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.”