Service Projects Allow Boarding School Students to Make Personal Progress While Helping Others

It's no secret that adolescents and teenagers who are struggling with issues related to emotional disorders, behavioral challenges and academic achievement can benefit from professional intervention that addresses their specific needs.

At Pine Ridge Academy -- a residential treatment center for youth ages 11 to 18 -- students participate in an intensive and comprehensive program that includes individual therapy, family therapy, accredited academic instruction, substance abuse recovery assistance, recreational therapy and psychiatric care.

But Pine Ridge students also learn that looking inward isn't the only way to achieve personal growth and development.

In addition to benefiting from the school's wide range of personalized intervention, Pine Ridge students complement their academic and therapeutic progress by participating in an ongoing series of activities that are designed to benefit others within the community.

"There's a lot of community involvement here at Pine Ridge," said Dayna Rust, the school's program director. "Our kids participate in service projects on a regular basis."

A Commitment to Service

The Pine Ridge students' service projects have wide and varied impact. The students themselves benefit from serving others, while their efforts enhance the lives of individuals on local, national and global levels.

Recent projects include the following:

  1. Visiting a local nursing home to assist staff members and provide companionship to residents.
  2. Leading arts and crafts activities at a local elementary school for special-needs students.
  3. Lending a helping hand at an area humane society.
  4. Participating in humanitarian efforts designed to provide essential relief services for struggling populations throughout the world.
  5. Serving in soup kitchens and homeless shelters.

"Our students have done some amazing things to help others," Rust said. "For example, right now in their spare time they're crocheting beanie caps to donate to the homeless. They're also making bracelets that they can sell to raise money to make more hats."

The Benefits of Helping Others

For the vast majority of students, Pine Ridge Academy serves as a transitional program between a prior placement and a return to their home. Thus, the program is designed to help students hone specific skills and strategies that will allow them to become positive contributing members of their families, schools and communities.

"Pine Ridge is a safe place for students to practice their new skills and strengthen their emotional muscles before they return home," Rust said. "It's one thing to learn the concepts, but if you don't have a safe place to practice, kids who really want to do well return home and find themselves swimming in currents that they're not strong enough for yet."

By participating in community service programs, the students learn two lessons that may have myriad healthy applications throughout their lives:

  1. The many benefits of serving others.
  2. The ability to fill free time with healthy and productive activities.

Working under the guidance and direction of Pine Ridge staff members, the students can experience the real-world benefits of their actions while knowing that they have support should problems occur.

"During therapy sessions, kids process on a hypothetical level. But during the service projects and other recreational activities, they see practical applications to these lessons," Rust said. "The therapists can pull the student aside, talk about issues that are occurring right there, and help the kids come up with effective and productive ways of dealing with the challenge they're facing -- right now, in the moment, as they're feeling it."

Empowering Students, Changing Lives

Pine Ridge's community service component works in concert with all other aspects of the academy experience to empower students to make good decisions -- and to deal with the consequences when they make less-than-wise choices.

"Pine Ridge operates as a self-governing program," Rust said. "It's not about point systems or level systems. It's about students making choices and accepting the consequences of those choices."

Whether participating in a service project or attending a supervised off-campus recreational activity, Pine Ridge students know that the outcome of the experience depends in large part on the decisions they make and the actions they take.

"We tell our students: You've successfully completed one program, and you still have more that you need to work on, so we're going to back down and see what you can do when you need to make decisions on your own," Rust said. "We'll be there to support you, we'll be there to teach you and advise you and coach you through it, but the motivation to do well has to come from within."

About Pine Ridge Academy

Pine Ridge Academy is a private residential treatment center for students ages 11 to 18 who have been struggling with academic, behavioral and emotional issues, including the following:

  1. Depression
  2. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
  3. Self-Destructive Behavior
  4. Physical and Sexual Abuse
  5. Social Withdrawal
  6. Learning Disabilities
  7. Thought Disorders
  8. Substance Abuse

Pine Ridge is designed for students who have completed a prior placement, and who need additional guidance, structure and support before returning home. The minimum length of stay at Pine Ridge is three months, and the average length of stay is seven to eight months, though students may stay longer based upon their needs and the needs of their family.

A small program with a very low staff-to-student ratio, Pine Ridge Academy offers highly personalized care in a home-like atmosphere that emphasizes positive interactions and healthy interpersonal relationships.

In addition to full-time residential care, Pine Ridge Academy also offers day treatment for students whose families are able to relocate to the Utah area.