Ironwood Maine Parent Testimonial

Hi Wes and Sue,

Thank you for your congratulations! Yes, we think he is pretty amazing too! This is a long note, so I apologize in advance. I guess it is my own way of processing our profound Ironwood experience. Which I know we will continue to do for a very, very long time. You have both created an exceptional therapeutic program. Beyond our expectations.

We missed you last Friday. What an absolutely amazingly personal graduation ceremony. I wish every young person could have that experience. We are so thankful that our Alek was able to. I cried through most of it, as I imagine many parents do. Bill and I don’t know how to adequately express our thanks and gratitude for what Ironwood has given our son, as well as our whole family this year. Ironwood will hold a very special place in our hearts forever. I thank you for being here when I made that call just over a year ago. The work that is done at Ironwood is life changing. We have met so many wonderful people at Ironwood and you have shown what kind of positive change is possible with intensive therapeutic supports and guidance, structure and compassion. The reset our son received is nothing short of a miracle.

A year ago Alek was engaged in many unhealthy behaviors. He had not been following rules for quite some time, was lying on a daily basis, and his oppositional behavior was escalating to a point that was becoming scary. He was spending countless hours every day video gaming, and attempts to reign him in were not working. We had tried outpatient therapy and he would not engage. His school seemed only interested in pushing him through with passing academics. Years of asking for school services tailored to his emotional and social cognition needs went unanswered. His social skills were almost zero, and the only friends he had were just reinforcing his unhealthy habits. It was a true miracle he had not been hurt or hurt someone else, or got in trouble with the law. He had almost no self-esteem and little hope for his future. We didn’t know where to turn.

The week we brought Alek to Ironwood had been horrible. One night at the beginning of that week he had escalated at home and gave me a look of defiance that I had not seen before. His step-dad said to me, “we have to do something”. For months we had been looking at different wilderness programs, intensive Outward Bound programs, therapeutic schools, but I just hadn’t found the right match. When I asked Alek’s therapist what he suggested, he had no ideas. Alek wasn’t suicidal, and for most in mental health, that seems to be the criteria for anything “inpatient or residential”. We knew we were not going to give up on our son. So that fateful night, I got on my computer one more time and typed in “schools for struggling teens”. And that night, in our truly most desperate hour, Ironwood’s website popped up. I read through the site quickly, found Billy and said…”I’ve found it”. I am not sure why it had never come up before. Maybe it was because we were finally ready to do what we had been talking about for months. The rest is history. Alek enrolled less than a week after I found your website.

This past year incredible. A learning opportunity I wouldn’t change for anything. The first few months were really hard. I had to come to grips with what I had done. I had just left my son off with complete strangers! But I knew he was in good hands. My conversations with Sue reinforced what I had learned from the website. When I dropped Alek off, Molly gave me a tour of the campus and I was filled with hope. I met some of the students and my first thought was that these were kids he would be able to relate to. Alek had real struggles those first few months for sure. And to be honest, we were not sure it was working until about five months in. There was still a lot of manipulation in both Alek’s letters and in our family therapy sessions. Both Nicole and Krissy Pozatek (who we hired for some parent coaching) were great at reassuring us that indeed progress was being made. We had come to trust them both and because of that we hung in there. We felt this was our last shot at making a difference and we firmly committed to giving it our all. Nicole and Krissy were so right! After Alek turned 18 and voluntarily signed himself in, he slowly began to take ownership of his own journey. The last two months or so were especially meaningful.

Everyone has worked so hard with him. He talks about staff with fondness, and I know so many have had a profound impact on him. During family weekends I observed many lighthearted moments with staff interacting with Alek and I could see true connection. We came to know more of the staff ourselves, and our own connection with Ironwood grew. Each visit I could see and feel the progress he was making. It was never easy to go home from those weekends without Alek, but I always left knowing he was well cared for both physically and emotionally.

Alek is so solid right now. His thinking is clear. He has developed abstract social skills and a much more advanced ability to perspective take. He can roll with the punches in a way I have never seen before. He is self-confident and optimistic about his future! He can see that he has the ability to be successful in many different areas. He is open to our suggestions and we have lighthearted, mature discussions. It all feels SO GOOD!!! I have no doubt he will make mistakes, but the difference now is that he accepts redirection quickly and without animosity. He has the ability now to learn from his mistakes and grow. He is willing to accept the boundaries and rules we have in place, and knows that as he moves forward and demonstrates his personal responsibility there will be more and more freedom. As Billy and I said yesterday, each good day is one in the bank of positivity and growth, another step in the right direction.

It is hard to explain his program to those who don’t have an understanding of a therapeutic school. The depth of what he (and our family) received is incredible. Ironwood was such a stretch for us financially, but it truly is a case of “you get what you pay for”. In our minds, it was worth every penny. The quality of your therapists, educators and staff is exceptional. The grounds and access to animals both large and small is amazing and that impact cannot be underestimated. Dr. Clemons psychiatric care was phenomenal. After years of struggling with medical management of Alek’s ADHD, we finally found a treatment that is helping him. I could go on and on.

I want to do a shout out to Nicole. She feels like a member of our family now. Her caring, strength, her professional expertise-she is one in a million! Alek finally knows what a good therapeutic relationship can do, and he has learned to trust.

Emmet made a connection with Alek early on in his program. Obviously Emmett is much more than a talented chef, he is an incredible mentor and coach. And now Alek wants to explore the culinary world himself!

Joy and her equine magic. We had the opportunity to participate in EAP and it WAS MAGICAL. We all had a profound experience and came away with some incredible insights.

Molly was so professional, caring and kind as we slugged through the evaluation process and developing a new IEP. And then she developed Alek’s extension program, which I know was a lot of extra work. That was another positive just when Alek needed it. Alek really felt she was someone in his corner. I am so sad I did not have the opportunity to say goodbye to her in person.

Alek talked often of the lessons he learned from Darrin. More than things Darrin taught Alek, his model of caring was something that Alek said he hopes to emulate.

There were so many other staff members that Alek mentioned, and I don’t know their names. Suffice it to say, he made a lot of connections with MANY caring staff. Once he could let himself feel their care, he began to soar.

We (our whole family) are here to help other families however we can. I know Alek wants to return to mentor (and have lunch with Nicole!). Billy and I are always happy to talk with prospective families, or any families that may be struggling especially in those first few months. We have been there for sure.

Thank you again. Alek’s life, and our life as a family have taken a 180. This is the life I always envisioned for my son. One where he feels his inner strength and autonomy. Today is an amazing day and I know there are many more ahead for him and for us.

All our best to you both and the whole Ironwood team!!!!

Carolynn, Bill and Alek