Therapeutic Boarding Schools and Residential Treatment Centers Prepare Special Holiday Celebrations for Teens Who Are Away From Home This Winter

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Understanding that it is difficult to be away from home for the holidays, therapeutic boarding schools and adolescent residential treatment centers work to make the holidays both memorable and meaningful for students.

We have a saying, 'If nothing changes, nothing changes.' Without an intervention, it is likely that families will be in the same situation this year as last year

It's never easy for parents to enroll their teenagers in a therapeutic boarding school or residential treatment center during the holiday season. But for the sake of teens' safety and a peaceful, enjoyable holiday for the rest of the family, spending one winter away from home is often the best way to ensure that future holidays are full of joy and cheer for all.

For teens who are away from home this winter, some therapeutic boarding schools and residential treatment centers go to great lengths to make the holiday season both memorable and meaningful.

At Turn-About Ranch, a residential treatment center for teens that is on a working horse and cattle ranch in southern Utah, every staff member spends time with the students on one of the major winter holidays. So even though the students aren't spending the holidays with family, they still know they are cared for.

In an effort to help teens remember the true meaning of the holidays and to instill a spirit of giving, the staff and students shovel sidewalks for the elderly, sing carols in the community and find other ways to give to those in need.

"Rather than feeling sorry for themselves, thinking about how they're missing out by being away from home and not getting the presents they wanted, our students take this time to focus on being thankful for what they do have," said Marty Ormond, a program director at Turn-About Ranch. "Gratitude is part of the Turn-About philosophy. We tell the students that life deals us 10 percent, and the other 90 percent is what we choose to do with it."

Being away from home around the holidays can be the positive wake-up call some teens need to make changes in their lives. Therapeutic boarding schools and residential treatment centers give adolescents the opportunity to step back and re-evaluate their decisions, learn new skills and rebuild family relationships.

"Danger exists year-round, whether it's a birthday, New Year's Eve, Christmas day, Hanukkah or any other day," said Ormond. "No matter what time of year it is, if a child is engaging in risky behaviors, every moment parents wait is another moment something bad could happen."

At Aspen Ranch, an adolescent residential treatment center that specializes in equine therapy, teens are treated to a traditional turkey dinner served by staff and their families. In addition to their "family" at school, students have a phone call with their parents and open gifts their parents mailed to them.

Even though it is common for teens to make promises that this year will be different, and parents try year after year to get through the holidays before enrolling their child in a therapeutic program, the staff at Aspen Ranch has found that teens don't change their behavior just because it's a special occasion.

"We have a saying, 'If nothing changes, nothing changes.' Without an intervention, it is likely that families will be in the same situation this year as last year," said Brandon Burr, LCSW, the clinical director at Aspen Ranch.

New Leaf Academy of Oregon, a therapeutic boarding school for girls ages 10 to 14, also works to create a festive holiday environment for its students. Not only are parents encouraged to visit their daughter over the holidays, but students also participate in special holiday activities such as caroling, decorating, baking cookies, creating hand-made gifts for their families and exchanging gifts with fellow students. As part of the month-long celebration, students also volunteer their time at local organizations and charities.

Being away for the holidays may be tough, but being home for another failed holiday may be even worse. "During this season of hope, families need to know there's hope for them, too," said Robbi O'Kelley, MSW, LCSW, CADCII, the executive director of New Leaf Academy of Oregon. "Everyone will be better off when they know things will be different next year."

Programs for Troubled Teens

Turn-About Ranch is a working horse and cattle ranch in Escalante, Utah, that offers young people the opportunity to get an up-close look at the benefits of living and working on a ranch. Students learn the value of hard work, honesty, teamwork and cooperation through hands-on experience, while at the same time receiving intensive individual and group therapy and attending school. To learn more about Turn-About Ranch, call (800) 842-1165 or visit

Aspen Ranch is a co-ed residential treatment center in Loa, Utah, for troubled teens between 13 and 17.6 years of age. Based on the core values of respect, responsibility, relationships and integrity, Aspen Ranch provides adolescents with a supportive structure and therapeutic activities that address specific developmental skill and knowledge deficits as well as emotional and behavioral problems. For more information about Aspen Ranch, call (877) 231-0734 or visit

New Leaf Academy of Oregon is a therapeutic boarding school for girls that specializes in meeting the developmental, social, emotional and academic needs of pre-adolescent and young adolescent girls. With individualized guidance from a staff of caring professionals experienced in working with pre-teen girls, New Leaf students start to define themselves, learn to have fun and improve their family relationships, while fine-tuning the skills they need to successfully navigate adolescence. To learn more about New Leaf Academy of Oregon, call (877) 820-5050 or visit

Aspen Ranch, Turn-About Ranch and New Leaf Academy of Oregon are proud members of CRC Health Group, which offers the most comprehensive network of specialized behavioral healthcare services in the nation. With the largest array of personalized treatment options, individuals, families and professionals can choose the most appropriate setting for their behavioral, addiction, weight management and therapeutic education needs. CRC Health Group is deeply committed to making its services widely and easily available to those in need, while maintaining a passion for delivering the most advanced treatment available. For more information about CRC Health Group, visit or call (877) 637-6237.

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Kevin V. Knutson
Aspen Ranch
(877) 231-0734
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Luke Hatch
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