Pine River Institute

by dpreyde

I found out about it in Maclean’s, probably in 2006, shortly after Pine River Institute opened. Maclean’s described the institute as a rehabilitation facility for teenagers which incorporated wilderness camping into the recovery process. I was intrigued, and made a mental note to look them up online.

I was intrigued because my parents met in a group home. They weren’t residents, they were staff; my mother was actually the one who hired my father.

I grew up hearing about the group home, about the girl who slammed my mother’s hand in a door, about my parents’ first New Year’s Eve together spent sitting on a teenage boy who was high on glue, about the little girl who used to steal cigarette butts from the sidewalk and try to smoke them.

My parents loved these kids unconditionally. That was actually part of the group home’s philosophy: that the staff provide unconditional love and support. I don’t know how feasible it is to regulate emotional attachment, but a lot of the group home’s policies were unrealistic and utopic. The staff members were young, mostly unqualified, and were given little training and support. They were simply thrown into the deep end and left to sort things out amongst themselves.

For some godforsaken reason, this approach worked more often than not.

My parents learned how to parent at the group home. All their philosophies and values about childraising- most of them, anyway- came from there. And so both my sister and I were raised as if we were group home kids, by parents who were unconditionally loving, supportive and- by that point- seasoned professionals.

I tell you all this to explain why programs that take care of vulnerable teens are so important to me- especially when done well (especially when done better than my parents’ group home which, while well-intentioned, was a little too Wild West).

When I looked up Pine River Institute online for the first time, I discovered it was being done exceedingly well.

Their attitude about addiction- that it is a symptom of larger underlying problems- was in line with the values I was raised with. I loved the idea of dumping a bunch of teenagers in the woods to detox from drugs. I appreciated that they offered bursaries. The idea of a flexible length of stay was also appealing- nobody was going to make these kids leave until they were ready to go, and they would be regularly monitored even after that.

But Pine River is, at the end of the day, an organization, and I don’t trust organizations. They’ll say and do anything to make you believe in them.

Here’s what convinced me that they were the real deal: I Googled their job applications. Pine River was, at the time, searching for a few different staff members, and I looked up the forms to see what kind of people they were looking for.

I looked at two or three different forms, and on every single one they specified that having a sense of humour was a basic requirement.

That’s what sold me.

Because you can’t deal with at-risk youth without being able to laugh about the crazy, weird, wild shit that’s going on. For starters, it relieves stress, but also, some of the stuff that happens is really funny, even if it’s in a dark, dark way.

You spend New Year’s sitting on a kid who’s deliriously stoned, raving like a lunatic, and trying to run away, and you either snap, or laugh about it.

Pine River emphasizes having a sense of humour as much as having integrity, patience, commitment, or a clear sense of boundaries. And that’s as it should be.

Here’s the other thing: I have an addictive personality. Addiction is in my gene pool, I have family members who have misused substances, and I know those tendencies in me as well. I can feel it.

I decided when I was thirteen that I would refrain from anything that would be potentially addictive, and if I hadn’t made that choice, I don’t know where I’d be today. I do know- and this is a strange thing to live with- that if I’d done only three or four things differently, I would have required the services of a place like Pine River when I was a teenager. And if a place like that hadn’t been available, I would be seriously sick right now or possibly dead.

A handful of decisions: that’s all that separates me and the kids at Pine River. So I want to do what I can to support them.

This Sunday- October 5th– I’ll be walking 33 kilometers across Toronto in order to raise money for Pine River Institute.

Any donation you could offer would be greatly appreciated.

If you want more information, you can find Pine River’s website here:

If you want to donate, you can do so through their website. A direct link is here: