Former clients raising money for Alberta wilderness therapy program facing closure

·3 min read
The Enviros wilderness therapy program sees participates hike and pursue other outdoor activities while on the path to recovery. (Enviros - image credit)
The Enviros wilderness therapy program sees participates hike and pursue other outdoor activities while on the path to recovery. (Enviros - image credit)

Colton Rolof credits the Enviros Shunda Creek Treatment Centre with saving his life.

When he went through the 90-day  program in 2016, Rolof says he felt hopeless. He was struggling with a drug and alcohol addiction that he said made him feel like a burden to friends and family.

The 29-year-old is currently happily married and is expecting to welcome his first child in August.

"Now I'm heading this, trying to save the place that saved my life," he said.

The wilderness therapy program, operating west of Rocky Mountain House, is facing closure by the end of the summer. The site's infrastructure — trailers for sleeping, showers, and group space — are in poor condition.

Rolof is at the forefront of a fundraising effort to save the program by purchasing another facility nearby. Supporters held a rally at the Calgary-based Enviros office on Wednesday.

Their GoFundMe is aiming to raise $625,000. As of Thursday — a little over a week since its launch — it's brought in more than $20,000.

"I'm in full-hearted faith that we are going to meet this goal," Rolof said.

"And I'm going to give every ounce of my spare time and any time that I have to make sure that this happens."

Colton Rolof/Facebook
Colton Rolof/Facebook

'A huge loss'

The Alberta Health Services (AHS)-funded treatment regimen has running since 2009. Tailored for men aged 18 to 24, it uses wilderness programming— including hiking, canoeing, rock climbing and more — as a core component.

Hundreds of men have been part of the program over the years, many remaining in touch through an alumni program.

"We do really recognize that the loss of the program would be a huge loss for Alberta," said Hazel Bergen, CEO of Enviros. The non-profit social agency is not involved in the fundraising effort.

Bergen said the province had decided it no longer wished to maintain the site, which is owned by Alberta Infrastructure and leased by AHS.

A spokesperson for Alberta Infrastructure said deferred maintenance issues would need to be addressed through AHS' infrastructure maintenance program.

A spokesperson for AHS said the facilities were in such a state they would need to be replaced, adding that an active search for an alternative site has been underway for more than a year by both AHS and Enviros.

Bergen said they've identified a potential future location and aims to expand the program, increasing the treatment spaces from 10 to 18. The plan hit a snag when an initial loan application was rejected but she said they're still working with their bank.

"We're hopeful that we can make it work and that the program will continue to provide excellent services in the near future."

AHS and Alberta Health are working to help Enviros get approval from a lender to better situate the program longer term. Those currently receiving care there will continue to be supported in their treatment and pursuit of recovery, according to an AHS spokesperson.

Rolof said whatever happens, he hopes the effort also encourages people who may be going through the same struggle he did.

"If we can't save this, and this doesn't work out, then at least we're going to save some lives with guys being able to understand that reaching out is a good thing," he said.

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