Consortium to honor 20 years of Raven's Way on Aug. 20

Posted: Sunday, August 09, 2009

SITKA - The SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium Yéil Jeeyáx Raven's Way youth residential substance abuse treatment program will celebrate 20 years of service with a full day of festivities on Aug. 20.

The celebration takes place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Gil Truitt Activities Center at Sitka's Mt. Edgecumbe High School. Festivities include a slide show about the program, a speech from a former student about how Raven's Way saved his life, lunch, Tlingít dancers, a student transition ceremony for the current session and tours of the Raven's Way facilities at the nearby SEARHC Sitka campus.

"It is wonderful to be celebrating the 20 successful years of Raven's Way," said Rebecca Howe, SEARHC Raven's Way Interim Program Director. "Over the years there have been many former students and their family members who have let us know that their attendance at Raven's Way positively changed their lives. That is truly the spirit of what we are going to be celebrating; the courage of the young people who leave their families and come to a new place for 40 days to show their strength and ability to make changes in order to become healthy again. It is for all those students that we will be celebrating."

Over the past 20-plus years, more than 1,000 students ages 13 to 18 from 144 Alaska communities have participated in the Raven's Way program. This culturally relevant program has been ranked as the most successful youth substance abuse treatment program in the Indian Health Service system, and several other youth substance abuse treatment programs nationwide now are modeled after Raven's Way.

Under the current program format, groups of 8-12 "students" (never "patients") go through the 40-day program, living together in a family style atmosphere. The students have classroom sessions at SEARHC's Sitka campus (which includes a ropes challenge course), more sessions at a Raven's Way camp on nearby Biorka Island, a wilderness expedition at various locations near Sitka, then a wrap-up session at the Sitka campus.

In addition to the ropes challenge course and wilderness expedition, students receive substance abuse counseling and treatment for any co-occurring disorders (such as depression or ADHD [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder]), three hours a day of school with a certified teacher and exposure to many Alaska Native cultural activities, such as drum making, bead work and the sweat lodge, to reconnect with their culture. Instead of focusing on punishment or illness, the Raven's Way program teaches students healthy life skills that prepare them for life after treatment.

"Graduates have the tools to choose a healthy, substance-free lifestyle and avoid the risk of chronic alcoholism and drug abuse," said Melody Price-Yonts, SEARHC Behavioral Health Division director.

Raven's Way staff members also are collecting personal testimonies about the program from past graduates that will be compiled in a guest book. Graduates who want to participate can e-mail their stories to or call Howe at 907-966-8719 in Sitka or 1-800-770-3063 (toll-free in Alaska).

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