Wild Youth Passages group therapy reports success as it prepares for next cohort

Program open to middle, high school students

Participants in Wild Youth Passages go on a hut trip to Francie’s Cabin. The program often partners with other organizations for excursions, such as Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center.
Wild Youth Passages/Courtesy photo

Rural communities such as Summit County can sometimes struggle with providing adequate mental health resources to all residents. For example, access to adolescent psychiatrists or intensive outpatient programs may be lacking. That’s why Wild Youth Passages was born last year to help serve teenagers in the region, providing group therapy weekly.

Case manager Laura Landrum said she was approached by her peers who said that they wanted something for teens coming from residential care.

“They’ve gone and done this intensive treatment that, for some (teenagers), last months, and they come back to the community and have an individual therapist and there is just not that much else for them,” Landrum said.

Wild Youth Passages is an experiential group therapy program run by Kristen Greenwald. The program involves a variety of activities, such as paddleboarding and kayaking.
Wild Youth Passages/Courtesy photo

Landrum, while at Building Hope Summit County as the coordinator with the youth HYPE program, asked Kristen Greenwald, a licensed clinical social worker, to develop the program and Landrum started on as a volunteer. Greenwald is the clinical director of Wild Youth Passages and lead clinician. There is also an assistant clinician in addition to the case managers.

It launched in September and was originally planned to be a three-month program for high schoolers. Now, Wild Youth Passages help five high school students and six middle school students among the case managers, and they are preparing for the next cohort of incoming students.

Landrum reported that a high number of teen participants come from institutionally underserved and historically resilient communities like LGBTQ and Latino teenagers. The teens have moderate to severe acuity mental health challenges, such as depression and severe anxiety. Landrum said the vast majority of had expressed suicidal ideation and been hospitalized at some point when they started treatment.

Wild Youth Passages is just one aspect on a spectrum of care. Participants are required to have an individual therapist, and Greenwald said the program does often see teens individually if appropriate care can’t be found. Greenwald said she serves as the individual therapist for about a quarter of participants. If more care or different resources are needed, Wild Youth Passages will help connect the individual with the proper avenues.

Participants in Wild Youth Passages spend time rock climbing. The experiential group therapy program meets weekly to help middle school and high school students.
Wild Youth Passages/Courtesy photo

Currently, the high school students meet on Wednesdays, while the middle school students meet Saturdays. Landrum said she’s been able to assist with pre-collegiate schooling and get them connected with jobs. Landrum said research has shown it is positive for students to have an adult outside of the household who they trust for guidance.

With parent permission, Wild Youth Passages supports the teenagers outside of the group whenever it is clinically appropriate.

“We aren’t a crisis service, but we do have teenagers who experience pretty acute episodes in their life, difficult moments, and we try our best outside of our typical weekly therapy group to meet them and support them in that,” Greenwald said. “… The goal is stabilization and de-escalation.”

Yet one of the larger aspects of improving the teens’ mental health has been introducing them to the outdoors and other aspects of the county they may be unfamiliar with, such as going mountain biking with The Cycle Effect. The students have also hiked, camped, rock climbed in Buena Vista and went on a backcountry hut trip to Francie’s Cabin with Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center.

Wild Youth Passages is an experiential group therapy program run by Kristen Greenwald. The program involves a variety of activities, such as paddleboarding and kayaking.
Wild Youth Passages/Courtesy photo

Claire DiCola, associate program director for admissions at the education center, partnered with Landrum and Greenwald to organize the events. She said helping people navigate challenges has always been a part of the center, but Wild Youth Passages has been able to take it a step forward with the therapy.

“It is very inspiring,” DiCola said. “It’s been nice to have the consistency of people coming back multiple times in our programs, too.”

The therapy is paying off. Landrum said they are seeing statistical and clinical improvements overall and that there have been zero suicide attempts by anyone in the group. 

The idea in the future is to graduate teens out of the weekly program after a year, Landrum said, and possibly create an alumni program. For the upcoming year, Landrum is hoping to enroll 10 teenagers in each age bracket.

“These kids are opening up,” Landrum said. “They’re telling us about their past and how they feel about things. They’re starting to make some really insightful realizations about who they are and what they want to become.”

Wild Youth Passages is entirely free, including transportation. People can email Greenwald at for more information and an application packet.

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