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Letter to the Open Sky Community

January 12, 2024

Dear Open Sky community near and far,

Persevering in the face of adversity is part of the magic of what Open Sky students do when learning to live outdoors, and something we have done as an organization since our inception in 2006.  We now find ourselves facing adversity we have never experienced. By the end of next month, all of our teams – early adolescents, adolescent boys, adolescent girls, and young adults – will be down to just one, two, or three students.

With this, we have come to the heartbreaking conclusion that February 14, 2024, will be our last wilderness therapy graduation. Between now and our final day of operations, we will remain fully focused and committed to our current students and families with a core team of therapists, guides, and others to serve them with the passion and dedication we have brought to the nearly 4,000 Open Sky students dating back to 2006.

After growing in size during the pandemic, the last 18 months have proven challenging with changes in the landscape due to a host of factors: increased economic challenges, more insurance-based treatment options, and a societal shift in people’s perception of wilderness therapy. Last winter we were pressed to go through two painful rounds of downsizing, saying goodbye to many beloved team members.  We headed into this winter with a team of 110 employees, believing we were poised to survive and thrive as a smaller program into the future.

But with so few new students over the last few months, our situation was simply not sustainable. Further, we realized that even if we were fortunate enough to have a handful of students enroll in the coming weeks, we could not ensure that we’d be able to provide them with a key ingredient of Open Sky: the community experience of a peer group.

One way to move forward would be to downsize further.  After much deliberation, we concluded this path would not be in alignment with our core values of courage, community, and excellence. In order to preserve the quality of programming and depth of unique offerings such as Wellness Weekends and Family Quests, there were no clear positions to further cut.

Although the world’s appetite for wilderness therapy has abated, we believe the Open Sky theoretical framework, with its focus on physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and family health, has potential to flourish in a different way.  We wish we could manifest something new in the blink of an eye, but any new endeavor will take significant time – to find a right location, secure funding, develop facilities, and create a program in line with our core values while offering more opportunities for insurance coverage and increasing accessibility for more families. We can’t say exactly what the future will hold, but are committed to carrying on the spirit of Open Sky and we will be in touch!

While deeply sad, there is much to celebrate about the last 18 years. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts to all the people who have been part of the fabric of the Open Sky community: students and families; field guides, therapists, and support staff throughout every department; consultants, home therapists, and other providers; colleagues at other programs; Sky’s the Limit Fund and other generous scholarship foundations; and countless other supporters in our Four Corner’s home and beyond.

With sincere gratitude,

Aaron Fernandes, CEO & Founder
Emily Fernandes, Executive Director & Co-Founder
Danny Frazer, Admissions Director & Co-Founder

January 13th, 2024

Emily Fernandes, MSW | Executive Director, Co-Founder, Therapist