Contact Us| Careers Parent Portal

Driven by Compassion: The Vital Role of Open Sky’s Intake Specialists

The Open Sky Team

Featured Team Members: Rick Crawford, BS

Open Sky intake specialists welcome new students to Open Sky and guide them through the arrival process until they join their teams in the field. In this blog post, Intake Director Rick Crawford discusses the crucial role intake specialists play at Open Sky. Interested in joining the Open Sky team as an intake specialist? We’re hiring! Learn more on our Careers page.

Describe the role of an intake specialist. Why are intake specialists an integral part of the student experience?

Intake specialists play a crucial role at Open Sky. We are the first staff members students meet upon arriving, so our goal is to welcome each student with support and empathy. We are sensitive to the fact that arriving to a new place can be challenging, and students often come in feeling nervous or upset. To set the tone for students, we hold clear boundaries, demonstrate genuine care, and listen attentively. We don’t try to fix them or change their minds. We just support and empathize. We meet them where they are and try to be with them for a moment. We are honest with them and strive to create a nurturing environment that will lead to a positive and productive stay.


How do intake specialists create a supportive environment for students coming to Open Sky during a difficult time in their lives?

Intake specialists create a welcoming, supportive environment for new students by immediately welcoming and accepting them. We introduce ourselves and ask questions to get to know them. It’s about being authentic, establishing trust, and validating and reflecting them. We ask questions like, “Where are you from? Are you a dog or cat person? Do you like music? How about sports?” This type of light interaction can be relieving for many students and help make them feel more comfortable. We find a connection and build on it to start to develop rapport with the student. We are kind, compassionate, and understanding, all while holding firm boundaries.

Transport Team in front of Open Sky vehicle.

What does arrival day look like for a new student?

Each incoming student is met by a team of two Open Sky intake specialists, at least one being the same gender as the student. We usually meet the student at the Durango airport, the Open Sky office, or a local hotel, depending on the arrival itinerary. Upon meeting the student, we greet each other and introduce ourselves. We immediately offer a water bottle to help the student stay hydrated and adjust to the altitude. We then describe what the day will look like, emphasizing that we will be there for support until the student has reached the team in the field.

The day begins with completing paperwork and dropping off medications (if applicable) to our pharmaceutical coordinator for processing. Next, we go to Durango Urgent Care, where the student receives a basic physical examination to confirm that they are healthy enough to participate in our wilderness therapy program. Here, the student also receives labs and a tetanus shot if needed. After the physical is complete, we head to lunch at one of two local restaurants: Zia Taqueria or Raider Ridge Cafe.

At lunch, we always encourage students to enjoy a nice meal. Whether or not they want food right at that moment, we go ahead and purchase an extra meal so that they have something to eat later in the day. We are always thinking ahead. At Open Sky, we build on the foundation of meeting our students’ basic needs: plenty of water, food, and sleep. Throughout the day, these needs are at the forefront of all that we do. We are always making sure our students are hydrated, fed, and rested.

After lunch, we drive to our operations ranch. We collect and inventory all the student’s personal items. We thoroughly go through all belongings, record and store all articles, and have the student review and sign off on what is collected. Personal items are returned upon graduation. Following inventory collection, the student is outfitted with brand new Open Sky gear. This detailed outfitting process sets our students up for success, ensuring they have all that they need to participate in all facets of the program.

Once the student is outfitted with the appropriate gear and clothing, we pack everything up and head out to the field to meet the student’s team. When we get to the field, we provide guides with an update on how the student is doing, pass along medications to the appropriate staff, and detail any dietary, medical, or wellness needs. Once the student is with the team, we reach out to their admissions counselor to provide a detailed update on the intake process.

Gear room

What kind of collaboration occurs between the Intake team and other departments?

Each Open Sky intake specialist is in regular communication with every department upon a new student’s arrival. This communication begins with the admissions counselor and intake director connecting at least one day prior to admission to discuss arrival details and all pertinent information. Once the student arrives at Open Sky, we contact the student’s admission counselor every hour to provide an update on how the student is doing. Admissions counselors are in regular communication throughout the process with parents and referring professionals to relay these updates.

We also work with the Medical team throughout the day, communicating with the health director, pharmaceutical coordinator, field medic, staff MD, and staff psychiatrist as necessary. We communicate about the urgent care visit, medications, and any medical needs the student may have. If students have specific needs relating to medications, they often meet with our team psychiatrist. Our medical staff are in contact with the admissions team early in the process and provide all necessary information to intake specialists prior to student arrival.

Throughout the day we are also in communication with the field manager, providing regular updates on estimated arrival time and to provide a sense of how the student is doing throughout the process. We also communicate with the Operations team regarding special gear requests as well as the food coordinators to inform them of any specific dietary needs. Additionally, we communicate with the family care coordinators and administrators in the office, ensuring all necessary paperwork has been completed.

Throughout the day, we are in contact with all departments, integrating all the moving pieces, and adapting to each student’s specific needs. There is a clear flow of communication and flexibility to meet the needs of any student entering the program. All departments work in tandem to fully support each student as they enter the program. We believe this level of care and depth of resources set Open Sky apart and positions students for a healthy, productive, and meaningful experience.

Vehicle drives to Utah base camp

What would you say to a parent who is worried about the initial arrival and intake process?

I think knowledge and understanding help to give parents peace of mind. By letting parents know where we will be and what we will be doing throughout the day helps them to feel confident and informed. We assure parents we have the resources necessary to care for their child and that throughout the intake process, we will keep in constant touch and provide updates. We let parents know that they are not alone, and we will be by their sides throughout the process. We are here to support and empathize.

We take to heart the fact that as intake specialists, we can set the tone for a student’s experience here. We have a highly professional team at Open Sky and can individualize care from the moment a student arrives throughout the entirety of their stay and even after graduating. I am constantly in awe of my staff on the Intake team. They’re sympathetic, empathetic, very intuitive, and their hearts are in it 100%. Our ability to set boundaries, combined with our authenticity, training, compassion, and care, is representative of Open Sky as a whole—the culture, the resources, and the heart of people who work here. This is the level of care families and students will experience throughout the entire process. This is the culture of Open Sky; it is felt from the moment you begin this journey and become part of the Open Sky family.


What is your favorite part of being a intake specialist?

I absolutely love being the first point of contact for students at Open Sky and doing my best to set them up for success. Sometimes I cross paths with students later, whether it’s when I’m dropping off a different student, distributing gear, or even transporting them to whatever is next after they’ve graduated from Open Sky. I get to see these young people completely transformed. They’ve worked hard, there’s been great healing, and they’re feeling proud and grateful. It gives me goosebumps to be a small part of this process. It reminds me of how important and powerful this work is.

Parents and staff shake hands at Open Sky Wilderness Therapy

July 20th, 2021

The Open Sky Team