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PUBLISHED: 5:09 PM on Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Alaska Crossings helps children through wilderness program

Courtesy photo
  Alaska Crossings, a division of Alaska Island Community Services in Wrangell, is the largest wilderness therapy program in the state. The programs are aimed at teenagers who deal with oppositional defiance, anger management, depression, drug and alcohol use and poor self-image.
Exploring the majestic beauty of Southeast Alaska is a hobby for some, but it's a training ground for others. Alaska Crossings, a division of Alaska Island Community Services in Wrangell, is the largest wilderness therapy program in the state. The programs are aimed at teenagers who deal with oppositional defiance, anger management, depression, drug and alcohol use and poor self-image, said assistant director Sarah Penfold.

Starting in 2001 with just 14 participants, Alaska Crossings has grown to have 143 participants in 2006 and running at 99 percent capacity to date.

Director Steve Prysunka said the program began when he noticed many children from Southeast Alaska were being sent out of state for programming.

"We ran the pilot project that first year with kids in Wrangell and Petersburg. It's slowly and quietly grew into something much larger," Prysunka said.

With a staff of 50 and a two-story float house as a base, the program attracts students and their families who seek professional help in the area.

The organization is an authorized Medicaid provider, and consultations are conducted with each participant to determine a treatment plan. Groups consist of nine participants with one staff person per three children. Programs run March through October.

"Initially the kids can be resistant to being in treatment. There's a lot of questioning and sometimes anger," Prysunka said. "Well within the first week they discover it's not a boot camp. They form relationships with the staff and begin to accomplish the tasks set before them. Once they start to achieve those things, their self-confidence builds, and they can build on other issues."

Penfold said each participant undergoes a physical before the excursion. She said weight is usually not a factor in keeping students from participating. Throughout the 46-day program, participants experience ocean and river canoeing and hiking expeditions. Equipment is provided by the program.

Prysunka said participants have weekly therapy sessions, but the real work happens in with the outdoor challenges.

"Everyone is living and working together. You can't hide your behavior out there," Prysunka said. "The outdoors is a great equalizer. When you're out there doing these things, you'll eventually face an obstacle and need the people around you."

Prysunka said he has had inquiries about taking participants from out-of-state, but he would like to keep the focus of Alaska Crossings on students in the state. Participants are referred to the program by parents, teachers, health workers and concerned family and friends.

"People realize they don't necessarily have to go through a formalized system," Prysunka said. "Our goal is to keep Alaskan kids in state and in their home communities."

For information, go online to www.alaskacrossings.org.


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