REACH’ stands for five core values promoted in the program:
Responsibility, Effort, Attitude, Community, Honour.

Typical student profile

The REACH program specializes in supporting male adolescents aged 13-17 who are experiencing difficulty in their family permanency placement, frequently arising from a need to develop improved skills in the following areas:

  • Positive Family Relationships
  • Addiction/Substance Abuse
  • Anger/Emotion Regulation
  • Success in School
  • Anxiety/Depression
  • Positive Peer Relationships
  • Respect for Self and Others
  • Resilience and Self-Efficacy

REACH (Stepping Stones Residence) Features:

The program is designed to promote family permanency and address behavioural challenges arising from complex trauma, attachment and substance abuse. The family-like program format offers maximum opportunity to develop and practice the skills that will enable a successful return to a community based permanency placement.

Program Design

With a designed minimum of 90 days, the program length is defined for each student in consideration of treatment objectives and discharge planning. Typical placements are between 90 and 120 days, with the opportunity for the young person to request to stay longer to continue treatment and to facilitate appropriate reintegration planning. With the support of the staff team, students are engaged in all aspects of home life including menu planning, shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry and operating within a budget. Students participate in planning the schedule of therapeutic programming and adventurous activities, negotiating use of television, internet, telephone and games and practice holding themselves and others accountable in appropriate ways. There is no level system and students are engaged on working towards their goals through regular individual, group and family counselling and frequent documented personal feedback.

Academic Recovery

The academic program is a fully integrated on-site component of the program led by qualified teachers. Key focuses are life management skills including; human and family interactions/relationships, food and nutrition, social skills, workplace skills, budgeting and developing practical research skills. School credit can be awarded under several different course codes and grade levels as appropriate. Motivated students can pursue Individual Learning Courses in any subject area (Math, English, Geography, History, etc.) based on their academic goals. Students are also enrolled in the Duke of Edinburgh Award program and have the potential of becoming certified in Standard First Aid/CPR and WHMIS. An important goal of our program is to help each student form a positive attitude towards learning and help him develop the skills for success.


A team comprised of a Program Supervisor, Therapist, and Case Management Coordinator have overall responsibility for managing and supporting the REACH program and individualized treatment plans. The direct-care Instructors are scheduled primarily as live-in parent-model pairs for 2-4 day segments to provide continuity and consistency. The teachers work as integral members of the treatment team to ensure optimal coordination of academic and treatment programs. The REACH program enjoys the close support of a highly experienced Management Team with over 100 years of combined experience in residential adventure therapy programming, and a team of program support personnel.


Each with its own unique layout, the two single-level residences are composed of four private student bedrooms each containing a bed, chest of drawers, desk. The remaining space is composed of a fully-equipped kitchen, dining area, washrooms, and open concept common area equipped with computer, television, and couches/chairs, and a bedroom for live-in staff.

Adventure Therapy 

The REACH program emphasizes intentional use of adventurous activities under the guidance of mental health and education professionals to kinesthetically engage students on cognitive, affective and behavioural levels with experiences which lead to positive change in their lives. This experiential learning grounded in authentic therapeutic relationships in a naturalistic setting produces accelerated, lasting personal change. The program is strength-based and begins with the conviction that every student (and family) is capable of achieving more than they believe possible.

Nature’s role 

There is a strong body of literature supporting nature as restorative and supportive of healthy physical, psychological, and emotional development in youth (Gass, Gillis, & Russell, 2012). The wilderness location of the REACH program brings students face-to-face with creation: a night sky filled with thousands of stars, waves lapping the shore, the roll of thunder, the crackle of an evening fire, and more. This immersion in nature can offer a new perspective and help a student take a new measure of himself.

Staying Connected 

Case managers and/or family members can be given real-time secure access to select documents and files through our client management system web portal (e.g., incident reports, photos, progress reports). Students will be able to make phone calls or Skype with approved contacts, working within the reasonable constraints of life within a family-like setting.


Wendigo Lake is committed to a continuous research program and looks to evidence to inform decisions on providing the best care possible for participants. Youth and engaged adult caregivers are asked to participate in progress monitoring during and after program participation. Youth in our programs consistently experience significant positive change to mental health scores and parents report significant positive changes in their child’s behaviour during and following placement.

R.E.A.C.H. Program Values

The REACH program encourages students to focus on five core values that we believe are fundamental to successfully reaching one’s potential:


Taking personal responsibility for behavioural choices and future goals.


Making positive change is hard work and effort means pushing yourself beyond what you think you can do.


Our thoughts become our actions.


We exist inter-dependently (family, school, town) and our choices directly impact upon the lives of others. We are accountable to, and responsible for, each other.


Positive change will only be sustained if our choices are motivated by our internal values and integrity rather than the expectations of others.

Intensive Staffing

REACH has a dedicated direct service team that equates to greater than a 1:1 staff:student ratio. A program supervisor works directly with the students and provides supervision/mentorship to the direct service team composed of fully-qualified teachers and full time instructors. The direct service team is backed up by management and support staff (administration, nurse, awake-night and security, maintenance, stores and food services).

Licensing, Accreditation and Accountability

We welcome external evaluation and scrutiny of our programs. Students and parents have access to a formal complaint resolution process. The Ministry of Children and Youth Services conducts an on-site licensing review of our residential program every year with mandatory file reviews and interviews with students and staff. The independent Office of the Child and Youth Advocate has jurisdiction to listen to any concerns of a youth, surrounding issues related to youth’s rights under the Child and Family Services Act. Our program has a legislated obligation to report any serious occurrence to the Ministry of Children and Youth Services. In addition, we voluntarily submit to the accreditation standards of the Association for Experiential Education (AEE) and Ontario Camps Association (OCA) and participate in numerous ad-hoc and ongoing research projects.

REACH Admission Process

A referral may be initiated by any parent, CAS or children’s services professional who has the authority to make placement decisions regarding the young person, and who has capacity to guarantee payment of the set per diem cost for the minimum 90 day program duration.

Most referrals begin with a phone call or email from the placement professional or parent to a member of the REACH Admissions Team so that specific questions you have about the program can be answered. Based on a general description of the young person’s history, current situation and behavioural profile, an initial indication can be given about whether the REACH program appears to be appropriate to his needs.

The next step is for the placement professional or parent to submit by fax a completed referral or use the online referral form accessed by clicking the ‘Make a Referral’ button. WLE typically responds within four working days, seeking clarification of referral information and advising whether we recommend proceeding to an admissions interview with the youth.

A REACH Admissions Team member will arrange an interview, often travelling to the young person’s home community to conduct an admissions interview. In some cases, a telephone or web-based video interview may be an option based on distance or other factors. The admissions interview provides the young person and parent/guardian with an orientation to the program and further assesses the young person’s capacity to do well in the program. The admissions interview in many ways begins the process of establishing a treatment plan for the child and family.

Many young people are initially opposed to the thought of coming to the REACH program, but we have found that in most cases the young person will voluntarily attend once they have had an opportunity to weigh their options and consider their future. It helps tremendously when there is a plan for family reintegration or alternative placement plan in place for after completion of the REACH program and if the other key members of the family unit are willing to participate in counselling and own their part in creating a more positive family environment.

Once an offer of admission has been extended, the young person will need to have a medical assessment to confirm that there are no known medical conditions which would contraindicate participation in the REACH program. A parental/guardian consent form must be completed as well as a service contract outlining the respective responsibilities of the parent/guardian and the REACH program.

Does it work?

Evidence-based Practice: Research by the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Research Center (OBHRC), to which Wendigo Lake Expeditions contributes data on an ongoing basis, has demonstrated that participants who enter programs with clinical levels of mental health related issues consistently graduate with sub-clinical mental health scores after program completion.

Is it Safe?

Based on years of incident data collected from leading wilderness therapy programs, a young person in the community is twice as likely to visit an emergency room as a youth participating in a licensed and accredited adventure therapy program. It should be noted that the average young person in a community setting does not demonstrate as many high-risk behaviours as those of a typical young person being referred for residential treatment. No young person is completely safe whether they continue living in their home or participate in the REACH program. Our program is accredited by the Association for Experiential Education and seeks to provide industry-leading levels of care, supervision and risk-management.

Do you have spots available?

To find out whether we have a current placement available, please call Ashley Cerisano at (705) 386-2376 extension 201. Ashley will be able to update you on our current placement availability. If we are full, she can let you know when we expect a placement to come available. In Ashley’s absence, press ‘0’ and any of our other management staff will be able to assist you.

For more information or
to make a referral, contact:

Ashley Cerisano, REACH Admissions & Case Management Coordinator
Phone: (705) 386-2376 ext. 201
Fax: (705)386-2345
Email: [email protected]

Wendigo Lake Expeditions is committed to making reasonable efforts to comply with accessibility requirements set out under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA).