JASPER – Everyone experiences hardship.
And while adults might feel prepared to grapple with the sadness, anger, or denial that follows a life-changing event, for children, the grief and trauma that follows is nothing short of overwhelming, leaving them without the means to express and process their challenges.
That’s where Jasper Mountain steps in.
When it opened in 1982, its mission was simple: Bring hope and healing to traumatized children.
Located on a historic ranch in Jasper, the Jasper Mountain center is surrounded by a lush forest and hiking trails — designed to give its students a beautiful setting in which to heal and grow.
The non-profit has evolved to become a multi-pronged approach to supporting youth, through education, rehabilitation and healthy-living — sheltering youth from across the U.S.
“The beauty of our setting is that we really treat the mind, body, and spirit of the child,” said Beau Garner, Jasper Mountain executive director. “It’s not only about therapy; we come at it from all angles to make a big difference in these children’s lives.”
From the beginning, the children who came to live at Jasper Mountain talked of physical and sexual abuse, or feeling lost in the foster care system.
“What we’re teaching these children is the ability not to get stuck in those moments (of challenge),” Garner explained. “We’re giving them the tools to help them through those times, rather than turning to something like alcohol or drugs or some other kind of negative behavior. We want them to say, ‘I can do this.’”
Part of that empowerment, Garner says, is developing a vocabulary to express feelings and learning to find focus in the classroom. Starting with drawings or other visual projects, which Garner says can be “surprisingly joyful,” children who “don’t have the language yet can use the creative process to develop the tools to be able to handle their trauma.”
Once a child is deemed a good fit, they enroll in a stay at Jasper Mountain that incorporates group and individual activities, working with trained volunteers and licensed social workers at activities such as counseling sessions and other healing practices, like equine therapy. Or, students from Lane County school districts can be placed in their school, depending on need.
“We partner with all sorts, really,” Garner said. “Anyone who is willing to drive their kid here can come. We’ve got kids from Cottage Grove, Veneta, Junction City, Springfield, and Eugene.”
Delaney McBride works in the barn at Jasper Mountain, and says equine therapy is crucial to maintaining and supporting the broader goals of the program.
“The horses are a mirror into the children’s’ emotions. They’re good about challenging them,” she said. “It brings a level of comfort, to be with the animals. The experience asks them to be respectful and allows them to open up and be gentle, talk and learn new things.”
But while the program is successful, Garner also points out that, because of COVID-19 and other factors, “it’s hard to get in to see a therapist and they’re really overwhelmed right now.”
In addition, he says, many therapists don’t accept insurance, making it difficult for families who need help but may lack resources.
The industry is also feeling the impacts of the workforce shortage.
“For behavioral health programs all across the state and country honestly, we lost our workforces,” he said. “So for a lot of us, the last couple of years, we went back to our roots, literally, working on the floor with the kids.”
Proving just how many people are seeking help at the moment, Garner said that the wait list for Jasper Mountain is pages long.
Jasper Mountain also runs the Stabilization, Assessment and Family Evaluation (S.A.F.E.) Center in Springfield – a shorter program for youth in crisis. It operates similarly to the Mountain campus, just on a shorter time frame.
“Our mission is more than a nice thought,” Garner said. “It’s a daily focus of what we do: we work to bring hope to children and families by facilitating successes rather than failure. We help children and their families to see a better future. In the end, we’re are all here to enhance our physical, emotional and spiritual health. In this quest, there is no finish line.”