Author Topic: VisionQuest History  (Read 3292 times)

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Offline Ursus

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VisionQuest History
« on: November 17, 2008, 12:14:33 AM »
As of this writing, there appear to be several "Vision Quest" programs in operation. Some of these are other programs, with "vision quest" as part of their name, and some of these are other programs who have specific ventures which are called "vision quests." It can get even more confusing since a "vision quest" can, indeed, refer to a specific type of soul-searching wilderness endeavor, and the term may be flung somewhere into any program's description to lend it more caché.

This thread is not about any of the above. It is about one particular program called VisionQuest which was started in Arizona in 1973, by a man named Bob Burton. The following material from its website is obviously quite self-congratulatory; savvy readers might want to keep in mind the large number of adolescent deaths which have occurred in their programs.

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VisionQuest's Story

In the early 1970’s troubled youth in America were treated very differently than they are today. Youth in trouble with the law -- at times for simply running away from home -- were often locked up in state or county correctional facilities. Private programs were primarily church-run orphanages for pre-adolescent boys, or private mental health and psychiatric facilities for those families who could afford to pay.

Bob Burton had worked in the State of Delaware corrections system for four years when he was placed in charge of the youth detention center for Clark County (Las Vegas) Nevada. In that capacity he was selected to participate in a conference in Long Beach, California on “Corrections of the Future”. During the conference Bob was particularly inspired by the words of a mathematician who predicted that more success could be obtained in the field’s outcomes by having more alternatives, or “redundancy,” patterned after the design of a three-stage rocket. Bob left that conference with genuine enthusiasm for what he wanted to accomplish. He took the ideas of the mathematician to heart and decided that he had to provide an alternative for the “one way in and one way out” way that the corrections system operated.

Little did he know where that decision would take him and the thousands of kids who would be affected by it.

In 1973 Bob found an Arizona judge – John Collins of the Pima County Juvenile Court in Tucson -- who was also fed up with what the system was doing with kids in trouble. A visionary with a heart and little patience for the bureaucracy, Judge Collins placed the first youth into VisionQuest and ordered the State to pay. With financing from Bob’s retirement, and some help from his parent’s credit cards, VisionQuest began operations with a contract to take six youthful offenders from Pima County. While VisionQuest wanted to provide services to youth in their own homes, regulatory and funding mechanisms required that VisionQuest operate as a residential program. A wilderness component was quickly added.

In order to come at the problem from more than one direction, VisionQuest became accredited in the mid 70’s for five years by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals. This early emphasis on process, documentation and quality of care helped shape program development and also finally allowed VisionQuest to provide the home based services that had been its original intent.

By 1976 there were 130 youth in the group homes and home based programs around the state of Arizona. Into this situation entered the Bicentennial Wagon Train. Coming through Tucson on its way to Valley Forge, it made an immediate impression on Bob Burton who was still trying to come at the needs of kids from different perspectives. Intrigued by the drama of recreating history, VisionQuest purchased a wagon and sent the kids from one of its group homes on the cross country trek. The trip was such an extraordinary experience for the participants in terms of promoting competency and teamwork that VisionQuest began finding ways to include more such experiences into its ongoing program for all of the kids. In addition to traveling over 300,000 miles by wagon through all of the 48 contiguous states, over the years kids have climbed mountains, hiked many a trail, taken camels across the country, recreated historic military events, sailed tall ships, driven longhorns from Texas to Montana, run in marathons, and biked from state to state and in wilderness areas.

It was perhaps these challenging outdoor activities that distinguished VisionQuest from many of the other programs that were being encouraged to develop by federal and state agencies as “alternatives to incarceration.” Starting with articles in 1979 in Parade Magazine and Life, in 1981 VisionQuest became an attraction for the national and international media which came in droves to film the unique experiences in VisionQuest. By 1987 every major US network had covered VisionQuest and film crews from Japan, France, Italy, and Germany all came to film major documentaries, some several times.

In a field dominated by non-profit organizations run by community boards of directors and chasing federal and state grants, VisionQuest was a privately held business which wanted to contract on a fee for services basis -- and it was getting a lot of media attention. With that attention came a backlash. In the 80’s many questions were raised about profit making organizations “making money off of kids.”

The amount of money that states spent on lock-ups and institutionalization was enormous and often hard to determine as it was spread throughout many budgets. It was VisionQuest’s intention to get states to disclose what the true costs were and then compete for that money. This seemed only logical to VisionQuest; however it challenged the status quo in the states where VisionQuest operated. There were many bold leaders (judges, state officials and probation officers) who took stands that were unpopular with the stake holders of the old system, and without whom VisionQuest would not have been able to get a foot in the door of their jurisdictions.

Over time, governments began to accept and embrace the idea of purchasing service because of the economies and innovations that were possible. These were the very things envisioned at the Long Beach seminar Bob Burton had attended back in 1973. Purchasers of service became more sophisticated and wanted new types of programs with proven outcomes, and VisionQuest was quick to respond. In 1992 VisionQuest opened its first short term shelter program to help the City of Philadelphia manage its need for shelter beds. In 1994, after a call for military-style short term programs, VisionQuest opened its first Boot and Hat Camp program providing treatment in a highly structured setting. In 1998 VisionQuest opened its first behavioral health component as an outpatient clinic. In 1999, with the need for more gender specific programming, the first Madalyn Program for Girls was opened in South Mountain and later Madalyn at Lady of the Lakes program for young mothers and their infants was opened in Western Pennsylvania.

VisionQuest expanded over the years to the states of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Florida, and California. With each expansion knowledge was gained, expertise developed and trust was built. VisionQuest’s core group of leaders spread out to develop the new states in order to maintain the fabric that has always made VisionQuest succeed – that is, to keep the child in the center.

A key emphasis of VisionQuest throughout most of its years has been to address the needs of minority youth who are disproportionately represented in the correctional system. The development of the Buffalo Soldier program over the years has added depth to the spirit of VisionQuest. Youth of all races have learned history, practiced drills, performed, educated youngsters in public schools and ridden cross country to help pass on the legacy of honor of the Black men who served in the segregated units of the army until the Korean War. This program has taken kids to the dedication of the Buffalo Soldier monument in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, to the steps of the Capital in Washington D.C., to the halls of the Capital in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to the dedication of the Buffalo Soldier trail in Sequoia National Forest and the letting of the Buffalo Soldier Stamp at the Post Office in Los Angeles. With these events and in countless parades across the country, people stand with respect for these young Americans and see them for what they can do not for what they have done. We have been honored over the years to have included veterans such as Fred D. Jones, and Valley Coleman in our programs. Their understanding of the role of young black men in our society has guided us. Re-enactors at events around the country have taken the time to interact positively with our kids and leaders including Colin Powell have met and inspired them.

As the field evolved, some choices were forced upon us. The 1990’s brought in the time of acquisitions, mergers and public offerings. VisionQuest was approached by many financiers, all with the same goal: financial gain. VisionQuest management looked at what some could say were the benefits of going this route – becoming larger immediately, making more of an impact, and immediate financial stability. As more well financed companies entered the field as our competition, there was a reality to our need for capital. But in the end, each of these alternatives would take the children from the center of our attention and replace them with the shareholder.

After much internal discussion and at times dissention, VisionQuest made the decision to stay privately held with one major change: VisionQuest became an employee owned company. Ownership is spread throughout the programs giving all employees a stake in the company’s success. This decision was a turning point that made preserving our legacy a primary part of our business plan. We renewed our commitment to better business practices because in the end if we neglected the bottom line the kid would suffer. Purchasers of our service continue to want new products and we would continue to respond only when there was no large capital outlay.

Our goal became not only to be better financial managers but to improve the infrastructure of our program. Since its inception, VisionQuest’s Board of Directors had been made up entirely of employees. This Board was reconfigured to include a distinguished panel of leaders from different disciplines. With their guidance, management began researching new techniques and proven programs. Increased emphasis was placed on program outcomes through a sophisticated internal evaluation component. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), an evidence based treatment approach has been added as a way for youth to process problem areas within the treatment milieu. Equine Assisted Therapy synthesized our experience with kids and horses, and has become an integral part of treatment program. We began incorporating Functional Family Therapy (FFT), an evidence-based methodology in our non-residential sites. We renewed our relationship with the accrediting body, Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Care Organizations by beginning a multi-year process of becoming accredited as a behavioral health care organization.

The challenge in front of us is to continue to change and develop without losing the fabric which has made us innovative. A training concept of “Legacy Cards – Reflecting a Dynamic Philosophy” instituted throughout the company involves in particular the teachers and the therapists in a process of immersion in the fabric of VisionQuest, developing new leaders who have a connection to the spirit of VisionQuest’s past and who can combine that rich heritage with proven practices is the challenge for our future. VisionQuest’s innovation is that its corporate culture helps to implement and replicate proven program models in a way that will assure VisionQuest’s legacy into the next generation.


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