“This is the best decision I’ve ever made for my son since he was born.”

Joe and Katya Khouri’s son Kevin was still in the hospital when they began their search for a therapeutic boarding school. After exploring hundreds of options, the family decided on Shelterwood — 6,500 miles away from home in Lebanon. Today, with Kevin now a Shelterwood graduate, parents Joe and Katya are celebrating: “This is the best decision I’ve ever made for my son since he was born,” Katya says.

“Back home in Lebanon, we don’t have therapeutic boarding schools,” Katya explains. Kevin faces both bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder. “It’s either the hospital, or regular school and regular life. We knew Kevin needed something more than that, but couldn’t provide that at home.”

So Joe began the search for his son with the NATSAP directory. NATSAP, the National Association for Therapeutic Schools and Programs, was founded in 1999 as a national resource for programs and professionals assisting young people. From residential and wilderness programs to long-term care and transitional living, all NATSAP organizations are dedicated to serving children, adolescents or young adults. Katya and Joe explored programs across the United States.

Khouri family with Jim Subers Shelterwood 1024x501 “This is the best decision I’ve ever made for my son since he was born.”
Parents Joe and Katya Khouri visit with Shelterwood CEO Jim Subers to share their son’s story of transformation.

“We went through every page of it and looked at 250 schools. We really had to do our research,” Joe says about their rigorous search process. Together with Kevin, Katya and Joe gradually narrowed down the search to 20 schools. They assembled a questionnaire to make their final decision, evaluating everything from the staff-to-student ratio to the financial investment.

“There are so many programs out there and it’s easy to get lost,” Katya says. “At Shelterwood, we knew he would be living a normal life, but within a community that would help him. The program was therapeutic, but Kevin would be living alongside people his age. It’s the only program we found that’s like this.”

Also important to Joe and Katya was Shelterwood’s faith-based approach. “We are Christians, and so we know we have to fight evil with love,” Joe says. “The staff is amazing — everyone has been.”

Katya also smiles as she recalls the impact the mentors had on her son. “The mentors really are like big brothers to Kevin!”

The Khouri family looks forward to Kevin’s future with so much joy. “I’m so happy to see Kevin, the way he is today. I am very confident that he’ll do well.”

As Joe and Katya reflect on the great strides Kevin made while at Shelterwood, they both notice the transformation in their son. “He was so broken when he came here,” Katya says. “There’s a big difference. Now when I look at Kevin, I see a man in this kid.”

Meet Jessica Wood

Jessica Wood, Clinical Director at Shelterwood Academy, loves seeing families restored and relationships rebuilt. Get to know Jessica.

Jessica1 683x1024 Meet Jessica Wood

What Jessica loves most about Shelterwood: Jessica points to the sense of community throughout Shelterwood. “This is a very compassionate environment in which to work, and the importance of family is communicated to our residents and our staff,” she says.

When she was a teen: Growing up in a small town in South Dakota, Jessica loved her strong support system, including her family, friends and youth group. “I also encountered some of the struggles teens today do, and I really leaned on that support system,” she says. Jessica also enjoyed being actively involved in school, clubs and sports, including volleyball and basketball.

We all scream for ice cream: Jessica’s father owned a Dairy Queen in their small town, and Jessica worked there as a teen. She still loves working with ice cream today, especially baking ice cream cakes. Her favorite flavor? Chocolate chip cookie dough.

Before Shelterwood: Jessica earned her doctorate in Psychology (Psy.D.) from the Illinois School of Professional Psychology and is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist for the state of Missouri. She spent more than eight years in residential therapy for children and adolescents. “While I have always loved working with adolescents, I felt something was missing and wanted to incorporate a spiritual element into my work,” Jessica explains. Her family had relocated to the Kansas City area, and her sister-in-law mentioned Shelterwood. Jessica continued to explore Shelterwood and applied for the Clinical Director role. “From the location to my desire to incorporate spirituality into my practice, this was all God’s timing,” she smiles.

Her favorite part about being the Clinical Director: In her role, Jessica says, no two days are the same! “I enjoy getting to be involved in a variety of activities and handling a variety of responsibilities,” she says. She provides therapy to students and their families, explores training opportunities, tackles administrative duties and more. “I really enjoy the opportunity to have a caseload and provide therapy, but also to help others in our team grow. All of our therapists come from different backgrounds, and it is fun to see how it all works together to benefit our students.”

The most unique thing happening in Shelterwood counseling right now: “We’re constantly refining our approaches to therapy,” she says. “From sand therapy to equine therapy to experiential therapy, we’re always striving to advance the therapies we’re providing for our students.”

Family: Jessica has been married to her husband for two years. They have one daughter, Lily, who celebrates her first birthday this month.  

Outside work: Jessica loves staying active and working out. She also enjoys exploring the outdoors with her family, including going on walks. “I also love just relaxing at home as a family and snuggling Lily!” she smiles.  

Best part of her job at Shelterwood: “I love watching families heal and grow in their relationships,” Jessica says. “It is a difficult thing to have your child away from home, and the best part is to watch those reconnections built and those relationships restored.”

College Readiness at Shelterwood

When a student enters a therapeutic boarding school, parents may fear their teen’s college dreams are over. But for Shelterwood students, it’s often the opposite. From our top-tier academics to ACT and SAT preparation, we work hard to help students get ready for higher education on all fronts.

“Just because they’ve entered into a therapeutic boarding school, that doesn’t change their goals,” says Sam Cummins, M.A. Ed., Instructional Specialist at Shelterwood. “It’s not a dead end for higher education. Actually, the door to college is more open than ever.”

Sam has been at Shelterwood for nearly four years. In addition to leading the independent and online studies program, he guides students in preparation for the ACT and SAT exams.

“The way we help students prepare for college entrance exams has really evolved over the past few years,” Sam says. Shelterwood students have an individualized test prep plan. “Since our students come from many different backgrounds and ability levels, it’s important that they can move at their own pace.”

untitled 132 1024x683 College Readiness at Shelterwood
Sam Cummins guides Shelterwood students in ACT and SAT exam preparation.

For both ACT and SAT prep, Sam guides students through on online preparation program. Prep for these tests begins with a diagnostic pre-test, which helps students identify areas in which they are weak. Next, students take a deep dive into these subjects and get trained on the types of questions where they struggle. They’re tested again on these concepts to ensure learning.

Test prep at Shelterwood also covers test taking habits and how to prepare for the test day. Shelterwood helps students with test logistics too, from registration to transportation to and from the exam.

College preparation at Shelterwood extends far beyond test prep. “We offer opportunities both for remedial and for accelerated instruction,” Sam explains. Students in an unhealthy high school environment, for example, may benefit from the chance to complete high school courses earlier and receive their diploma ahead of schedule — so they’re ready to start college earlier. Other students may be very close to high school graduation when they enter Shelterwood; they can seize opportunities for college classes to stay ahead of the curve.

Ultimately, Sam explains, students are better prepared for college because of their time at Shelterwood. “We’re going to work with students not just on their outward behaviors and academic skills, but also their hearts, the way they view themselves and on their goals. We address social skills and heart skills so our teens are ready for college,” he says.

By addressing our students’ educational and therapeutic needs, Shelterwood produces strong results. “We’re seeing students do very well and many are accepted to competitive universities,” Sam says. “It’s important to us to help students achieve their goals.”

Shelterwood receives the NATSAP Gold Seal Award

Everyone on the Shelterwood team is committed to serving our students with excellence. That’s why we’re especially humbled and thankful to receive the NATSAP Gold Seal Award For Evidence-Based Outcomes. This designation is just the latest in our ongoing commitment to measure our success.

As one of the first recipients of this award, this designation demonstrates the positive outcomes taking place every day at Shelterwood, says Rujon Morrison, Program Director. “The bottom line is, what we’re doing here at Shelterwood is working, and the Gold Seal Award says we have the evidence to prove it.”

DSC 3214 Shelterwood receives the NATSAP Gold Seal Award

NATSAP, the National Association for Therapeutic Schools and Programs, was founded in 1999 as a national resource for programs and professionals assisting young people. From residential and wilderness programs to long-term care and transitional living, all NATSAP organizations are dedicated to serving children, adolescents or young adults.

One of NATSAP’s key endeavors is helping their member organizations conduct outcome studies. From this effort comes the Gold Seal program. To receive this designation, a minimum of 70% of Shelterwood students and parents must participate in and complete the outcome study on an annual basis. 

The outcome study provides important scientific evidence to back up the Shelterwood program, Rujon adds. “It’s so important for us to know what we’re doing well and where our opportunities for growth are. We take what we’re doing here seriously, and there’s nothing quite like hard data to support our efforts.”

%name Shelterwood receives the NATSAP Gold Seal Award

Also driving the study is Stacy DeVries, our Shelterwood Research Coordinator. Having worked for our ministry for more than 17 years, Stacey is committed to seeing and tracking student progress. Furthermore, her efforts help our therapy team track clients and interpret the results of these important surveys.

At Shelterwood, we’re gathering data from parents and students several times along the way: within a week of enrollment, upon departure, six months after discharge and then a year after discharge. These parameters mean we’re gathering long-term data, and we’re seeing restoration and transformation that lasts long after a student’s departure from Shelterwood.

“We’re very proud of this award,” Rujon says. “The Gold Seal demonstrates that the Shelterwood program has evidence-based treatment that creates reliable change. The outcome study provides that important scientific evidence that promotes what we’re doing here.”

Therapeutic boarding schools

SW Arch 22 Edit copy 300x198 Therapeutic boarding schoolsWhen is it time to take the plunge?

There are no strict guidelines as to when parents should choose residential treatment as a placement option for their teen. Generally speaking, teens enter residential treatment when their needs are too intense to be managed with outpatient treatment.

When we receive referrals from an outpatient counselor, usually one or more of the following issues is taking place:

  • Outpatient treatment has failed to contain the symptoms and increasing the intensity and/or the frequency of counseling contacts has not stemmed the tide of distress and dysfunction.
  • Available emotional resources for support from friends and family have become depleted or drained, leaving the teen with a lack of support during periods of heightened symptomatology.
  • There is no clear indication for acute inpatient hospitalization.
  • There is considerable diagnostic ambiguity that may be clarified or eliminated by regular or round-the-clock observations in a safe environment—for example, to determine whether a behavioral disturbance is the result of a rapid-cycling mood disorder or concealed substance abuse.
  • There are safety issues, such as escalating levels of substance abuse, disordered eating or purging behaviors, or self-injurious behaviors, that may be reduced in a controlled (but not necessarily locked) treatment milieu that features round-the-clock behavioral observations.

Therapeutic boarding schools fill a gap between outpatient treatment and inpatient hospitalization. But often the medical environment is simply not an effective intervention for most adolescent development issues. A hospital can feel impersonal, short, detached, expensive, and create a label for your teen that will be difficult for them to move past. Outpatient counseling can also feel impersonal to your teen as they tolerate it in an effort to simply get by each week. Unless your teen is motivated to change, outpatient counseling does not have sufficient structure and oversight to require a teen to ‘try change.’ The mere attendance in a weekly session can lull you as a parent into believing something is happening even though no real progress is being made.

Many teens confess when they arrive at Shelterwood that they are desperate for this kind of inpatient therapeutic help. While they might not admit it to their parents, most students realize that without a firm intervention that removes them from their environment, they had no ability to ‘self heal.’ As long as it was possible to avoid change, they were committed to avoiding it. But once they felt the warmth, support, and duration of a therapeutic boarding school, they let their guard down and tried on new ways to live.

Back to School Prep

Being proactive now will help your student feel greater confidence when school starts soon!

263794 10150293573006772 136220011771 7182328 6765550 n 300x200 Back to School PrepFor most of the country, summer is a time of freedom from school for teens. This is a hold-over from a time when most families lived in rural areas where kids were needed to help on the family farm during the warm months of the year.

Many teens use the summer months now to work, travel with family, or participate in sports. In the midst of summer fun, some habits can be formed that don’t translate well to the school year! Here are some tips to help your teen get back into “school shape”:

1. Discipline in sleep habits: My own teen daughter likes to stay up late…and sleep in late. This is a habit I’ll let go until two weeks before school starts. Getting back into the rhythms of a school schedule early will help the first couple of weeks of school be more productive!

2. Read: Reading is perhaps one of the most well rounded academic activities someone can do. If your student hasn’t been engaged in school or learning activities during the summer, encouraging them to read a book or two before the beginning of school will help get their mind back on the track of concentrating on something for more than a minute or two. Take them to the library or bookstore and let them pick out books they are interested in, not just classics, as it will stoke their interest.

3. Transition prep: Is your student stepping into their first year of high school? Maybe entering into a new school altogether? Begin to work right now with them to make sure they are prepped before the first day. Talking with school counselor, teachers or even visiting the school to walk through are all steps you can take when the school is closed for class but staff is in doing work.

4. Goal setting: Take your teen out for ice-cream, and talk about goals for the coming year. Do they want to make the honor roll? Maybe participate in an extra-curricular activity? Let your student guide the conversation, but help them to envision how they can be successful in school. Research shows that the student’s expectation of how well they will do in a given class has a greater affect than almost anything else on how they will actually perform.

Parenting without Tears

Is parenting without tears even healthy? Find out why it is important to have a soft heart.

Have you ever been told that becoming a Christian would make your life better? I have, and I am still waiting for that truth.  When my daughter was struggling with depression and anxiety, it was the most painful time in my life, filled with distress and lots and lots of tears.

praying dad copy 206x300 Parenting without TearsIn church this week, our pastor spoke about ‘lamenting’ and what it means to ‘sow your tears.’  In Psalms 126, David talks about reaping a harvest of joy after tears have been sown. It seems paradoxical, but the pastor gave such a meaningful explanation of grief and suffering that made it seem, well, much more positive and hopeful.  In the book of Ezekiel, God talks about taking hearts of stone from his people and replacing them with hearts of flesh. So, when we become followers of Jesus, our pain actually increases as our hearts are made softer than they were before.

Often our daughter would tell us, “Other parents don’t care if their kids drink, stay out, have sex… so why do you care?”  Sometimes I wish I didn’t care so much, but my relationship with Jesus has actually softened my heart so much that I can’t help but notice and care.  The world tells us to “let go.”  Even counselors will sometimes suggest that your authority and power is limited and so if we can’t stop certain behaviors, we should just accept them.  After all, “they are just teens” and we should just “expect certain behaviors.”  This idea to care less is difficult for a soft heart that recognizes the eternal nature of our humanity.  I am not sure that what we are walking through with our teens as parents should just be endured or ignored.  Maybe instead we should open ourselves up and allow ourselves to feel this pain more deeply and sow our tears…let ourselves feel the full brunt of sorrow.  Throughout the Bible, grief and deep sorrow is one of the first steps in how believers grow and this might be key to how we become better leaders in our homes.

So, what are we supposed to do with all this pain? How do we plant our tears in order to reap joy?  Some of us are really good at trying to overcome our pain, or we minimize it, stuff it down and just hope it goes away. Our culture of individualism even teaches us to ignore pain, have a stiff upper lip, and resolve issues with our own strength. This is destructive because it is not in our nature to ‘hold’ pain and if we don’t recognize our pain we will transmit it to others.  The way to sow our tears is to bring our sorrow, suffering and pain to the God who knows what it feels like. No other god in this world was a sufferer…not one of them was ever weak, vulnerable or in pain. Jesus was. His heart of flesh was perfect, which is why we read that he cried so many times in the stories of His life. He is One who relates to pain, has felt sorrow in the deepest places of His heart and was able to pray and worship His way through those times. Don’t be afraid to lament…to lay down those ugly feelings and get real with Jesus. When we sow these tears, not only does He collect them, but He also plants them into our lives and then brings a harvest of joy out of the dry ground. Try reading through some of the Psalms of lament and use them as your prayers during difficult times. You might be surprised what you reap.


Excellent Transport Agencies

We work with some excellent Transport Agencies.

Tony Pallotto, from Teen Adolescent Placement Service (TAPS), recently visited our campus and is doing some amazing work with families.  Tony has been serving families since 1995 and has an incredible personal story of life-change that would captivate anyone.  Tony has written a book and is going to be the focus of a television show on A&E this summer.  Tony and others like Bill & Chris Harper of Touchdown Transport are high character individuals that got involved with this line of work because of their own family history and they are passionate about caring for you and your teen.  They have big hearts and connect quickly with teens, making transport a positive experience during what is typically a very tumultuous time.   Both Tony and Bill would probably suggest that a skilled Transport Agency should follow these steps:

Parent Preparation and Orientation

-Discuss the teen’s history with parents
-Consult with the teen’s care professionals (educational consultants, psychiatrists, counselors)
-Coordinate all travel arrangements
-Prepare and reassure parents

The Day of Transport
When the transport agents arrive, they should:
-Introduce themselves to the teen
-Inform the teen of what is about to take place
-Listen to the teen’s perception of the situation
During the trip
-Remain non-judgmental
-Answer the teen’s questions honestly
-Show respect and ask that it be returned
-Help the teen accept responsibility and become as open-minded as possible
Upon arrival at the Program
-Assure the teen of the program’s benefits
-Relay observations to the program staff and parents
-Say goodbye to the teen and provide an encouraging word of support

The Best Residential Programs

Matching facility resources and student needs is critical – Here is what to look for

Once the decision is made to place a teen in a residential program, parents face the formidable task of selecting among the many facilities that advertise nationwide. A ‘good fit’ between the family and the residential facility is essential to optimize the chances of a favorable outcome.

Like therapists, residential facilities vary widely in their goals, their theoretical orientation and treatment paradigms, and the specific features of their treatment settings.   Therapeutic programs also very widely in their location, cost, amenities and lengths of stay.

We urge parents to seek out markers of quality and encourage them to ask a lot of questions before committing to a particular program. There are no standardized or nationwide ratings of residential programs, but generally speaking, high-quality residential treatment facilities will have the following characteristics in common:

  • Accreditation and/or licensure: The best residential programs tend to subject themselves to scrutiny and oversight by state licensing authorities. Such licensing and accrediting authorities require strict standards for evidence-based care, documentation, medication storage and handling, and other key aspects of residential care.
  • Fully credentialed staff: Staff who work in the best residential programs must be sensitive not only to the dynamics of each individual client, but also to group dynamics, the dynamics between staff and clients and, perhaps most importantly, the often-subtle indications that a client may be in need of more intensive programming or even hospitalization. Prior experience in inpatient facilities can be quite helpful for residential program staff members.
  • Ready access to urgent and emergency care facilities: Accidents happen and so do intentional acts of self-harm. The best residential programs that have working relationships with local hospitals and urgent care facilities are well positioned to transition patients in crisis to a higher level of care with less disruption.
  • Research orientated: Although costly and time consuming, research is critical to any top quality program. While most programs are founded by well-meaning individuals, many of these founders have created a philosophy and curriculum based on their own life experience. Research-based programming breaks through this bias and forces programs to adhere to the science of change. When programs make research a priority, parents are assured that the staff is focused on outcomes and the future success of their teen is highly valued.
  • Purpose driven: Whether it’s called a statement of faith, a mission statement, or something else, every program has an underlying basic philosophy that drives their program and treatment. This unifying purpose or value statement impacts whom they hire and how they will interact with the teens. It provides critical insight into the beliefs of a program and staff. Asking residential programs what they believe about the nature of man will help you understand the underlying philosophy of the program, which impacts how the program will go about creating change.   Unfortunately, most residential programs are unaware or naive regarding this larger philosophical question. But whether programs realize it or not, their beliefs have a significant and long lasting impact on the teens that they work with. Good programs should stay in touch with former students and will inadvertently continue to share their values long after the students have left. So ask the program what they believe about the nature of man, how people change, and if they recognize a higher power. We place our children in residential programs to be impacted and changed, so it stands to reason that understanding how this change is going to happen and what messages are going to be conveyed is critical.

Counseling isn’t working

When should I place my teen in a facility to get help?

So often it feels like an extreme measure to remove children from their homes and place them in a facility that might be in a completely different state.

There are no well-established guidelines for placing your teen in residential treatment. Generally speaking, teens enter residential treatment when their needs are too intense to be managed with outpatient counseling.

iStock 000007761349Small 200x300 Counseling isnt workingAfter talking with thousands of parents, what we hear most often is…

  1. “Outpatient counseling isn’t working.”

Parents frequently report that their teen seems to be spiraling out of control and increasing the intensity and/or the frequency of counseling has done nothing to stem the tide of distress and dysfunction. No matter how many opportunities they have given their teen to change, counseling, rewards, punishments have all failed to change the direction of their teen’s life.

  1. “Our family has had enough.”  “He was staying with his uncle, but he has worn out his welcome there too.”

All of the available emotional resources for support from friends and family have become depleted or drained.

  1. “I don’t understand it… he has a great life… I don’t understand why he is so depressed or angry or apathetic or lazy or failing….

Parents often experience confusion or ambiguity as to what the teen might be struggling with and are looking for greater insight and clarity.

  1. “We have to lock our bedroom door because he has stolen from us.” “We are afraid to leave her alone.” “She was grounded, but she just shoved me aside to run out the door.”

There are safety issues, such as escalating levels of substance misuse, self-injurious behaviors, or physical acting out that may be reduced in a controlled treatment milieu.


%name Counseling isnt workingAt Shelterwood Academy we can provide round the clock observation in a controlled environment. This level of stabilization helps clarify behaviors or emotions and allows parents to regain control of their homes. Reducing the impact of the teen in the home often protects siblings and enables parents to re-establish their relationships with one another. This renewed strength empowers parents and many families have reported to us that they felt the time out in a residential setting was critical in their own lives. The stress of worry, self doubt with regards to parenting skills, and the anxiety about their teen’s future were all greatly reduced while their teen was in residential care.