper Grand District School Board with Special Education qualifications. In consultation with the clinical team, teachers develop a unique academic plan for each student that caters to his or her specific strengths and fosters success and pride in their education. 

Every 2019 Pine River graduate travelled their own path to reach this milestone. 30 Thirty credits are required to receive a diploma; some students had to complete only two credits when they arrived at Pine River, others had 13 or more. But no matter their path, it was clear from listening to the speeches that hard work was the key to finishing high school for these students. “Combining flexibility and perseverance proves to me that you are resilient,” said John Fallis, Executive Director of Pine River, in his commencement speech. “We have watched your struggles and now we see your successes… we are proud of your achievements.”

Please join us in congratulating  Pine River Institute's High School Graduates, Class of 2019!

Newsletter May 2019

How Horses Can Help


We are pleased to report that, thanks to a new commitment to fund another 160 hours of Equine Therapy from The Gordon & Ruth Gooder Foundation, Pine River students will once again be saddling up! This popular program had a very successful initial year — made possible by pilot funding from the J.P. Bickell Foundation & Arbonne Charitable Foundation— with 31 PRI students participating in the four initial sessions over 2017-2018.

The classes are offered at nearby Jewel View Farm.  Ellen Downey, founder of the Youthdale riding program, is a registered social worker.  Her team of horses is trained to be attuned to the needs of vulnerable youth.

There are many success stories that speak to the importance of the Equine Therapy program, but the best way to understand the true impact is by hearing it from the participants themselves. Here are a couple of unsolicited messages written by students about their time in the program:

“I want you all to know how much you have helped me and how grateful I am. I went into the horse program feeling extremely anxious and almost unwilling to work with Kracker [my horse]. I struggled a lot at first, trusting Kracker, which I think reflects how I am with most people. Both Kracker and the volunteers were so patient with me as I slowly began to overcome this anxiety. I learned so much from Kracker. I feel so connected to him now and I’m really going to miss him, but I’m grateful that I got this opportunity. He helped me so much with my anxiety and he really is a kind-hearted soul.”

“Thank you so much for providing this special and amazing opportunity! I feel really grateful to be given the opportunity to learn how to ride horses and hangout with some awesome people. I will never forget this. Thanks to everyone.”

In their own words, the students feel pride, empowerment and joy as a result of their experiences at the Equine Therapy program; successes that we can’t wait to see continue.

Sharing PRI’s Expertise in Family Program

Family Program Director, Elizabeth Van Ryn

Family Program Director, Elizabeth Van Ryn

Pine River Institute Family Therapist Liz van Ryn and Clinical Director Victoria Creighton presented their research paper, The Call for an Integrated Family Systems ModelThe research was published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Therapeutic Schools & Programs (2019).

The article describes PRI’s approach and outlines the value and the challenges of providing transformative family therapy as an integral part of a therapeutic treatment program.  PRI knows that successful residential youth treatment means working not only with adolescents, but with the systems within which they operate – especially their families.

Clinical Director of Pine River Institute, Victoria Creighton

Clinical Director of Pine River Institute, Victoria Creighton

Our participation in the NATSAP 2019 conference made it clear to us that Pine River has the most comprehensive family programs of any residential treatment centres in North America. We are proud to present our excellent program and share the positive outcomes with our peers across North America.  We believe that sharing our model will lead to bigger impact and reach in reducing the incidence of youth mental health & addiction in Canada, and beyond.

Newsletter October 2018

Donor’s Challenge Will Triple Your Gift

Thanks to one donor’s vision, our Room for Hope campaign has taken a giant step closer to fully funding the new Girls’ Dorm and Transition House. The donor, who wishes to remain anonymous, will give $2 for every $1 donated or pledged before March 31, 2019.

Asked what inspired the matching gift, the donor responded: “This has touched us and so many people we know. PRI can give a child in distress ways past the pain and sadness and helplessness of addiction.

“I want to inspire people to take action that is not only life changing, it is life saving. Support the expansion of Pine River’s proven, successful rehabilitation program and I’m prepared to donate up to $2 million. So if you act now, the impact of your gift will be tripled. And more youth, and their families, will find new hope, a world of possibilities and futures filled with potential.”

With your support, and this transformational gift, the new Girls’ Dorm and Transition House could be operational within 12 to 18 months, nearly doubling PRI’s capacity and bringing new hope for the 200+ families on our wait list.

Click here to donate. Your gift, and your impact, will be tripled!

First Nation Program Adapts PRI Model

Gwekwaadziwin Miikan, a new land-based youth addiction and mental health facility in Little Current, Manitoulin Island, has opened with a program partly based on the PRI model.

“Gwekwaadziwin” is one of the Seven Grandfather Teachings and means “living the right way” in Ojibwe. Program staff at Gwekwaadziwin Miikan visited the PRI campus and our Outdoor Learning Experience location in April. They worked closely with our staff to adapt the Pine River model and integrate it into an Anishinabek culture-based program. Gwekwaadziwin Miikan is currently running a Seven Grandfather Teachings stream for 19 to 30-year-olds. A Four Directions stream for 13 to 19-year-olds is planned.

PRI CEO Vaughan Dowie attended the centre’s open-house on May 25. “A lot of the principles are the same as PRI’s, but of course they are adding significant cultural aspects, as they should and must, to resonate with their values and their clientele,” he said.

Gwekwaadziwin Miikan’s first intake began on May 28. According to Vaughan, the collaboration with PRI will continue: “We look forward to sharing and exchanging information and experience with Gwekwaadziwin Miikan.”

Giving Thanks

Here we share messages of gratitude from PRI parents, graduates, and staff.

“The first emotion that comes to mind when I think of PRI: gratitude. Our son absolutely sees it; Pine River didn’t just give him back his life, it helped him toward a whole new life.” –Lisa, PRI parent

“I’d like to thank our donors. Thanks to you, we have a new 15-seat van, a low-ropes challenge course, mountain bikes, and canoes – all important items for our wide-ranging program!” –John Fallis, Executive Director of Operations

“No one is as thoughtful and connected and intuitive as the Pine River staff. There’s something that pulls you in and makes you feel safe.” –Abby, PRI graduate

“It’s been wonderful for our family. We’ve all learned valuable things, especially the ability to be real in all of our flawed humanity, and I think that makes a big difference.”—Susan, PRI parent

“The kids are incredibly grateful for these mountain bikes, and so am I. We used to borrow bikes. Now that we have our own, our riding season is longer. They’re terrific bikes.” –Fred Tustin, Residential Youth Counsellor

“I learned so much from the PRI program as a parent. I learned about boundaries and not taking responsibility for other people’s actions. My own journey of recovery has been so much richer because of the PRI experience.”

--Sarah, PRI parent

Newsletter May 2018

Great News! New Activities at PRI

Thanks to a significant grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF), a new low ropes challenge course and 12 new mountain bikes and helmets are coming to Pine River this summer.

We know that taking part in physical activity, especially outdoors, benefits our mental and physiological health – which is why physical education and recreation are such important parts of the PRI program. The activities enabled by the OTF grant are ones that PRI students have reported enjoying previously, and will provide new opportunities for staff to engage and inspire youth and their family members.

The design of the low ropes course will build physical fitness and cultivate skills such as teamwork, sharing ideas, trust, problem solving and leadership for individual and group initiatives, while the mountain bikes will allow active exploration of our 200-acre campus.

OTF funds will cover the cost of constructing the low-ropes course and associated equipment, as well as the purchase of bikes and helmets. An agency of the Government of Ontario, OTF awards grants every year to build healthy and vibrant Ontario communities.

Bringing the Wilderness In


We simply call it “the woods”. Officially, it’s the Outdoor Leadership Experience (OLE) – the wilderness phase of our rehabilitation therapy program. This is where profound change begins for every PRI student, which is why our 2018 decision to manage and staff all aspects of the OLE in house is such an important step.

After a dozen years of partnering with support organizations that provided equipment, other logistical support and staff, “we now have the experience and confidence to run the program ourselves,” says Suzy Pollard, Wilderness Therapist. “Bringing responsibility in-house will improve quality control of every aspect of the program. The entire wilderness team will be hired and trained by PRI, so everyone will share the same values and therapeutic skills. Plus, we’ll have the flexibility to adapt the program in a timely way to respond to our students’ needs, and create new capacity and programming,” she adds.

Every youth’s PRI experience begins with a minimum of 6 weeks in the woods, where they detox naturally, develop healthy sleep patterns, engage in physical activity and begin reflecting on their actions and relationships.

“Ours is the only program in North America that integrates wilderness and residential treatment in a seamless continuum of care, so it’s essential that our single philosophy is shared by all staff members,” says Vaughan Dowie, CEO, Pine River.

A Mother’s Leap of Faith

“I think about it a lot, but even more so every Mother’s Day,” says Andrea. It was fall 2014 when Andrea and her husband brought their daughter to meet the PRI staff who would take her to the Outdoor Learning Experience.

“It was a huge leap of faith for us to hand over our daughter, sobbing in her pajamas,” she says. “It was a leap for her, too but she knew, deep down, that she couldn’t change her path herself.”

As a mother of three girls, Andrea thought she knew what was ahead when her middle daughter, Jane, began behaving badly. “And then things happened that we didn’t understand,” she explains. “She was stealing, she was high all the time, she skipped school daily.

“I knew it was more than the usual teen drama. The day we got to Pine River and learned about the maturity model and theory, it was like a light bulb came on.”

Jane spent 11 months at Pine River, and her family was in the parallel process. Says Andrea now, “It was difficult. But the beauty of Pine River is that you have this whole spectrum of opinion – not just staff, but parents, too.”

The hard work continued after Jane moved home. “We had to find the new pH balance for our family,” says Andrea. “All the relationships had to be re-established.

“We joke now that Jane is the best-adjusted one in the family because she has all the therapy experience. She can look at any situation and come up with great advice. She had zero empathy when she left the house; she’s got 100% empathy now.”

Today, Jane is at university and working part-time. She balances school, work, a social life and family.

“She thanks us almost every day of her life for sending her to Pine River,” says Andrea. “I knew my kid was still in there; I’m so grateful to Pine River for helping her to find her way back to us.”