Ironwood Maine Web Update

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” – John Muir

In 1864, The “Father of Mountains” took to the swamps of Wisconsin to search for the rarest and most beautiful orchid. He embarked on a long and lonely excursion through streams, bogsand over many fallen trees. As the days went on, he became ever so discouraged at the thought of not reaching his sought-after flower. Yet, just before dusk, he found the captivating Calypso,on a mossy bank, with one small leaf, and one pure snow flower of a bulb. Muir remarked that it seemed so wonderful that such a frail and quiet object had such power on the human heart. He sat through the cold and darkness just to have a moment in the flower’s company, and cried for joy.

I shared this story with our students this week. I’m not sure if any of them currently have the capacity to shed a tear over the sight of a flower, but I offered the story as a way to encourage each of our students to make an extra effort to appreciate the smaller things in life. Here on campus, our daily routine can sometimes feel like a machine and when running smoothly, our higher functioning students can coast through a day meeting all expectations without much distraction. This thought, encouraged me to offer a reminder that each of us should make the effort to stop and smell the roses, so to speak. After reading the John Muir story, we took advantage of the unseasonably warm weather and went treasure hunting in the woods that surround campus.

Ironwood’s academic team has created quite a culture of book worms here on campus. All this week, I have heard conversations surrounding the many books that are being “devoured” by our students. The dinner table offers an appropriate place for many to discuss the topics and story lines being read and enjoyed. From the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, to Unbroken, and even the classic self-help book, How to Make Friends and Influence People…books from many genres and categories are starting to capture our student’s imagination.

In “Experiential Group” this week, we tied up all of our students…so to speak. 😊  This fun and entertaining activity allowed teams of two to think creatively, work together as a team, and also have a few laughs. Small loops were made of string that were then put onto the hands of each student. The two students crossed their strings and had to figure out how to un-cross them, without taking their hands out of the loops. Our supervising therapist shared that in several years of leading this activity, only 3 had ever solved the challenge. No student solved it this week, but all have gained practice working as a cooperative team.

While we may never find the rarest object around each corner, there is typically something to be gained with every experience, here on campus. As we approach Family Weekend, we want to wish all parents, siblings, grandparents and other family members a restful and safe weekend.  Thank you for placing your trust in Ironwood.

Ironwood Maine Web Update

“Baseball is 90% mental and the other half is physical.” – Yogi Berra

It has been a sloppy slide into November here at Ironwood. Our campus has had to overcome dreary and wet weather for most of the week. Student were issued winter clothing recently and their weatherproof boots and jackets have been helping to keep everyone comfortable and protected from the elements. And while the environmental factors offer another element of challenge for each of us, students have been able to persevere and make the most of this past week.

Last Sunday was enjoyed as a traditional day of rest. Under heavy rain, students expressed appreciation for this opportunity away from their usual daily routine. Board games, reading, crocheting and relaxed conversations took the place of a cancelled, off campus trip.

Mid-week, the skies cleared for a bit and we were able to enjoy October for its most important spectacle. No, it wasn’t Halloween…it was none other than a campus wide whiffle-ball game in which we paid homage to the World Series. Students were encouraged to utilize last week’s session on feedback to chatter up their opponents with non-stop constructive (and positive) feedback throughout the game.

Campus extra-curricular groups are keeping everyone engaged. Students in music group are feverishly preparing for Family Weekend. In art group, students have working on self-portraits and pencils. Gardening group is cleaning up for the year, pulling up all organic matter and placing straw over the beds to limit erosion over the winter. Wilderness groups are still enjoying the last bit of fall foliage, with long walks through the woods.

Yesterday, we celebrated a graduation and another has moved up to fill his place at the farmhouse. There are quite a few students trying on their level 2 purples as well.

We hope that all is going well back home and we look forward to seeing many of you at the upcoming Family Weekend.

And…How about those Red Sox?!

Ironwood Maine Web Update

The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows” – Sydney Harris

Believe it or not, The Ironwood Campus saw it’s first few flakes of snow this week. While some of us are excited for the continued changing of the season, others are still trying to make the most of these fleeting warm afternoons. All of us though, are preparing for what is to come.

The campus has been buzzing with the delivery of new gear. Our residential services team spent an impressive amount of time shopping, sizing, organizing, and delivering cold weather gear. While the students may be timid toward the lower temps, they were all excited to try on their new gloves, hats, jackets, and snow bibs.

The horses are also taking extra steps to prepare. Their winter coats are getting longer, their food will soon be soaked in warm water, and wool blankets will soon be adorned for each of our stable members. Currently though, each of our horses are still able to enjoy most of the days frolicking through the campus pastures and participating in student riding lessons, horsemanship’s workshops, and EAP sessions.

The students have also transitioned from outdoor sports and rec enrichments to character development blocks. Students will have the opportunity over the next several months to learn and practice a variety of skills that directly support their growth as young adults. One of the lessons revolves around public speaking, and gives the students a chance to hold their own debate!

Within every activity, responsibility, and conversation that takes place on campus, a space lies for processing and feedback. This concept of constant challenge and growth is an integral component of success for everyone here on campus…staff and students alike. We recently shared with our students a TED talk presentation that focuses on how to get great at something. These presentations not only share how important, and effective coaching and feedback can be, but it also neutralizes the concept. We watched a surgeon, wildly successful in his field, and in business, openly willingly to engage someone to point out his flaws on a regular basis. This example of openness, offered a sense of relief for each of our residents.

Early this week, the students harvested some of the last produce from our garden. Pounds and Pounds of blue potatoes were pulled up to soon be made into colorful cuisine. A supply of collected sunflower seeds were also separated and roasted for a down the road small treat. And most enjoyable, baking pumpkins were harvested and turned into the finest dessert fall has to offer!

The students also participated in some fun off-campus activities. One group went to spend time and an assisted living facility to offer conversation and good times for their residents. A competitive game of bingo allowed for some good-natured fun. Another group made their last trip to Acadia National Park. During this trip, the students excepted the daunting challenge of taking on one of the most difficult hikes in the region, the Precipice Trail. While the students were forced to deal with their fear of heights, they also displayed an awesome ability to be supportive on one another during trying times.

All in all, it was another enjoyable and productive week here on campus. There have been countless opportunities for challenge and comradery. We hope that each of you are discovering newways to appreciate the world around you and we wish you a restful and safe weekend.

Ironwood Maine Web Update

It’s prime peeping season in New England! The air has chilledand the leaves have turned to their fluorescent display of magic spectacle. Fall has officially arrived here on the Ironwood campus and we couldn’t be enjoying the atmosphere more.

Early in the week, students took a trip off campus to visit afamily farm that was acknowledged as one of the most enjoyable ways to spend a Sunday “in all the land”. Students leisurely strolled through the orchard rows and hand pick a variety of ripe apples. Courtland, Macintosh, and several other types of fruit found their way back to campus for future snacks and desserts to be enjoyed over the next few weeks.

In-between school hours and scheduled group sessions, students have taken up the fall-favorite sport of leaf-catching. It’s about as silly a game as you could imagine, as residents see just how many falling leaves can be caught before hitting the grass below. To make things more interesting, some students have even been awarded merits for the most impressive leaf catches.

I was able to experience another special moment during a dinner on campus this week. Beyond the garden-picked greens, home-made macaroni and cheese and fresh baked banana bread, there was another contributing factor to this gathering. One of our residents prepared to return home and we all took a moment to acknowledge and appreciate the efforts and accomplishments made, while at Ironwood. A funky memoir of sorts started the dinner as our “Master of Ceremonies” Alicia, read the Dr. Seuss classic, “Oh, The Places You’ll Go”. Afterwards, our large family table of nearly 30 staff and students took turns speaking about inspiring characteristics and supportive words, wishing this student well.

To end the week and further celebrate this season, Ironwood held our annual campus wide Harvest Festival. All students joined up in a full day of fun activities, meals around a campfire, Halloween candy, apple cider, and even a spooky movie! There was a “Spooky Adventure Race” in which students had individual timed trails with a course that included a rat toss, pumpkin run, and hay bale jump. Another station allowed students to show off their crafty sides creating fun foam cutouts glued together to make strange creatures. The upstairs barn turned into an improv theater where students not only dressed up as whacky characters, but also took turns acting out theater skits with their unique personalities. In the barn, students took turns completing another Race in which they had to work together to label all the parts of a horse and saddle. While the students were rushing to complete the task thinking they were being graded on time, Our Barn Manager was actually grading each team based on their teamwork, problem solving skills, ability to ask for help, and also their level of mutual respect. And of course, a pumpkin carving station for the creation of scary (or funny) jack-o-lanterns.

It was an especially fun week here at Ironwood. While its obvious we’ve been able to enjoy some of the classic new-England fall traditions, each of our students have also managed to stay focused on their individual goals as well. Truly embodying our “work hard, play hard” philosophy

We wish you the very best this weekend and hope that all is going well at home.

Ironwood Maine Web Update

Tonight, I shared dinner with one of our groups on campus. The meal was legitimately incredible. A salad with handpicked, student grown greens, freshly harvested mashed sweet potatoes and chicken marsala. Upon entering the room, I was appreciative of the invite to join from the student body, quickly realizing what a treat it was.

The dinner conversations proved to be equally rewarding. One student shared their excitement of nearing high school graduation…a thought that not long before, seemed unlikely. Another shared their grit and fortitude in relation to battling with a stubborn cold. I shared in the excitement and pride of two students who were proudly showing off their new, “level-up” colors.

I also monitored a conversation where a student engaged with another, asking what had previously been done to create upset? It was an honest effort approach for relational growth, asking for and receiving feedback, and taking ownership in prior actions, even though there was no ill intention to begin with.

While we all have moments of mistakes, regressions, and instability, it is clear that most of our students are trying to look inward more, allowing these daily experiences to shape themtowards a better future place.


Early this week, Frye students participated in a class exercise to identify their strongest and weakest attribute. They were asked to sketch out a puzzle piece in a way that represented that attribute while not using words…only imagery. The studentswere given 2 puzzle pieces to decorate, one for the strongest and one for the weakest.

At the end of the session, they were asked to share their artwork and explain each attribute, to include why they chose them. After they spoke about their puzzle pieces each student incorporated their piece into the group’s puzzle. Once everyone had finished sharing, the group discussed how each of their individual attributes effected the group as a whole.


This week’s Gentleman’s Group managed to enjoy a scenic walk through the colorful forest. On the way to the designated location at the Beaver Pond, the young men were encouraged to reflect on how amazing the world around them is. Classical music was played, during this exercise.

When the group arrived at their destination, they discussed the structure of a haiku. The boys were invited to find inspiration from the short journey just taken, or from the landscape of Frye mountain directly in front of them.  After a short time, the group took turns sharing their versions of Poetry.


Early in the week, several of the students had the opportunity to participate in the Triangle of Life. This group initiative places the student’s in a state of being stranded on three separate islands at the Beaver Pond, designated by three stone seats. The objective was to figure out how to get three essential items (food, water and a radio) to each island in order to survive until the group could be rescued. The group was given a rope and three buckets, but the items were spread between the three islands and an island in the middle. Residents could not throw any items other than the rope and there could never be any more than four items on each island.

At first, the group was chaotic; with each island making separate plans, talking over one another, and competing to get all three items. While some of the participants attempted to speak up and get the group to work together, it was generally unfocused.  While they ultimately completed the task, it was clear there were things to work on. Discussion followed about the current state of the group and some of the students were quick to voice their frustration with the lack of focus and respect among the group. This initiative ended with each resident offering a way in which they could improve the environment in the boy’s group.


This week the young ladies on campus participated in an activity designed to acknowledge and communicate respect to one another. Each of the girl’s names were printed on a piece of paper. The group was instructed to write something kind about their peer on the paper. They were told it could be an inspirational quote, something that they admire about the person, a characteristic that was positive, or a creative drawing that reminded them of a positive quality. Once each paper had been written on by all, the students were allowed a moment to process what their peers had written about them. Afterwards they each were asked to share something that they learned about themselves.

Our campus is a busy place and so many of our residents are showing us exponential growth.  We hope that family members back home are also finding inspiration for positive internal change.  Have a nice weekend and stay safe.

Ironwood Maine Web Update



The girls group began by checking in on how they are doing individually and as a group. They highlighted their strengths in being welcoming and supportive of the new resident in their group. The girls spent time creating two lists of the group strengths and limitations. They each chose one point from each of the lists to consider working on for the week. The group played “hangman” using a values/moral theme and then processed the deeper meanings.


The group today broke down the DBT concept of the Behavior Chain Analysis with personal examples. Residents were given the opportunity to write their behavior issue on the board and explore with their peers the objectives that created their vulnerability, the prompting event, and the links that then lead to the behavior. Appropriate and effective consequences were also discussed. One student explored the reasons that she pushes people away instead of letting people get close to her today. She wrote down this information on her own paper after as she stated that it truly helped her realize that she has a lot of fear from past events that trigger this behavior.


In this week’s session, the boys chose to work with Duncan and the task was to get him to push a large yoga ball with his head through two cones. Duncan was afraid of the ball and most of the session was spent trying to help Duncan feel comfortable near the ball. The group discussed situations in which they have had to overcome discomfort or fear and how they worked through it.


Ethnic Night

This past weekend was a celebration for all. The farmhouse students welcomed in the Latino culture as Mexico’s Ethnic night was brought to campus. In this half-day event students prepared a variety of educational presentations, cultural demonstrations, and of-course, a meal specific to the region. Students enjoyed discussing all of the unique qualities of our culturally rich neighbors, all the while filling and eating their homemade tacos.


This week’s group began with an activity called Fears in a Hat in which residents anonymously write down a fear that prevented them from being themselves or moving forward in their program. They placed the slip of paper in a hat and then, each resident picked out of the hat and read the anonymous fear out loud to the group. The majority of the group shared the fear of being judged, rejected or failing and discussion revolved around how the group can better support one another.

Social Group

This week’s session offered an opportunity to talk about the issue of gossip. The students were asked to define gossip and then share their perspective on what kind of a person spreads gossip…and why? Topics of discussion followed including: “Why don’t we feel comfortable listening to gossip or sharing gossip?” The group then looked at the underlying causes for gossip in a group, how stories get distorted and further, how people can be emotionally wounded. The group facilitator introduced trust as a needed component within the community and discussed various facets of trust. To complete the session, students shared lessons that they learned individually and their plan of action moving forward. This group was also assigned to find a movie about a female character/hero, that can be viewed and critiqued, to learn how self-trust can develop over time or through certain experiences.

Staff Appreciation – Dan F., Residential Counselor

Dan is from Waldo, Maine and proclaims to love this state and the people who reside here. Dan expresses that he is honored to fulfill a role at Ironwood and be a part of our amazing team. Dan shares that there is nothing more rewarding to him than hearing a student talk about how much they have developed over time, and being able to support that transformation. Dan’s tries to live life by this Amelia Earhart quote:

“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process, is its own reward.”

Have a great weekend!

Ironwood Maine Web Update

Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.” – Unknown


As the season begins to change, I can’t help but to reminisce on stories my grandparents used to tell me about the “good ol’ days”. The legendary tales of courageous journeys just to get to and from school. The epic struggles of contribution to the family chores before the sun rose. The inhumane circumstances of the summer time jobs working in the fields. These stories of grit, and fortitude are proud patches of character that my grandparents share with a sense of pride.

While observing the daily routines of our students on campus this week, some of these same inspirational character qualities are easy to admire in your children, as well. In a way, they can likely relate more to the character defining actions of my grandparents, than most of society today.

On Sunday, the Farmhouse had to opportunity to volunteer at one of Maines most popular cultural affairs. The Common Ground Country Fair is a long-time gathering and grand celebration for organic farmers,spinners and weavers; woodworkers, jewelry-makers; drovers of oxen, horses and mules; and sheep herders and their dogs. Not to forget the many poets and fiddlers, reflexologists and herbalists, solar and wind power gurus, seed savers and worm-keepers…our students made their contribution to supporting this event by supervising the recycling stations. Sorting through what would be land-fill destined compostable materials to process appropriately. If this doesn’t earn them some pride later in life, in not sure what will? After their volunteer shift, each student had the opportunity to enjoy the fairs varied activities and events.

This week also offered several moments of necessary courage for our residents. Two that stand out to me are an initial arrival on our campus for a new student and a recent promotion from Frye to the Farmhouse. In both accounts, these students are being uplifted out of their comfort zones and placed into unknown territory with a different set of expectations and responsibilities. Both of these students are making the conscious decision to courageously accept a change of environment and trying to adapt to their new surroundings. While they are equally supported by peers, staff, and family, these students are ultimatelymoving through struggle and taking new steps toward the unknown with the hopeful outcome of greater internal peace, strength and independence.

Both campuses have been making efforts to prepare for the coming of fall and winter. In the grazing fields, students have been taking turns picking out the large pastures to collect manure. These ground scores are collected and transported to what is affectionately known as “the Pit of Despair” where it will decompose and eventually turn into compost for future use. Frye students are also chipping into the preparation efforts on campus. One group of students took to refinishing our wooden tables by replacing rotten boards, sanding, and staining while another took time to build little winter sheds for our mini blueberry orchard.

All of our program activities support the development of character qualities that I am sure any grandparent would honor. From consistent morning exercise and community chores, to the practice ofputting one’s self in a vulnerable space during therapeutic groups, each student is defining who they will be as adults. While they may sometimes complain of share frustration, one day we expect that they will be able to look back on this experience and talk about “their good ol’ days”.

We hope you have a nice weekend and thank you for placing your trust in Ironwood.

Ironwood Maine Web Update

“We have almost forgotten how strange a thing it is that so huge and powerful and intelligent an animal as a horse should allow another, and far more feeble animal, to ride upon its back.” – Peter Gray

Upon arrival to campus this week, it was quickly noticeable that there were several residents who were in the midst of “struggle”.  Family weekend is now 2 weeks behind us and there is a little wearing off of the family euphoria that many of your sons/daughters experienced during their time of reconnection.  Perhaps this is part of human nature after all…we elect to coast in times of comfort, or when things come easily to us.  Many of our residents learned not long ago that despite the prior struggles back home, they are still loved and needed…to great relief.  For others, while this is obvious and known, there was the reckoning that issues still remain to be dealt with.  The post Family Weekend honeymoon is over and it’s time to get back to the important work ahead.

The Frye campus is very “orange” this week, as Ironwood has sent a reminder to pay attention to our campus standards.  Remain mindful of your actions, show your leadership qualities to others that you work alongside, demonstrate greater integrity in your day…GROW FORWARD.  Despite short term setbacks, I must say that the energy on this campus remains positive and accepting, perhaps representing the acknowledgement of accountability and ownership?

The Farmhouse campus is contemplative, with struggle also present.  The girl’s group has presented some discontent with one another, with some gossip and undermining taking precedence over cooperation and support.  We humans let our thoughts get the best of us sometimes and we create conflicts from our doubts…our fears…our insecurities.  Such has been the case this week and staff are bringing attention to all on how valuable face to face conversation can be to settle minds and fears.  Today, a conversation took place on the impact that this same group could experience if just a few would lead productive conversation based in the genuine desire to reconcile and move forward with authenticity.  “Yes we are flawed…all of us…how can we better help one another to gain strength in the group to complete our personal missions and return home to those we love?”  We are a team…residents, staff and family and we need to stay focused on what really matters.

The east coast has been soaked this week due to Hurricane Florence and even Ironwood received some fringe downpours on Tuesday evening.  We experienced some power loss and internet troubles but overall this property is holding steady.  The gardens are still producing, therapeutic groups are on schedule, school is “in session” each day and our ovens are producing some “pretty tasty” dinners.

And finally, this week we welcomed two new equines to our stable.  “Shanghaied” and “Hugh and Me” are two retired thoroughbred geldings who are on a short-term trial for compatibility to our stable, herd and riding program.  First impressions are positive and the Farmhouse residents are excited to have these new additions in our barn and pastures.  They are showing us that they are curious, friendly and always hungry for our pasture’s green grass!  Some Shanghaied trivia:  his sire (father), Big Drama (FL), was a champion sprinter who earned $2.7M in his career, highlighted by a first-place finish in The Breeders Cup Sprint, 2010, at Churchill Downs (see picture below):

With struggle, comes growth and there is plenty of struggle and growth on the Ironwood campus this week.  Thank you for placing your trust in Ironwood…have a great weekend and stay safe!

Ironwood Maine Web Update

“Let him who would move the world first move himself.” – Socrates

It is the week after Family Weekend and our campus is back to running at full throttle. Students have re-engaged in their academics, clinical groups, therapy sessions, and daily chores. As each of you have likely had a few days to recuperate from the traveling and emotions that make up a Family Weekend, our students on campus seem to have not missed a beat. A sense of relief can almost be felt as some of our students share that after a weekend with family, they are reminded why they are putting in the effort to develop and challenge themselves to become healthier “and better” family members. Several students sharethat it becomes obvious during a Family Weekend that they haveprogressed, that they are changing for the better, and that makes jumping right back into the program so much easier.

For me, this understanding made me think about our staff and how much emphasis Ironwood, as an organization, places on growth and development. It is truly remarkable the amount of time and energy that is placed on continuing education, specific to our ability to provide quality programming to those we serve. In recent weeks, there have been several opportunities for our team to come together to learn new concepts and skills that will ultimately positively impact your children for the better.

This week, Ironwood has begun the process of providing a crisis prevention certification that will be provided to all direct care staff. This is a full day of a behavioral safety training that provides competencies necessary to effectively prevent, minimize, and manage behavioral challenges with dignity and cooperation. This program will provide our staff with additional strategies for the prevention and management of behavioral challenges and will result in a more positive reinforcement-based approach and fewer instances of crisis management.

In the most recent monthly staff meeting, our clinical team provided a two-part training to our direct care staff on DBT. The first section of the training was designed to allow staff to gain a deeper understanding of this type of therapy that is so significant our students. The second stage of the training focused on a practical approach of implementation and delivery of DBT skills in the milieu. With this, our residential team will be able to provide a complimenting approach that will align with our clinical team as we collectively support students with challenging behaviors.

Not long ago, our clinical team participated in a workshop training welcoming a nationally renowned, licensed psychotherapist, Gary Chapin. Mr. Chapin is a board-certified hypnotherapist with more than 30 years of experience in the therapeutic and social services setting. What is Hypnotherapy? It uses therapeutic imagery and suggestion to achieve an alert and highly receptive state of mind that is compatible with your goals. Hypnotic approaches have been widely recognized as effective methods for treating trauma, depression, and PTSD as well as for pain control and pain relief.  We are considering the benefits of offering this treatment in the future.

As you can see, our staff also runs at full throttle! Thank you for placing your trust in Ironwood and we wish you a very pleasant September weekend.

Ironwood Maine Web Update

Wow! The first day of Family Weekend is a tremendous whirlwind of activity. Launched by a family orientation meeting at the Farmhouse School, the day is then set in motion with reunifications, smiles, laughs and yes, tears. All of the emotions you could imagine after not seeing your child for 10 weeks, or more. After that, the families head off for a day of family therapies, experientials and some quiet time together.

The Level III, and Level IV residents enjoy a much deserved and looked forward to trip off campus beginning after lunch. All Level III’s get to stay off campus on Saturday night. A Level III with their second family weekend get to stay off campus Sunday night as well. Level IV’s will enjoy a complete 3 night family weekend with a return on Monday. Level II residents, while enjoying a great day with family are not allowed off campus for the overnight.

This always leaves the question as to what happens to the Level I residents who’ve not yet been here long enough to enjoy a Family Weekend. Well, staff take great care of our Level I’s, by planning a good mix of activities, school lessons, exercise and time to converse with peers and staff. Today saw them in school for the regular amount of time, followed by a delicious lunch cooked outside, then some R&R with fellow residents and the Frye mini horses. Late summer is a great time for exploration and they will be seeing a lot of the area hiking, reading, and writing…never a dull moment.

Thanks for allowing your child to be part of our lives and we wish you a pleasant and restful weekend.