SARANAC LAKE - An outdoor recreation program for troubled teens that's operated here for 10 years is shutting down, leaving more than two dozen full-time employees and many more seasonal staff members out of work.
Adirondack Leadership Expeditions, which is based in Saranac Lake and has sites in Onchiota and Gabriels, is one of five programs run by Aspen Education Group that will close this summer, according to an email sent to its employees last week by Andrew Eckert, CEO of CRC Health Group, which acquired Aspen in 2006. The email, a copy of which was obtained by the Enterprise, cites financial reasons for closing the facilities.
"While the need for residential treatment for teens with behavioral or substance abuse issues is arguably as big if not bigger than it was seven years ago, gone are the days of student loans for these programs which, when coupled with other national economic factors, has severely impacted parents' ability to afford this type of help," Eckert wrote. "Following serious deliberation about the current market and how we can best apply our resources to serve the broadest network of people, we have made the difficult decision to cease operations at certain of our therapeutic boarding schools and outdoor programs."
In addition to ALE, Aspen is also closing one other wilderness program, SUWS Adolescent and Youth Programs in Shoshone, Idaho, and three boarding schools: Academy at Swift River in Cimmington, Mass., Talisman Academy in Hendersonville, N.C., and Stone Mountain School in Black Mountain, N.C. Students in each site will complete their programs before its operations come to an end, Eckert wrote.
Tracy Edwards, ALE's executive director, didn't return a phone message left at her office in the program's Church Street administrative site. ALE also operates a base camp in Onchiota which includes cabins, an infirmary building and campsites, and a logistics building in Gabriels where equipment is stored and staff training takes place. The latter two sites are on land ALE has leased from Paul Smith's College.
Adirondack Leadership Expeditions opened in June 2003. It offers a "character-development wilderness program for troubled teens that promotes personal growth through a focus on insight-oriented experiences," according to its website. The program is geared for teenagers from ages 13 to 17 who have low self-esteem, substance abuse problems, defiant behavior, attention-deficit issues and other problems. It doesn't serve youth involved in the criminal justice system.
Several current and former ALE employees, who spoke to the Enterprise on condition of anonymity, said the number of students enrolled in its programs has dwindled over the last two years. While economic factors like those cited in Eckert's email played a role, the employees also said they didn't feel enough had been done to market ALE's programs to parents who could afford its expensive tuition. The program costs more than $460 a day, plus admission fees and other charges. Sessions can run from 30 to 90 days.
The employees told the Enterprise that ALE has a year-round staff of about 30 people, including administration, admissions, clinical, field instruction and operations staff, plus another 20 people hired seasonally. Some of the year-round workers who will lose their jobs have been offered severance pay, and some have been offered jobs at other facilities and programs run by ALE's parent company.
"We recognize and regret that the decision to consolidate services affects our valued employees," Eckert wrote in his email. "We are sincerely appreciative of our employees' years of hard work and determination, and their dedication to young people whose lives they have forever positively affected."
ALE's last student will reportedly complete the program in early September, and it will shut down for good by the end of the month.
In addition to the affected workers, the current and former ALE employees the Enterprise spoke with said local businesses that benefitted from its operations will also be hurt by the closure. They said that includes Nori's Village Market, where much of the food for the program's participants is purchased, and MC Motors in Gabriels, which has maintained ALE's fleet of vehicles, among other businesses.
ALE made news last year when a group of about 10 people who live near the program's Onchiota camp showed up at a Franklin town board meeting to raise concerns about the organization's oversight of students enrolled in the program. They cited several cases of teens running away from the camp and trespassing on their property, including one 16-year-old who stole a local resident's car and tried to drive it south before he was caught on the Adirondack Northway. In an emailed response to the Enterprise at the time, Edwards promised to review the organization's procedures and, where possible, enhance them.
With the closure of ALE and the four other programs, Aspen Education Group now has nine remaining programs across the country. Its parent company, CRC Health Group, is a large national health care corporation owned by Bain Capital, the private equity firm that 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney co-founded and managed in the 1980s and '90s.
Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.