According to current statistics compiled by the CDC and the Youth Risk Behavior Survey in 11 areas of drug use and at-risk behavior, rates have increased or remained the same in every measurable category. Two of the statistics inform the need for programs directed towards high school students diagnosed with conduct disorders with a dual diagnosis of substance abuse. A staggering 40% of high school students have used marijuana and over 25% of all students surveyed were offered, sold, or given illegal drugs on school property. Lastly, the fact that there has been a 200% increase in adolescent suicide rates indicates the need for specialized programs catering to teenagers.
In Orthodox Jewish communities, what 15 years ago was a problem of marginal substance abuse has evolved into more extreme and addictive usage. This is in part due to the complex and conflicting aspects of identity formation for this religious population. What started as “hanging out” quickly evolved into more complex and extreme behaviors. Teens in crisis are increasing their involvement with theft and drugs (often becoming dealers), and are becoming more involved in violent crimes.
In addition to these increases, the average age range for troubled teenagers “in-crisis” has expanded from 16-19 to 14-23 and beyond. Reaching the age of 20 is no longer a panacea for troubled teenagers.
What today seems to be barely manageable out-of-control teen angst often grows into adult level dysfunction when left solely to the well-intended non-professional or layperson. Personality disorders are often the natural result of untreated situations of dysfunctional environments. Looking at escalating behaviors and not seeing an end can be frightening for parents and children alike. Due to the speed at which these issues have assaulted our community, coordinated and professional programming does not currently exist to treat and guide these individuals and their families while maintaining and respecting their religious beliefs and standards. While the statistics in the religious community are lower, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, less than 65% of American children are living with both biological parents.
The V.L.E. is located in an isolated region of upstate New York where solitude and freedom from the distraction of the bright city lights is guaranteed. In the V.L.E., they can act out all they want, but the sparks just won’t ignite the fire. Participants come to the open space of the wilderness, where their defense mechanisms do not work, and natural consequences will teach them that cooperation can replace aggression. They will be instructed and guided on how to live in the wilderness where their basic survival skills will give them a chance to begin life anew.
What makes the V.L.E. unique is that our staff is comprised of extensively clinically trained and Torah observant professionals. This is in addition to the fact that the V.L.E. is the only 100% clinical wilderness program in the world to be guided by some of the leading Rabbinic figures involved with at risk youth and mental health. Our medical director is a board-certified psychiatrist and clinical services are provided by licensed social workers. According to current research, wilderness programs result in significant decreases in family conflict, substance abuse and school problems.
Our wilderness guides are certified by the AMGA (American Mountain Guides Association) and are certified in CPR, first aid, and wilderness first aid. While our activities will challenge participants to hike, climb, paddle, and cave, safety always remains our top priority.
“We’re just here to help them through whatever struggles they might be going through; help them learn to be at peace with themselves, to feel good about themselves, to have hope. And the change we see is tremendous, sometimes. These are people that if they wouldn’t be coming here, could end up in jail. Who knows? Dead. You know, definitely, they can end up unhappy, if they get married; there could be divorce. These are people that aren’t headed to great places. And they come here, and they can be a serious transformation through what we do here.”
-Menachem, V.L.E. Wilderness Director