I was raised in a large Midwestern family. Both of my parents were social workers who valued supporting the community and had a zest for life. In my boyhood years my parents mentored me largely on the shores of Lake Superior. There we had a small cabin and my love for the outdoors took hold.
Growing up I remember being 17 years old thinking, “There must be a better way to experience these high school years…” It was then I began to form the idea of someday living out west and working to make a place where kids could have a healthy, active, outdoorsy educational experience.
Soon after graduating from Western Michigan University in 1985 I found myself in northern Idaho. I wasn’t sure how long I’d stay or what I would do, but I can tell you it has become home for me and my wife Jennifer. My adult children Carly and Shane benefitted from their upbringing in this part of the country as well.
My work with adolescents began in 1989 at an original therapeutic boarding school, Rocky Mountain Academy, and wilderness program, Ascent, where I learned a great deal. Ten years later, in 1999, I resigned my post as the Director of Northwest Academy to join my long time friend Dave Yeats to co-own and operate Northwoods. (Fun fact: Dave and I eventually figured out that we had in fact met many years prior when he and I were getting a lift from the same driver while hitch hiking across the upper peninsula of Michigan!)
We have a voluntary admission policy at Northwoods. In this way we maintain the family atmosphere of our program milieu for new students. I believe we offer a unique program that offers three charming home-like settings: two state-licensed facilities in Idaho and one in Costa Rica. Each campus has a multi-disciplinary team approach. We are committed to remaining flexible and focused on each individual family’s needs while maintaining the integrity of a quality, consistent program.
Matt Fitzgerald is Northwoods’ President. He holds a Bachelor of Science Degree from Western Michigan University. He has over 20 years experience in educating youth at risk working at Rocky Mountain Academy, Administrator of Ascent Wilderness Program, Headmaster of Northwest Academy, and Northwoods.
The seeds of Northwoods were planted in my early twenties while traveling around the world. From my earliest memories, maps of the world were a constant presence, as my earthquake geologist father was often out studying active faults in far off places like Pakistan and Peru. The first pair of shoes I remember were hiking boots, and when my father wasn’t off mapping the Himalayas, he was hauling us up and down the High Sierras, the Cascades, and the Olympic mountains. I believe I was born and bred to wander both physically and psychologically.
As I entered my late thirties, I assessed my career path. Over nine years, I had worked in adolescent day treatment, had been a teacher and counselor at a therapeutic boarding school, and had developed and supervised a network of therapeutic foster homes for the state of Idaho. All of these experiences were valuable to me, but after three years in each position, wanderlust would kick in, and I was ready for the next adventure. With three young children, throwing on the backpack and grabbing my passport was not an option, but bootstrapping my own small program? Well, if not now, when?
Twenty two years later, we’re still up and running. Passports are part of the required equipment list, and our Costa Rica project feels very much to me like my crowning achievement. Our original home in Bonners Ferry continues to house our facility there, and in 1999, with Matt Fitzgerald joining me for the rollicking ride, we added the Sagle Farm as our third location.