Adapting to a Changing World

Persevering in the face of adversity is core to the work we do in the wilderness. It is no different as we navigate this pandemic. We see the task of providing critical mental health services to young people as a responsibility and a privilege, more so now than ever. When it started to become clear in early March that the world landscape was changing, Open Sky took swift and decisive actions to be one step ahead of the COVID-19 wave. The teamwork demonstrated on every level of Open Sky—field guides to operations, clinical to leadership, students to parents—has been nothing short of inspiring. We are excited to share highlights with you in this special edition of SKYlights.

Navigating the Pandemic: A Timeline of Open Sky's Comprehensive Response

Open Sky’s core value of community has been a guiding force behind our COVID-19 response. Weekly virtual All Hands meetings have been invaluable for keeping our community connected and informed about Open Sky action steps in real time. Operating with a shared playbook has allowed us to accomplish so much together in these last 8 weeks. In an effort to keep our extended community informed on our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve developed a timeline of our action steps. Click here or below to view!

Antibody and PCR Swab Testing Program, Launched April 15 for Open Sky Staff and Students

CEO & Founder, Aaron Fernandes

The core of Open Sky's COVID-19 risk-management plan is prevention. To this end, we have all the systems in place outlined in our Navigating the Pandemic Timeline, including health symptom screening, social distancing, rigorous hygiene practices, education, and more.

In addition, we recognized early on that an essential part of any successful action plan to prevail against this virus must also include an aggressive testing program. With this in mind, we worked tirelessly in the early weeks of the pandemic to secure...

How to Take Care of Yourself in the Midst of a Pandemic

Open Sky Clinical Team

The world is adjusting to a very new “normal.” So, how do we cope with these sudden changes? How do we adapt to increased physical distance and decreased social connection? How do we tend to our emotional well-being in the midst of COVID-19? Open Sky’s clinical experts offer tangible guidance to help individuals and families navigate these unprecedented times. Click below to learn more!

An Outdoor, Indoor, and Online Guide to Experiencing Nature During COVID-19

Chris Blankenship, LCSW, Clinical Therapist (Transition Age Young Adults) 

Article Summary: How can you harness the health benefits of nature while following “stay at home” orders? What if you are quarantined and can’t leave the house? Clinical Therapist Chris Blankenship responds to these questions and provides helpful tips on how to responsibly experience the benefits of nature, outside, or...virtually! Explore a national park, swim the depths of the ocean, and adventure into the heart of the Andes…all from within the walls of your home. 

5 Steps to a Grounded Response in Times of Stress

Brian Leidal, MA, LPC, Clinical Therapist (Young Adults, Adolescent Boys)

Article Excerpt: Viktor Frankl is known to have stated, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Stretching out the space between stimulus and response is something many Open Sky students and families work on, in order to choose a response in line with their values, rather than thoughtlessly reacting...The next time you are in a stressful, stimulating, or emotional situation, try the following...

Gateway Camp

The intention of Gateway Camp is to welcome and engage students into the process and prepare them to successfully enter a team. Students receive individualized support in learning new skills, from campcraft to communication fundamentals. Guides role model and supervise rigorous health and hygiene standards and monitor for any COVID-19 symptoms prior to a student's entrance into a team. Gateway Camp is a time when students can make significant headway on South Pathway assignments, begin to engage in therapeutic work, and build a foundation on which to thrive.

Thursday Night Calls 

Open Sky is excited to add Thursday Night Calls to its menu of Family Services. On this call (available to all currently enrolled families) Open Sky's Clinical and Family Services experts provide education and facilitate small group discussions on a variety of topics, such as values-based decision-making, grief, stress management, stages of change, and boundary setting. Thursday Night Calls are designed to support current families in their Family Pathway work. Stay tuned for more information on Thursday Night Calls in next month's edition of SKYlights!

Virtual Wellness Weekends

Our Wellness Weekend experience has gone virtual! “The first ever virtual Wellness Weekend was a wonderful success!” reports Norman Elizondo, Family Wellness Counselor. “Parents presented as engaged and eager throughout the large-group presentations and created a strong sense of community during the smaller break-out groups.” We are excited we can continue to offer this cornerstone experience to our enrolled families.

Adapted Graduation Ceremony

We have adjusted our graduation experience into a one-day, in-person event, which includes family reunification in the field and a graduation ceremony for the student and family. In the weeks prior to traveling for graduation, family members track daily symptoms and adhere to an Open Sky Parent Code of Conduct. We are grateful to parents and staff for prioritizing the health and well-being of our community.

"Every Stitch Matters"

Operations Coordinator Craig Benally and his family have sewn approximately 80 masks, primarily for friends in the medical field and the underserved populations of Southwest Colorado, where supplies are limited. After running out of ties for his masks, his daughter exclaimed, “Dad, I want to help!” and she immediately pitched in. “When my daughter and I sew, every stitch matters,” Craig said. “Every thread is tied to purpose.”

Open Sky Finance Director Erin Meyer and her husband Jim have made approximately 200 masks, donating a vast majority “in recognition of what our country and world is currently facing," Erin said. "We have mainly focused on donating to local health care providers as well as other essential businesses in the Durango area and a PICU department in New York. We have also made quite a few for local family, friends, and our community at large.”

Record Turnout on reConnect Call 

Open Sky's Alumni reConnect call saw record turnout in March and April. Participating alumni students mentioned that Open Sky not only saved their lives, but still holds a special place in their hearts and daily lives. Alumni Relations Director Rochelle Bochner states, "It is clear that our alumni need this service, perhaps now more than ever, and we are so grateful we can provide this forum for them to stay connected."

Virtual Meditation Series for Staff

Clinical Therapist Jonathan Mitchell and Family Wellness Counselor Norman Elizondo have teamed up to provide a daily morning "virtual" meditation to Open Sky employees. Jonathan states, "During these times, the role of service has become so much more than a convenience. With most people in the world going through some form of significant hardship or at least mandatory adaptation, I felt it so important to give back and support our community in this way. Offering a daily meditation is just a small way I hope to bring some light to shine the way through these troubling times."

Open Sky Donates PPE and Test Kits 

Open Sky has donated 20 gowns, 300 surgical masks, 8 KN95 masks, and 25 PCR swab tests to the San Juan Basin Public Health Agency to support healthcare facilities battling COVID-19. Donated test kits will go to the most vulnerable residents in our community—those in nursing homes and other long-term residential facilities. PPE donations were distributed to fire/ambulance stations in the community.

Assistant Field Director Mike Higgs recently captured this stunning scene of our northern course area known as Cedar Park. An outline of the Abajos can also be seen, peeking above the horizon. Mike and Field Medic Jackson Hughes were visiting a team to drop off supplies for expedition. "We allowed ourselves to stop several times to take in the view. It was totally worth it," said Mike. We agree!

As we close out this special edition of SKYlights, we thank you for your continued trust and support and we wish you and your loved ones good health and wellness. Until then...Aho.