Finding Hope and Motivation: Real Stories of Success from Trails Carolina’s Programs for At-Risk Youth

At Trails Carolina, we believe that all at-risk youth have the ability to turn their lives around and reach their full potential. We are proud to share that our therapeutic wilderness program has helped many struggling teens overcome challenges and find long-lasting success in their personal and academic lives.

Some of our alumni students have kept in touch and have decided to share their inspiring stories about how they have transformed their lives through Trails Carolina’s therapeutic wilderness programs for at-risk youth. Knowing the profound impact of family involvement on at-risk youth, it is incredibly encouraging to see how our alumni families are working to continue the therapeutic work they started with us at Trails.

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Sharing Success Stories Strengthens Communities

When students and families open up about their experiences with our at-risk youth programs or other teen intervention services, they are providing hope and inspiration to families who are struggling and searching for at-risk youth programs that work.

Here are some more benefits of sharing success stories:

  • Helps families know that they are not alone
  • Inspires hope and motivation
  • Helps families understand what to expect from the program
  • Gives a realistic understanding of the challenges and successes
  • Shows the potential for positive change in at-risk youth

“I Am Forever Grateful”

“My son was struggling with addiction and depression before he joined Trails Carolina. After completing the program, he was a changed person. He learned valuable life skills and was able to overcome his challenges. I am forever grateful for the positive impact Trails Carolina has had on my son’s life.” – Sarah, parent of a Trails Carolina graduate

A close-up portrait of a boy outside. He has brown hair and eyes and smiles slightly as he looks off in front of him.

Success Stories From Trails Carolina Students

Families choose to seek out our services to help their children for a variety of reasons. Whether the primary issue is mental health challenges, defiant behavior, risky behavior, or academic underperformance, our purpose is to help our students face barriers and transform their lives from at-risk youth to successful young people. Here are some of their stories.

Amelia’s Success Story

Amelia came to Trails Carolina struggling with issues of chronic lying and defiant behavior at home.

“The biggest concern was the outbursts – yelling and raging at home,” shared Steve, Amelia’s father. “Amelia was managing to do okay in school – but as her workload increased, she had more difficulty paying attention in class and completing assignments. She also took little to no responsibility at home. She needed to learn to cope better personally, socially, and academically. We knew we needed to help her make a change. That’s when we found Trails. We are eternally grateful, and so thankful we did this,” shared Steve.

While working with her primary therapist, wilderness guides, and peer group in our program, Amelia learned how to practice healthier boundaries, became able to process and manage stressors, and practiced coping strategies through assertive communication to resolve conflict in a healthy way.

“I can look back and say, ‘You did good Amelia.’ I can look back and be proud of how far I’ve come.”

She also learned how to manage qualities that put her at risk, gained a better understanding of herself, and developed an understanding of why being trustworthy and having integrity is important.

“This time exactly a year ago I was in a car headed to the wilderness,” recalled Amelia. “A lot of people ask why I talk about wilderness so much, and why I act so proud of it. And to answer, it’s because I am proud of it. Not the fact that I actually got sent, but because a year afterward, I can look back and say that I conquered who I was becoming and became the person I was created to be.”

Her father shared that their family went from a family with a little girl who was lost and headed on a very bad path to a young woman with direction and compassion. Amelia is beyond proud of what happened a year ago at Trails Carolina and made lasting friendships. She is content with where she is now and is thankful for everyone who had something to do with her experience.

Overcoming Challenges

Success stories like Amelia’s demonstrate the potential for at-risk youth to overcome their challenges with the support of a therapeutic wilderness program like Trails Carolina. By providing a supportive environment, students can learn valuable life skills that lead to long-term success.

Christian’s Success Story

Struggling with issues of drug use and dishonesty, Christian came to Trails hoping to turn his life around.

Christian’s mother reflected on the tough, yet significant decision to enroll Christian in Trails Carolina, “While he had at one time been an honest son, an athlete, a good student and involved with school and church, his drug usage had changed him. He had become dishonest, sneaky, and unreliable. He was not afraid to go to great lengths with risky and self-destructive behavior to keep up his drug usage.

“We made the difficult decision to send him to the wilderness program at Trails Carolina. He would later tell us, while he was in the wilderness and after his head was cleared from the effects of his long-term drug usage, that he was thankful that we forced him into treatment because he knew that he was ‘slowly killing himself.'”

When he arrived at Trails, Christian was assigned a therapist who tailored a specific treatment plan to his particular needs. His therapist provided much-needed family support and helped convince him to continue treatment. With the therapeutic support and structure of our program, Christian overcame his issues with substance use, repaired his relationship with his family, gained confidence and self-care skills, and reset himself to find a better path in life.

“[The Trails Carolina Team] are caring and work to know the student as an individual and they provided [Christian] with much-needed treatment,” shared Christian’s mother. “My husband and I are extremely thankful for the changes that we have seen in our son. He is returning to the young man that we knew before drugs took such a grip on him.”

Building Self-Esteem and Self-Sufficiency

Success stories like Christian’s demonstrate how therapeutic wilderness programs for at-risk youth like Trails Carolina can help struggling teens build self-esteem and overcome challenges, transforming into healthy young adults. By providing a supportive and structured environment, students can develop confidence in themselves and their abilities.

Grace’s Success Story

Before coming to Trails, Grace suffered from depression and severe anxiety for over a year, which led to hospitalizations and prescribed medications. She struggled to attend school and focus on her education.

After almost two years of sleepless nights and Grace’s increasingly escalating behavior which was harming her and her family, Grace’s home therapist suggested trying a program where Grace could go to actively participate in making positive changes in her life.

“We were the lucky ones who found wilderness therapy with Trails,” commented Grace’s mom. “No other hospital or social worker or psychiatrist offered us this solution.”

Thanks to the Trails experience, Grace and her family embraced new ways of communication, and she learned to manage symptoms of depression and severe anxiety, practiced healthy ways to work through conflict, and gained coping skills to manage her anxiety at school and improve her academic focus.

Improving Relationships

Success stories like Grace’s demonstrate how therapeutic at-risk programs like Trails Carolina can improve relationships with family members and peers. By providing a structured and supportive environment, students can learn how to communicate effectively and build stronger relationships with those around them.

Seth’s Success Story

Seth had struggled with oppositional behavior, anger management, and depression. At Trails, he learned how to recognize and process his emotions and motivations, learned communication skills alongside his family, and gained direction in his life.

His mother found it difficult to help him until she enrolled him in Trails Carolina. “From the first conversation [with the Trails Admissions Team], it was a relief that I thought I had found a solution for Seth,” Seth’s mother reflected on her initial impressions, “Trails was not inexpensive, but I felt like it was an investment worth making.”

Through weekly phone calls and the family-focused aspect of Trails’ program, Seth and his parents were able to start reconnecting and communicating in new, positive, and loving ways.

“We were all able to step back and look at how we were acting and reacting,” Maurine commented, “Trails and the family focus are enabling us all to reconnect with one another in more positive, loving ways.”

Seth’s mother’s thoughts on the Trails experience continue to be positive and hopeful, “Trails has my highest regard and recommendation. They are an incredible asset to not only our son but also to our family as a whole. Trails has been instrumental in turning our family crisis into a period of positive transitions. Our problems didn’t materialize overnight and the solutions will take commitment and time. Trails has been there, always available to provide calm and reassurance.”

Hope and Positive Progress

Success stories like Seth’s demonstrate the potential for positive change and continued progress in at-risk youth. Sometimes families need therapeutic support, structure, and time in order to see real change.

Son, mom, and dad are holding hands and walking outside.

Beyond the Anecdotes: Studies Support the Effectiveness of Nature-Based Programs for At-Risk Youth

In addition to the anecdotes and testimonials from students and families, there is a body of empirical evidence depicting the effectiveness of Trails Carolina’s therapeutic wilderness programs. We partner with the Center for Research, Assessment, and Treatment Efficacy (CReATE; Asheville, NC) and the University of Arkansas to conduct an ongoing outcomes study.

The empirical evidence supports that our programs are highly effective in helping at-risk youth and struggling teens to overcome various challenges, improve mental health and behavioral issues, and find lasting success. According to research and statistics gathered by Trails Carolina:

  • 98% of students continued to report significantly improved mental health 12 months after graduation
  • 91% of students reported experiencing continued improvement in depression and anxiety, 12 months after graduation
  • 93% of students showed a decrease in rule-breaking behaviors 12 months after graduation
  • 98% of students reported experiencing a decrease in aggressive behaviors, 12 months after graduation
  • 96% of students showed a decrease in school refusal 12 months after graduation
  • 87% of students felt excited about school 12 months after graduation

Take a Step Toward a Brighter Future with Trails Carolina

If you are seeking support for your child, consider enrolling them in Trails Carolina’s therapeutic wilderness program for at-risk youth ages 10-17. Our program has helped many struggling teens and families overcome their challenges and transform their lives. 

By sharing our alumni’s inspiring stories, we aim to provide hope and motivation to families who are searching for at risk youth programs that work. Our alumni want to help families understand what to expect from our program, and show the potential for positive change in at-risk youth. Our Admissions Team is always available to answer any questions and help your family take the first step toward a brighter future.

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Avatar of Jeremy Whitworth

Jeremy Whitworth

As Executive Director at Trails Carolina, a leading wilderness therapy program for youth and teens, I oversee operations and collaborate with our leadership team. Since 2022, I've also hosted the Common Ground Podcast for parents: With a background in Wilderness Leadership and Experiential Education, I've managed adventure-based therapeutic programs across the US and Canada. My experiences in competitive athletics and adventure sports have honed my leadership, risk assessment, and decision-making skills, which I apply to running a successful business like Trails Carolina.

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Trails saved my daughter’s life. Amanda is an amazing human and a brilliant therapist. I am so grateful to her, Science Steve, and the other wonderful people who could reach my daughter at a time when I could not.

Margot Lowman August 2022

Great life changing experience for our son. After becoming addicted to gaming during covid he was very depressed. At Trails he experienced the wilderness, Science Steve, learning survival skills and top notch therapy and support etc… I highly recommend! This gave our son and our family a renewed family bond full of love and excitement about his bright future.

Winnifred Wilson July 2022


Outstanding clinical work and superb staff! There’s a great culture at this company and it shows with how they engage with families/clients.

Kristin Brace June 2022


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