Tribute to Nita Hooker During the Annual Loa Fund Fundraiser

LOA Fund Chair of Directors, Derek Daley, started working as a wilderness therapy field instructor more than a decade ago. As a young field guide Derek was unaware of the high costs of wilderness therapy. In his naiveté he enthusiastically shared his experiences and growing confidence in the power of wilderness therapy to a group who had children or loved ones in need of treatment. His persuasive presentation brought several people to apply for treatment only to find that the high costs associated with intensive therapy in the wilderness were prohibitive.  Derek’s surprise and embarrassment sparked a determination to make a difference by finding ways to make wilderness therapy more accessible to economically disadvantaged clients.


After raising $120,000 and providing scholarships for wilderness therapy treatment for several clients, the LOA Fund hosted a charity and fundraising event on Thursday, April 18th in Provo, Utah. The event was well attended and participants heard personal stories from three LOA Fund recipients.


The audience listened attentively as each young man shared pieces of his own story. All three experienced a loss of control over their substance use that resulted in incarceration, destruction of their most valued relationships and the deep loss of personal confidence and identity. Their loved ones knew that they needed help and, without the help of the LOA fund, would have been unable to finance wilderness therapy. The Legacy Outdoor Adventure alumni explained that other rehab options hadn’t worked and that what they gained in the wilderness was what they really needed.


Honor was paid to Nita Hooker, wife of the late Keith Hooker who played a key role in developing risk management practices for wilderness therapy and adventure therapy since its genesis. Nita Hooker and the Hooker family continue to be strong supporters of the field of wilderness therapy, and were major contributors to the scholarships awarded to the young men who spoke at the event.


The final speaker of the evening, Butch Scott, shared the story of his late son Jake who lost the battle of addiction. After maintaining sobriety for 6-months and experiencing the restoration of his confidence, the speaker’s son took a fatal combination of drugs and lost his life. The tragic story grounded the good feelings of the evening with the realization that, for addicts, everyday must include the determination and commitment to holding strong to the principles of sobriety.


The event was catered by “Catering for the Cause” who provides job opportunities to people in recovery and also helps raise money to provide scholarships to financially challenged clients. Many of the employees of Catering for a Cause were alumni from treatment programs who attended the event. The tone and feeling of the event was reflective, optimistic, and had the feeling of a family reunion.
The event was counted as a success by Derek Daley and is the first of many to come.


Wilderness therapy group raises money for scholarships

PROVO — On Thursday night, Dr. Keith Hooker was honored for his 40 years of work and service in the Utah medical community at a fundraising dinner for the Legacy Outdoor Adventures Fund. Held at the Provo City Library, Derek Daley, founder of the LOA Fund, honored Hooker, who died of cancer in June, by presenting a plaque to his wife, Nita. All proceeds went to the LOA Fund, which provides scholarships for wilderness therapy for people suffering from addiction and mental illnesses.

Wilderness Therapy Programs Less Risky Than Daily Life, UNH Research Finds

March 28, 2012

Wilderness Therapy Programs Less Risky Than Daily Life, UNH Research Finds

DURHAM, N.H. – Adolescents participating in wilderness and adventure therapy programs are at significantly less risk of injury than those playing football and are three times less likely to visit the emergency room for an injury than if they were at home, a new study by University of New Hampshire researchers finds. These findings, based on an analysis of risk management data from 12 programs providing outdoor behavioral healthcare in 2011, were reported in the latest issue of the Journal of Therapeutic Schools and Programs.

“After ‘does this program work?’, the question most asked by people considering adventure therapy is ‘will my child be safe?’” says Michael Gass, professor of outdoor education in the kinesiology department at UNH, who wrote the article with lead author Stephen Javorski, a UNH doctoral student. “While no one can guarantee the unconditional safety of any child, we can now show the relative risk levels for adolescents. This study shows there is actually less risk to participants on wilderness therapy programs, when they are conducted correctly, than to adolescents in their normal everyday activities.”

Adventure therapy, described as the prescriptive use of wilderness adventure experiences to improve the mental health of clients, primarily serves adolescents and is often seen as a treatment of “last resort” for these youth, who typically present with three or more dysfunctional behaviors such as depression, substance abuse, and suicidal ideologies. Gass, a leading expert in the field, estimates that there are more than 200 such programs nationwide ranging from multimillion dollar programs to individual counselors who might informally take a group or class into the woods.

For this study, Gass and Javorski looked at incident and illness data collected by the 12 adventure therapy programs that comprise the Outdoor Behavioral Health Industry Council for 2011. Analyzing injuries that required a client be removed from regular programming for more than 24 hours – including injuries treated in the field as well as those that required evacuation to a medical facility — the adventure therapy programs had an injury rate of .11 injuries per 1,000 days in 2011, or one injury for every 9,091 client-days. The estimated national average rate of injuries for adolescents treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms was three times that rate (.38 per 1,000 days).

Adventure therapy programs boast even stronger safety records when compared to other common activities of adolescents. Injuries during high school football games are more than 140 times greater than those in adventure therapy programs, which boast lower injury rates than snowboarding, downhill skiing, mountain biking, backpacking, and football practice.

“I’m hoping that this research will counter the public perception that these programs are dangerous,” says Javorski. “Well-managed programs are not dangerous, they’re not exposing kids to undue risk, and they’re not overusing physical restraints.”

The researchers offer several reasons for the dramatic relative safety of these programs. As the field has developed, says Gass, risk management standards have improved; he notes that the programs in the OBHIC are among the leaders in the field. And our perception of risk colors how we view the risk of “everyday” activities.

“Driving a car is more dangerous than hiking in the wilderness, particularly with trained staff,” Gass says. “These programs remove adolescents from other accepted yet higher-risk situations like driving.”

What’s more, the effectiveness of these programs makes them not just safe but saviors to parents of the very troubled adolescent clients. “Many parents say, ‘this is the one thing that can save my child,’” Gass says. He and his colleagues are researching how and why adventure therapy works, but he is confident that their potency is at the intersection of adventure programming and therapy.

“The pill that we’re offering is the positive use of stress coated by appropriate levels of care and support,” says Gass, co-author of the leading academic and training text in the field, “Adventure Therapy: Theory, Research and Practice” (Routledge, 2012).

In response to the growth in the wilderness therapy field, UNH launched the nation’s first dual social work-outdoor education degree in 2009; the two-and-a-half-year program awards both a master’s in social work and a master’s in kinesiology. Graduates of the program, administered by Gass and Anita Tucker, assistant professor of social work, are all working in the expanding field of adventure therapy.

The member-programs of the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Industry Council that provided incident data to this study are the Anasazi Foundation (Ariz.), Mountain Homes Youth Ranch (Utah), OMNI Youth Services (Ill.), Open Sky Wilderness Therapy (Colo.), Redcliff Ascent (Utah), Second Nature Cascades (Ore.), Second Nature Entrada (Ore.), Soltreks (Minn.), Summit Achievement (Maine), Legacy Outdoor Adventures (Utah), Outback Therapeutic Expeditions (Utah), and Wendigo Lake Expeditions: REACH (Ontario). This study was funded by the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Industry Council (OBHIC).