Featured Team Members: Amy Hartline, MA
Amy Hartline joined the Open Sky team in 2018 and has over 20 years of experience in wilderness therapy and outdoor education. In this Q&A, Amy discusses her role as Wellness Director and the ways in which Open Sky’s wellness efforts support health and quality of life for students, families, and staff.
Open Sky is a mature organization, operating for over 15 years now. As a result, we have the capacity to address wellness on a deep level in all aspects of what we do for students, families, and staff. A lot of what I do as Wellness Director focuses on the family support activities that are a key aspect of Open Sky’s holistic approach to treatment. I supervise the Family Care Coordinators; oversee alumni and parent relations; and manage the Family Pathway classes, Monday parent support phone calls, Wellness Weekends, and graduations. Additionally, I ensure that our staff wellness activities support the values-based mission of Open Sky and reflect the wellness work students are learning and practicing in the field. Finally, I also support the diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts of Open Sky.
There is a sequence to the wellness tools that students, families, and staff learn at Open Sky. We start by teaching how to focus one’s awareness and bring attention to the body. We get so much information from our bodies, including clues about our emotional experiences. Tuning into our physiology helps us recognize when we are becoming emotionally dysregulated. When we can catch these clues from our body and therefore notice our emotional state earlier, this allows us to be responsive rather than reactive and call on coping skills to become regulated. Some examples of the coping skills we teach at Open Sky are the three-fold breath and four-line feelings check.
Increasing attention and awareness also helps us focus on our values. Taking time to reflect our values gives us a road map so we can live in a way that links our daily actions to what is most meaningful to us. It can also help us bring more intention to the ways we behave toward those closest to us and be in relationship in an authentic manner rather than from a place of reactivity. Open Sky’s focus on values is practiced through activities found in our Student and Family Pathway workbooks, including the much-utilized “I feel” statements. Learning these skills can be empowering, helpful, and supportive for creating the relationships and lives we want to live.
Wellness practices are part of each team’s daily schedule and are incorporated into their activities throughout the day. The framework and container for wellness practices is congruent in all teams, but how they express it depends on the team, what is going on at the time, and what is most therapeutically helpful for the students at that moment.
In tough or tense moments, a guide might lead a group in the three-fold breath practice or a 5- -3-2-1 to help them connect with their senses. This helps students regulate their emotions before they engage in challenging conversations. Students might also do things like pay attention to how they feel as they eat, note their responses to a challenging hike, or periodically check in with themselves on what emotions they’re experiencing. The focus is for students to cultivate awareness and intention in everything they do.
When someone becomes a parent, no one hands them a manual. Over the last 15 years, Open Sky has been teaching techniques and approaches that are effective tools to use when parenting. Through the Family Pathway workbook and class, families learn the same wellness practices and tools that students learn in the field. This is referred to as the “parallel process.” Parents start to speak the same language as their children, learning similar strategies to navigate toward a healthier family system. Additionally, we provide opportunities for parents to practice using these tools, so the learning is experiential instead of just theoretical.
We also know that connection and community are crucial parts of wellness. Prior to Open Sky, many parents have felt alone in their parenting struggles. We offer several opportunities for families to build connection and community with other families in similar situations, such as Monday night calls and Wellness Weekend.
Open Sky is a values-based organization. The company’s Culture Pathway is the foundational framework for all that we do. It is introduced when someone first becomes an employee and is referenced frequently. We use this values-focused tool to guide our weekly staff meeting, inspire shout outs for staff members, and create goals and alignment as we grow and develop. The Culture Pathway helps us communicate what our shared values are as an organization and link those values to our day-to-day activities.
Mindfulness is another key component to our wellness practices with staff. We consistently teach practices that emphasize health, balance, and wellness, demonstrating that we walk our talk. There is strong congruence in what we teach our staff, our families, and our students. We do our best to teach people how to be with other people and to practice what we preach. It is important to focus on the “how” in the way we run our organization, not just the “what” of what we do. Everything is very intentional.
Sometimes parents are initially skeptical of some of the practices we teach but are then blown away by how they impacted the quality of their life as a family. I have heard from so many parents about the impact of the work we do. After completing a Wellness Weekend, one parent said, “I can’t believe I made it on the planet 56 years without learning this material.” I also frequently hear from families that they now use a gratitude practice before dinner each evening.
On our monthly Alumni reConnect Calls for alumni students, I have heard many former students share about how they still use the skills they learned at Open Sky. They call on the simple but powerful practices of the three-fold breath and four-line feelings check at their jobs, schools, homes, and in their relationships. These are small things that make a huge impact. They bring individuals back to themselves for years and years. We have a student who became a yoga teacher because these practices impacted her so deeply as well as students who later become guides at Open Sky! These wellness tools are remarkable and long-lasting.
The work I do at Open combines many things I am deeply passionate about. I am focused on both learning for myself and supporting others in how to live in a way that is more intentional and satisfying. I love supporting families in forming deeper connections with one another and bringing mindfulness to their experiences. At Open Sky we teach people how to listen to others when we do or don’t agree and how to be in relationships when it’s hard. The world can feel so divisive sometimes, so it’s important that we learn how to regulate ourselves and cultivate connection. Focusing on this mission makes it a joy to come to work every day.
More About Amy
Amy has a bachelor’s degree in wilderness therapy, a master’s degree in transformative leadership, and is currently working on her second master’s degree in counseling. The combination of her years of field experience and educational background gives her a theoretical, practical, and clinical lens which guides her wellness work. She has also practiced and taught yoga and mindfulness for over 20 years and is a mother to her 15-year-old son. Her firsthand knowledge of how challenging and important the work of parenting is helps her hold deep empathy for the challenges and success that Open Sky parents experience.