A community focused on accountability and intentional action
By LILY WILKINSON
Founded in 1999, AIM House is a transitional living program for young adults located in Boulder, Colorado. Participants enrolling at AIM House typically come from primary treatment of some kind — wilderness therapy programs, residential treatment programs, therapeutic boarding schools, and drug and alcohol treatment centers. Not only does this mean that those who choose AIM House have a firm foundation in their recovery and a motivated and bright view of the future, but it also means that they’re typically ready to incorporate more real-world living into their treatment. Helping young adults to move forward in their lives and in recovery simultaneously is what AIM House has been doing for nearly 20 years.
At AIM House, mentors and therapists work with each participant to create an individualized program that meets the needs of the participant and their family. These plans are comprehensive, promoting recovery from self-destructive behaviors as well as a path toward success in school or vocation and independent living. Using experience and expertise, the AIM House staff collaborate with participants in a healthy and supportive environment, a place where actions and intentions really do merge.
Soon after arriving in Boulder, participants define intentions for growth. Each individual creates a realistic action plan to achieve these goals. Personalized AIM Plans incorporate therapeutic and/or recovery goals as well as strategies for mastering life skills and executive functioning. AIM Plans outline an individualized approach to changing their self-destructive behavior, and staff and peers alike work together to create accountability to the community and, most importantly, to oneself.
When developing an AIM Plan, participants are asked to really think about what is that they want to do. Interestingly, this can be the most challenging part of the process.
“Shifting the focus away from what they don’t want to be doing to focusing instead on what they do what to be doing is often the first step for staff,” says Danny Conroy, the program’s founder. “Most can easily tell me what they do not want to continue to do but struggle to own or imagine what they want for themselves in recovery.”
AIM House Lead Mentor Wesley Schreiner-Fischer is also of the belief that AIM Plans should challenge participants to think about what they really want to accomplish while in the program rather than what they think is expected.
“Establishing trust with my participants is key,” Schreiner-Fischer says. “We try to have the AIM Plan finished within the first two weeks of someone’s program. The goal is to get them to create a document that actually means something to the individual, not just write something to get me to leave them alone. Lots of times I tell them, ‘I don’t care if one of your intentions is to meet someone on a dating app and go on a first date. If working on normalizing dating is important to you, then put it on your AIM Plan!’”
Once the AIM Plan is complete, participants set about getting to work on what it is they hope to accomplish during their stay at AIM House. Each week, everyone is asked to set smaller, action-based goals during Monday’s intentions group. These weekly intentions can be anything from attending a few yoga classes to stay accountable to personal health and fitness to applying to jobs or registering for classes. Weekly intentions are shared with staff and peers to create accountability.
Nathan Thomas, another AIM House lead mentor, shares ways he and other staff help in this process: “One of my favorite ways participants help to hold themselves accountable to their weekly intentions is through the use of a digital calendar and to-do list applications on their phones. This is also a great tool to help practice and prioritize organization and scheduling.”
Participants are also asked to hold one another accountable. “Participants on my caseload go over their weekly intentions with one another every Monday to aid in holding one another accountable,” he says. “Ultimately, when participants create relationships with each other, they become more invested in each other’s success.”
Participants have access to a large variety of educational institutions, including the University of Colorado Boulder. It is very common, therefore, for some of the goals that participants set or identify while they’re at AIM House to be academic in nature. AIM House is also able to utilize the local university. This is helpful for showing students the resources that are freely available to them even after graduating from AIM House.
“AIM House is very fortunate to be located very close to CU Boulder and the Collegiate Recovery Center there,” Conroy says. “We have enjoyed setting up participants with on-campus support through the recovery center and other campus accommodations and services.”
Above all, AIM House believes that people can change self-destructive behavior patterns or beliefs and live productive and full lives. The culture is one of support and accountability so that these changes can be sustainable.
In the two decades that AIM House has been around, AIM House participants and alumni have accomplished some truly incredible things: College and postgraduate degrees, self-written and directed plays, participant-produced podcasts, world travel, recognition within the mental health field and other industries — the list goes on. No single success story is more meaningful than another because everyone’s path is different.
Veteran AIM House staff Jimmy Christoff has seen a lot in his time working with young adults. “Anything that is a rite of passage is particularly powerful to witness,” he says. “A young person I just worked with wanted to get her driver’s permit while here. She took driver’s ed and passed the test. I was there with her when she got her picture taken for her new permit. It was a big moment in her life, and I know neither of us will ever forget that day.”
No matter what an individual chooses to do with their life in recovery, it is clear that AIM House participants benefit not only from the foundation they set with an AIM Plan but also from the support of the AIM House community.
“The relationships our staff, and particularly the lead mentors and therapists, cultivate with participants is the best resource we can offer to help young adults maintain healthy momentum,” says staff member and Lead Mentor Kathleen McCarthy. “The best strategies for helping participants stay motivated come from the participants themselves. We just help them access what they are capable of.”
Lily Wilkinson joined the outreach team in spring 2018, but she has been a part of the AIM House family since she moved to Boulder in 2010 as a participant. While at the University of Colorado, Wilkinson became very involved in the creation and growth of the collegiate recovery program. After graduation, she began working with students in recovery from addiction and other mental health challenges. After moving back to the East Coast, Wilkinson started working in young adult treatment, doing outreach at national conferences, and visiting therapeutic programs and schools. She is passionate about helping young people and their families find the help and support they need. Wilkinson is a certified yoga teacher and teaches regular classes. She enjoys travel and has been to Africa multiple times for various community service projects. She also loves the outdoors and spending time with her large, “crazy” family.