Port Angeles, Wash.
Objective: To help teens improve their self-esteem and make better social choices.
In a Nutshell: GUTS Institute is a nonprofit that provides four-day seminars for adolescents. Through discussion groups, indoor rope challenges and arts (mostly role-playing), teens learn how to build and sustain a safe, respectful and nonabusive peer team to support one another. The rope challenges include activities such as the “Spider’s Web,” where teens communicate and work together to get one another through a puzzling rope web. A training component, called the GUTS Institute, prepares youth workers elsewhere to implement the GUTS program.
Where It Happens: Fifty GUTS seminars have been run in Washington state, where the program began. Seminars and activities with portable rope courses are often held in church halls and alternative high schools. The GUTS Institute is training youth workers in communities outside Washington to adapt and replicate the model.
When It Began: 1997.
Who Started It: Glenn Goldberg left his job directing Healthy Families of Clallam County, a rural multiservice agency in Washington, to create GUTS.
Who Runs It: Goldberg directs the agency. Michelle Roberts, an expert in group processes, experiential education and rope challenges, serves as Glenn’s co-facilitator for GUTS seminars. Adults and teen alumni volunteer on seminar staff teams.
Early Obstacles: Getting funding for programs in rural communities. Early replication efforts were difficult because of the small staff and a lack of formal curriculum material.
How They Overcame Them: The program increased its revenue by using a sliding scale to assess fees and tapping into local government and tribal funding streams. To improve replication, the institute published a 500-page replication manual.
Cost: The agency’s annual operating budget is $75,000.
Who Pays: Seminars are now free to participants. Most seminars are underwritten by the Washington Department of Social and Health Services to serve abused and neglected teens in foster care. Other sessions are financed by schools, juvenile justice facilities, mental health and drug treatment centers, tribes, youth groups and domestic violence/sexual assault agencies.
Who Else Has Kicked In: Several local entities, such as the Ben B. Cheney Foundation, First Federal Savings & Loan Association of Port Angeles and the Peninsula Daily News Charitable Fund. The Discuren Foundation in Seattle provided a grant to underwrite the development of the curriculum and resource manual.
Youth Served: More than 850 youths ages 14 to 19, fifteen percent of whom were Native American, have graduated from GUTS seminars. Goldberg estimates that replication efforts will result in 150 to 300 more youth taking GUTS seminars annually.
Youth Turn-On: The wide array of activities, especially the rope challenges.
Youth Turn-Off: Some youth initially balk at the prospect of a four-day, nine-hour-per-day commitment.
Research Shows: In surveys by an independent evaluator, 84 percent of GUTS graduates have rated their seminars as “fantastic” or “excellent,” and 20 percent said they were “transformational.” In Clallam County, where 60 first-time juvenile offenders were referred to GUTS seminars, the recidivism rate a year later among GUTS graduates was about half the rate of first-time offenders who didn’t take GUTS seminars. (Note: The recidivism rate may be lower in part because the youths considered for acceptance were those who had expressed a willingness to try it.) The program was featured at the 2001 Washington State Children’s Administration’s “Best New Ideas” conference for caseworkers.
What Still Gets in the Way: The program could use more facilitators, says Goldberg. The seminars all require travel, and his staff can barely handle the number of sessions the group is scheduled to run.