Evoke Wilderness: The Magic is in the People

Posted by Kevin “KP” Padowicz on June 01, 2022

kpThe Evoke Therapy Programs team is a group of outstanding humans.

This matters to me, and I’d imagine if you’re reading this, it probably matters to you too. I hope this serves to illustrate some of who we are through my eyes and also serves as an expression of appreciation, gratitude, and encouragement for all the things we do every day.

Before I get too carried away with exalting the people I work with, I want to take a moment to explain some of who I am and why I think that matters too. I first heard about wilderness therapy when I was 17 years old. My parents sent me to a residential treatment center (RTC) in northern Utah in 2003, before Evoke even existed. I heard about wilderness therapy from some of the other kids who had gone to wilderness therapy programs before going to the RTC. I am 35 years old now, and I have been working in the mental health field, predominantly wilderness therapy with Evoke, for nine years. When I look back at this adolescent treatment experience, I can see two things about my time at this RTC clearly: First, it was not a good fit for me and second, my parents were doing the very best they could in sending me there.

I share this perspective because I want to acknowledge that, as Dr. Brad Reedy might remind us, being a parent is hard. Sometimes parents, even when giving it their all and acting out of love, make mistakes or get things wrong. As an adult, it’s easy to see how difficult of a position I put my parents in and how hard it can be for parents like mine to find the right kind of care for a child who has not responded to more traditional approaches. It is not easy territory to navigate.

Seven years after I broke the standing record for fastest graduation from that RTC, as a 25-year-old, I was back to needing an intervention. This time my parents found Evoke. There’s much I could go into detail about my time as a participant in the program I now work for, but if I really boil it down, I simply consider it to have been lifesaving. A little over 18 months after I graduated from Evoke, I started my first shift as a field instructor there. A full nine years since then, and I’m in a leadership position guiding the future of the program that once saved my life as a participant.

The group of people who work for Evoke are special, and I count myself lucky to be among them. When I look closely at why I feel this way about us, I always tend to come back to the idea that all of us truly value care. In many ways it’s our job to show, foster, and celebrate care… for our participants, ourselves, our participants’ parents and families, our coworkers, our supervisors, our prospective parents and participants... I think we all have unique and personal ways in which we show care, but it is our shared passion for this pursuit that brought us here and, when we are able to do so in a balanced, healthy way, ultimately keeps us here.

In my current role, I am part of a close-knit Field/Operations department, which I tend to consider is functioning at an elite level. Looking around at some of the other smaller teams that make up the larger Evoke team as a whole, I have to imagine that some of our company-wide emphases on teamwork, communication, and care pushes all of us to perform at our highest levels for ourselves, our unique smaller teams, our amazing Evoke team as a whole, and of course, our participants/clients.

When I try to put into words the ways in which we care, I think of a few stories.

I think about New Year’s Day this year when I was working a field shift and our group needed additional support due to the dynamics in the group at the time. A few hours later, on the morning of a Saturday holiday, it was our Program Director, Katelyn BeVard, who walked into camp to bring additional staff and provide support while we met as a larger staff team.

I think about a time when one of our owners, Rick Heizer, and I were struggling in our attempts to put together a unique tent like structure, when Rick’s 14-year-old daughter showed up to help. She basically took over as the boss of the project and we finished the final 2/3rds of the structure in half the time it took us to complete the first 3rd without her.

I think about a time when earlier this year another one of our owners, Matt Hoag, jumped in to help with transporting a new student who was coming into his group. The logistics had gotten complicated and it ultimately it made sense for Matt to jump in and make it happen as a transporter. We both marveled that after all his time in the industry, this was Matt’s first time taking on the transporter role. I was the other transporter that day. We got the job done, and we had fun doing it.

I think about owner Brad Reedy, presenting recently to all of our employees, including Field Staff. A favorite quote of mine from this most recent presentation went something like, “We are out there supporting, caring for and making our participants feel seen. In many ways, we do this work with the hope that those we are working with will eventually be ‘better than us.’” This sentiment resonates with me both as a former participant and as a current employee. And although I am not a parent, I tend to imagine it’s a sentiment that most parents share about their own children.

I think about a time when I helped Becci McNeely of the Admissions and Outreach team facilitate a field visit for professional visitors, and somewhere along the way I was moved to tears by Becci’s story about her personal experience at an Evoke Intensive.

I think about a time when Kirk Sweet, of our Intensives team, and I were leading an Evoke Pursuits trip for a family who’s son had just graduated from our Evoke wilderness program. The family wanted to hike in the middle of a wildly hot summer day. We knew it would be uncomfortable and challenging, but we thought the views and the experience might just be breathtaking and unforgettable… and they were.

I think about a time when I was driving for Uber in Las Vegas during a much needed break from my work as a field instructor, when I picked up a rider from New Jersey who knew our legendary field instructor Red Hawk. When the rider got out, he left me the largest Uber tip I’d ever received and as he exited he said, “If you’ve worked with Red Hawk, I know you’ve seen some things, and you’re good people.”

I think about our Warehouse Manager, Ed Coombs who was a staff for me when I was a participant, a coworker for me as a field instructor, and remains a mentor for me to this day. Ed is responsible for everything gear related at Evoke, and he takes his job seriously because he knows what it’s like to be out there. Ed knows that the quality of our gear has a direct effect on our ability to provide care to our participants. We all know that the job Ed does everyday matters.

I think about this Memorial Day Weekend, as I am writing this blog. I am on call for field support, and between Friday night and Sunday afternoon, I have corresponded/texted/chatted with seven other Evoke employees who are officially “off the clock.”

I share some of these stories in an effort to fully personalize my admiration and appreciation for who we are as a company, how we operate as a team, and who we are as people. The stories I share are viewed through a highly personal lens, one that values work where the personal and the professional are interwoven in a way that’s critical to the success of both the individuals doing the work and the work itself.

I personally have been in treatment as an adolescent and an adult. I have spent the bulk of the last nine years working in mental health and I have no shortage of other work and life experience. With that notion in mind, I want to reiterate my opening statement:

The Evoke Therapy Programs team is a group of outstanding people.

When I zoom out to take a deeper look at my place in it all, I work here because I care about how we, as an organization and as individuals, care. And that matters.

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