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Posted: Jul 1, 2009  09:12

Echo Springs Transition Study Center Fosters Emerging Adults


Founded 16 years ago by Doug Kim-Brown, Echo Springs Transition Study Center, located in spectacular Paradise Valley, has found a niche as a transitional living program for young adults ages 18 to 24 years old. After working in adolescent programs for 25 years, Doug realized that there was no program to assist young adults who needed some extra support once they had reached the age of 18.

Students and staff of Echo Springs Transition Study Center.

Unlike other residential programs, Echo Springs is not a therapeutic boarding school nor is it a treatment program. Echo Springs does not "fix" people. Rather, this unique program supports and encourages struggling young adults to develop the life skills tools to continue their lives in a positive, productive manner. Doug defines Echo Springs as an after-care, post placement program that focuses on residential, community living.

"Students come to us because they need a transitional year," said Rhea Verbanic, Administrative Director. "Kids today have grown up in a different world and have a whole lot of problems. Something happened in these kids' lives that derailed them; we just help them get back on track. We focus on collegial, group living.

Students learn self-advocacy skills, how to manage for themselves, self-regulation skills and real life skills. They learn to set limits and boundaries for themselves."

The Echo Springs program is actually a three phase process. First, prospective students arrive at the Center for a three- day interview process to see if the program and the student's individual needs are going to be a good fit. Phase 1 at the Echo Springs campus consists of taking classes to get a GED or finish high school credits, vocational school or college classes, life skills seminars, getting a job in town, doing volunteer work in the community and developing healthy hobbies and interests. The emphasis at this point is on understanding and developing a personal identity as well as establishing common sense rules of living and communicating. Doug said that Phase 1 provides a safe environment for students to find themselves, learn to develop personal goals, a purpose and a direction. At this point, establishing the connection between cause and effect is key for the students.

The Echo Springs staff works diligently to help the students learn to take an extra step in thinking about consequences and options before they make choices.

During Phase 2, students move to Coeur d'Alene in order to attend college, live in an apartment, get a job and begin the process of independent living, while at the same time having the support and guidance of the Echo Springs staff. Following the Echo Springs graduation, the third phase, Phase Out, includes an individually designed program that includes coaching, guidance and support while the student lives independently.

"After having hundreds of students go through our program, students continually say how safe they feel," said Doug. "For the first time in their lives, they feel like they can create relationships that are their own. The small size of the program affords us an emotional intimacy as we enter into positive relationships with the students. They learn that they can be in a relationship that is safe."

Student Daniel Butts, age 21, said, "I came from a wilderness program. Coming out, it was hard to imagine how what I learned there could apply to real life. Echo Springs is the place where I can get real world experience. It's a constant process. It's been good. There are times that were pressured, but I think we all need a little push from time to time."

Doug feels that it is very important for the students to become integrated in the Boundary County community, so community service is an important aspect of the Echo Springs program. The program itself was a major donor to Head Start and gives annually to many causes. Additionally, the students volunteer regularly at the Mt.

Hall Auction, the Festival of Trees, help walk a neighbor's dogs and perform other community service work. Many of the students also hold down jobs in town, which further adds to their community involvement.

"Our students have developed a nice reputation for volunteering in the community," said Doug. "Our students tend to stand out as polite and effective."

Merrill Gannon, age 18, has been a student at Echo Springs for a little over two months. "It's very helpful," she said. "I like it a lot. The people are very nice and understanding. The program has helped me be independent, make decisions, manage my money and my time."

When the students are ready, they also explore the world and learn significant life skills by going on supervised trips to Alaska and Europe.

Doug, Rhea and the other staff members are very proud of the success of the program. Graduates of Echo Springs have gone on to pursue successful college careers that have led them into successful lives as productive, healthy, contributing adults.

"Seeing what happens with these young men and women: the marriages, careers, their own children is so very gratifying," said Doug. "We're just people doing our quiet, little thing. We may not be a big splash, but we've been really solid for a long time."

For more information on Echo Springs Transition Study Center call 208-267-1111 or visit


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