Rock climbing inspires change for juveniles at South Tahoe treatment center

Dina Gentry
Kids climb on a 40-foot wall at the South Lake Tahoe Juvenile Treatment Center.

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. —The El Dorado County Office of Education, Lake Tahoe Community College and the El Dorado County Probation Department recently partnered to bring an uplifting experience to the youth housed at the Juvenile Treatment Center in South Lake Tahoe.

The LTCC Wilderness Education and Outdoor Leadership program brought a 40-foot rock climbing wall into the JTC to challenge the kids.

Blue Ridge Court School is housed in JTC and serves El Dorado County. The student population consists of court-incarcerated youth that range between grades six and 12.

The Court School Program team members, in partnership with the probation team, are dedicated to creating safe and productive learning environments where positive experiences enrich student alternatives and choices. They also strive to create a positive and productive learning environment that promotes social and emotional skill development by engaging students in activities that improve self-esteem, help students learn to interact in a positive manner with others, and utilize appropriate conflict resolution, anger management, and decision-making strategies.

Dr. Chapman, MD for the JTC, stated “This is fantastic for the youth. The more activities they have is definitely good for their mental health, as well as bonding between the youth and staff.”

The youth immediately jumped in line to utilize the wall and it wasn’t long before the first youth reached the top. Other youth quickly followed suit and they spent the next few hours challenging their skills in new ways.

Damion Estrada and Savanna Thomas, expert rock climbers with LTCC, shared their expertise with the youths.

Dustin Wekekind, an AOD Counselor, mentioned, “This is very positive. They are learning some things about each other, and it shows that they can listen to instructions from other people.”

The youth had plenty of support from EDCOE and Probation team members, community members, and Encompass Youth volunteers.

LTCC President Jeff DeFranco also attended and stated, “I’m happy to see this event act as a big confidence builder for the youth. This event is good for their development, as well as helping the youth gain confidence and trust.”

The youth and staff had a playful competitive race to the top of the wall. Immediately evident was the peer support the youth provided to each other by consistently cheering each other on, as well as helping give direction on the next best move.

J. Schindler, a probation officer, stated “This event has been great for skill building, encouraging each other and confidence building.”

The youth practiced and acknowledged their leadership skills, gained personal confidence from the achievement of climbing the wall, as well as overcame their fear of heights.

Tina Miranda, an Encompass Youth member, said “This is definitely an event that is positive and promotes self-esteem building, trust, confidence and comradeship. It was amazing to watch the teamwork and how the youth helped each other.”

Sally Williams, a mental health consultant, said “Not only does this make the youth happy, but it’s great for team building and growing self-esteem.”

Carey Buchanan, EDCOE’s principal of alternative programs and Shane Reynolds, LTCC’s director of the incarcerated student program, planned for this event two years ago, but the event was delayed because of the impact from COVID-19 and the Caldor Fire.

Buchanan and Reynolds noted that this event was a long-time coming, and they were elated to finally host it.

Buchanan said, “These types of events really allow students to focus on their social emotional wellbeing. It provides opportunities for leadership skills, peer support, overcoming fear and learning to trust. All skills our students need.”

Buchanan and Reynolds hope to make this an annual event.

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Dina Gentry is the communications director for EDCOE.

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