We believe the strength of our Therapeutic Expedition Program BOE can be measured by the quality of the experience of our participants and families. Throughout out existance, we have received unsolicited testimonials from people who wished to share with us an others the powerful, positive impact from our program. Please feel free to read some of these testimonials that are listed below.
To whom it may concern,
This letter is hard for me to write, because I find it difficult to put into words everything I got out of my time with the Blackwater Outdoor Experience. Upon the beginning of our trip, I was confused as to where my life was headed, and short on hope. I learned many lessons I will hopefully never be able to forget. I would say the biggest lessons I learned were one, to have confidence, and two to keep hope for not only myself, but for the world in general.
The counselor and trail guide were two people that I grew to respect immensely. Through my constantly growing respect for the leaders, I was able to confide some of my most intimate troubles and secrets. I will admit before beginning the trip I had concerns as to what it would be like to be separated from civilization with five total strangers. Fortunately, it not only led to me gaining not only five of the best friends I’ve ever had, but five amazing confidants. Being separated from the distractions of day to day life is a true gift because it enables one to appreciate the simply beauty of life and all it has to offer. I would highly advise any of my own friends to take this trip, because I think anyone could benefit from the experience, no matter what their personal circumstances are. In my final thoughts I would like to share a personal favorite quote, “Remember, it takes heat and pressure to turn carbon into diamonds. The pressure of challenges is what shapes and forms us.” Melody Beattie. Good luck.
A Student’s Story:
I was approached by Dr. George Bright my very first session about going on one of his trips. To tell you the truth, I tried to avoid the subject. I was not amused nor did I want to go. My parents, on the other hand, thought it would be a great idea and pushed the subject further. I then became uncomfortable with the situation, not wanting to go, but not wanting to say anything either; that’s all part of codependency. But time passed and situations occurred and my parents really pressured me into going. There was a ton of events happening the weekend my parents wanted me to go and for once Richmond would be a cool place to be. But after another discussion or two, I decided I’d go.
Looking back, it was one of the best decisions of my life. I have never learned so much about myself, life, and others. I had a greater understanding and appreciation of both my life and others. I don’t think Dr. Bright should call the experience a trip, he should call it a gift. A no refund, non-exchangable, loving, caring, and learning present to those who will greet it with open arms.
A fellow “gift-receiver,” now a friend, said the night before we left that the experience made him realize life was just like rock climbing, “you’re always looking for the next hand hold.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. It’s not what you get out of life but what you make of it.
The whole way up to Davis, I felt as if I’d be in a competition on the rock to do better than everyone else, to climb higher and be the best. Once I got to the rock and was climbing I realized how wrong I was. I challenged myself to the highest extreme and refused to give up. I was determined! Life seemed so much different, so much more valuable so far up in the sky.
On Saturday, we reached the end of our climb. We were 10 feet or so from the top of the summit, the only problem was all the hornets in our way! Everyone decided not to go, except me. Something motivated me and made me think that where we were just wasn’t good enough. What’s a hornet sting after climbing up a hundred or so feet of solid rock with nothing but air immediately under? So, I went up and was soon followed by another girl, Jenny. We sat at the top of the summit and never before had I had such a sense of accomplishment and excitement. Looking down at our “micro machine” village “all of our troubles seemed so far away.”
To everyone that went and to God for putting that mountain there, I really can’t thank you enough. I know it will sound weird, but you really don’t know what life’s about until you have your own life or someone else’s in your own hands. If this gift was ever offered to me again I would welcome it with open arms.
A note from a student:
The Blackwater Experience gave me so much I’m not sure where to start. Prior to the program I was at a definite low point in my life, and had some difficult decisions to make, some of which I wouldn’t have complete control over. The 22 days at BOE really helped slow things down for me and enabled me to reflect on how my lifestyle and bad decisions leading up to that time had put me in such a dilemma. The isolated environment allows you to get in touch with your true self and what your strengths and weaknesses as a person are. Blackwater removes the distractions of everyday life, and instead surrounds you with the beauty of nature that you’ll learn to appreciate and then truly miss one it’s all over, as I did.
Sharing this experience with others my age that were going though problems of their own gave me valuable insight, while the counselors that were roughing it right there with us were able to give great direction and life skills for us to take back home. Enough cannot be said about the great staff at Blackwater. While they had my trust and respect from day one, by the end they were people I truly admired and looked to as role models and examples of how I wanted to live my own life.
That you for everything Blackwater, and I would recommend this gift of an experience to anyone who wants to get more joy and fulfillment out of life.
From a participant’s point of view:
I participated in the Blackwater Outdoor Experience when I was sixteen [five years ago]. On the trip I learned how to be strong and more sociable. Through interactions with the counselors I learned how to communicate with my family, and ways to compromise during arguments or simple disagreements.
Working with the others on the trip, I learned how to work with a team, which helped when I got home. The counselors taught me how to be more confident in myself, and things I could do to help my self-esteem.
Thinking back, a few years after my BOE trip, there wasn’t one particular thing that helped me in life, but many. From the ride in the van, making new friends, learning new skills, learning to help myself, and looking out for others, each and every experience made me a better person.
From a mother’s point of view:
How did we get to this point? I have asked that question a million times. There are a lot of factors that, combined together, created a chaos in our household that I never imagined would exist.
My husband and I love our boys. My oldest, Steven, is my son from a previous marriage, and Scott is our youngest. There is a five-year difference between the boys. How many aspects of our ‘blended family’ have contributed to our state of living? Here are a few of the possibilities: Step-parent, little/big brother, competition, favoritism. The trouble is not blending family members; it is the understanding and work needed to strengthen each member of the family.
By the time Steven was 16 years old he had attended private Christian schools, public school, and endured homeschooling for several years. We always tried to give him the best of what we could, not always what he wanted. He just never seemed truly ‘happy.’
After expulsions from the public school system, for drug paraphernalia, he had hit a brick wall. The arguing at home was constant. We never knew what would set him ‘off,’ or what he would do when he got angry. His self-esteem was at an all-time low, and nothing motivated him to do the ‘right’ thing, or make ‘good’ choices. What are parents supposed to do when their teenage son is out of control?
We started taking Steven to see Dr. George Bright for educational testing, and later for assistance with his ADHD. As Dr. Bright talked with Steven he suggested we send him on one of the Blackwater Outdoor Experiences. AT that point we had nothing else to lose. The distance between our family ‘members’ was a vast expanse, and there seemed no bridge in sight.
I do not know every aspect of the Blackwater trip my son attended. What I do know is the boy that left on that Sunday afternoon was not the same boy we met twenty-three days later! The four boys that completed that trip came back changed.
The tools Steven learned, while on the Blackwater Outdoor Experience, have stuck with him. I am not going to tell you it has been easy, or perfect, or without several lapses or poor judgment and mistakes from him and from us. The good points, however, have far outweighed the bad.
I know, in my heart, if he had not attended the Blackwater Outdoor Experience Steven would be incarcerated or worse. The path he was on has no other ending. That trip brought my son back home to us.
As I think back to my angry, scared, confused, addicted, misunderstood teenager that hated life and himself, I want to remind any parent reading this not to know there is a brighter future for your child. You are not in this alone. Find the courage. Stand up, and take control of the situation. Make your family whole once again!
Letter from a parent:
When Dr. Bright asked me to write a letter about our experiences with his practice and the Blackwater group, I immediately agreed. We owe our son’s life to him and those who work with him.
One year ago, during the March snowstorm, our son was in a very dark place. As parents we were at a loss. Through his years of alcohol and drug addiction, we saw glimmers of who he used to be. But mostly we saw a very, very sad and angry young man. He was angry at the world, and at himself for “throwing away” all of his promise. John saw no hope for himself. Bad choices led to bad consequences that he has to live with the rest of his life and that present roadblocks to future possibilities. This was a child was Mr. Everything – an academic scholar, an athlete, very tied to into his church, and popular. Why he chose to use drugs we will never understand. Why we were unable to help is a pain we will always carry.
But on this March day, as I was trying to talk to John to see what I could do to help him, he told me that he had been in the emergency room the day before and a doctor there had tried to talk him about this future and the need for him to get well. The doctor gave him a card of Dr. Bright’s and suggested he contact him. Over the past years, John was convinced he was dying and that no one was listening. He had many physical symptoms but was told they were the result of anxiety and stress.
I saw this as an opening. I believed John was reaching out. John had been through an outpatient rehab program in years past but did not but in to the experience. He refused NA/AA meetings and would go to a psychiatrist for a few times, but primarily for medication that he did not take properly or consistently.
Calling Dr. Bright’s office was so very difficult and scary for me. From the first person who answered the phone to the present, everyone associated with Dr. Bright has been warm, welcoming, non-judgmental and genuine. I got put right through to Dr. Bright. I told him that I felt my son was disappearing before my eyes. He checked his schedule and asked if John could come in that afternoon. When I told John I made an appointment, he reluctantly agreed to go “for me.” To say this step was the beginning of the rest of John’s life is an understatement.
Whatever it is that makes Dr. Bright who he is, John trusted him immediately and began to believe that he could get better. But John would not get better unless he stopped his drug and alcohol use. To do that, Dr. Bright believed that going to the Blackwater Outdoor Experience would begin that process – 22 days in nature, away from the temptations, beginning to work on himself and his sobriety. It took some work –John was not receptive to this idea right away. One day he was waiting to see Dr. Bright and another parent heard his conversation about Blackwater. Her own daughter had gone through the program and was now sober for 9 months. She talked to John and he saw me in this other mother. He saw that she was proud of her daughter. This encounter helped him make his decision. The Blackwater director did not give up on John –he met with him numerous times, and with my husband and myself, talking about the experience and the positive outcome it could have for John. Up until the day he left, we weren’t sure he would go. But he did. And so began the second phase of John’s recovery. The therapist and guide who took John and the others on the trip were exceptional. John was scared to death to go –he told us he would probably not come back alive. This may seem melodramatic but it truly was and had been a significant fear for my son. John took full advantage of this experience –the three day “solo” was powerful for him. For those three days he was alone with his own thoughts –working on himself. He overcame challenges during the trip and saw strength again in himself. The culminating family weekend was powerful and, yes, painful. But we began to communicate again as a family, set guidelines and begin to heal.
The subsequent therapy with Margie Crow at Dr. Bright’s office, the medication he is taking, and the profound respect and trust he has in Dr. Bright has led to John’s 8 months sobriety to date (4+ years now). He started his first professional job in January and seeing him leave for work in a shirt and tie is unbelievable to me. While he is a UVA graduate, you would not know it from the jobs he held and lost –mostly restaurant, kitchen type jobs.
I have begun to see my son again –obviously he has changed through the experiences of the past 10 years. It is a process and he has work still to do. But he is doing it. He is in therapy. He takes his medicine. He is working a job that makes him feel respected. Most importantly, he is sober.
Without Dr. Bright and those who work with him, and Blackwater, I know that my son could be dead today. We were one of the families that needed a partial scholarship to help pay for Blackwater. My husband and I plan to make Blackwater the primary recipient of our charitable donations.