A Place for Growth

As I drove up to Embark at The Forge, I saw green meadows out of which mountains rose in a fall setting. On my windshield, sun blazed out of blue space between clouds. Around me were shocks of autumn colors on the trees. Pulling up to the gold and brown school building, stepping out of my car, I felt the power of the 55 acres in which the Forge is nestled. Growth is the purpose of our rural counties in America, and that growth is clearly reflected in the Forge.

To make growth fundamental to teen boys, it must occur at deep levels, which means a boy’s new home for this time in his life must devote its personnel, land, and guiding ideas to what makes males tick. Teen boys are both tender and tough. They are searchers after magnificence yet convinced of their own inadequacy. They are often depressed or terrified, but always seek the resilience with which to become good men.

I spent time at Forge this last week and it is clear to me that the school as a whole is culture devoted to finding each boy where he is and helping him grow a resilient and successful path to adult life from there.

Boys learn and grow through action more than word, authentic relationship more than virtual life, and they grow because caring adults befriend and nurture them who understand boys. It is all well and good to talk about everyone being “human,” and indeed we all are, but boys are also boys and men are also men. Tapping into what is already built into their fundamental structure–helping healthy masculinity rise out of a boy and pour into him—a culture can utilize all the potential assets at our disposal.

Filling a Need

For quite a long time, it has seemed to people in the residential treatment sphere that more wilderness assets for teen boys ought to exist close to the Eastern part of the U.S., even near Atlanta, where teen boys in need could go for long and short term wilderness help. Embark at The Forge is filling this need.

My involvement with the Forge started with a phone call from one of its creators at CALO/Embark Behavioral Health. Chris Perkins, Director of the Calo Division, told me he and others decided to bring together the already proven CASA residential treatment model with the also proven Gurian model of healthy male development. I was honored to come on board as a consultant. The joining of CASA/CALO and Gurian/boy-friendly education has worked seamlessly.

Adventure therapy promises this melding and discovery, but not every adventure-based program can deliver. Because adventure is built into the Forge in a boy-friendly educational and emotional structure, the school helps each boy from day one. There is no need for lag time, for stalling, for distraction. Sensitive boys can find a home at the school as much as boys who are always brashly trying to prove themselves. The surroundings, the energy, and the format of the school create this milieu.

Training staff in boy-friendly education and counseling, and learning from each staff member as much as I taught, I was excited by how diversely the staff is able to focus on attachment, attunement, personal security, and boy-specific growth. The staff come from various backgrounds–clinical, educational, wilderness, adventure, military, and special ed. Each person has a proven track record working with youth who are challenged. The combination of these staff and their intuitional and intentional force provide some of the uniqueness of the program.

A Powerful Package

While no school can promise everything–the family and the boy himself matter a great deal— Embark at The Forge is a powerful package. The emotional development of boys at the Forge provides a rite-of-passage from boyhood toward manhood in a way that can work for nearly any male. Myself a boy who survived significant childhood trauma, I know how long and tough the journey to a happy life can be.

Driving away from the Forge, I headed down to the Atlanta airport to fly back home to the Pacific Northwest. As I drove again through millions of trees in full fall color, I thought back to my own boyhood. It would have been a Godsend for me and my family if the Forge existed in my teen world. It took me almost two decades to fully understand how to build life purpose and healthy manhood out of trauma. For every child, we wish it did not take that long.

The promise of Embark at The Forge is, to me, somewhat in its contraction of time—a growth into manhood quicker than 20 years, in which boys can learn to live with life-purpose and, thus, “save the world.” Boys who come to the Forge will not mind the beauty of this accelerated responsibility–I believe. In fact, I believe they will welcome it as part of the both the tenderness and toughness they discover among the meadows and buildings and on the river and in their interactions and relationships.

Every boy’s soul longs to be awakened toward the wholeness we all know, at some fundamental level, exists in every child already.

Every boy.

Cast in commitment, molded in purpose.

What a great motto for a boys’ program!

– By Dr. Michael Gurian, New York Times Bestselling Author of Saving Our Sons and The Wonder of Boys