Youth Development

Adventure Works of Dekalb County

Gather, Guide, Grow


Guiding youth in overcoming life challenges through adventure based counseling and education.

Ruling Year


Principal Officer

Lynette Spencer

Main Address




Youth Mental Health





Cause Area (NTEE Code)

Youth Development Programs (O50)

Community Mental Health Center (F32)

IRS Filing Requirement

This organization is required to file an IRS Form 990 or 990-EZ.

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Programs + Results

What we aim to solve

Currently in Illinois, youth are not receiving adequate mental health services. At any point in time, one in 10 children in Illinois suffers from a mental illness severe enough to cause some level of impairment; yet in any given year, only about 20% of these children receive mental health services. This is due to many factors, including lack of access to affordable services, cultural beliefs surrounding therapy and negative attitudes based on past experiences. Further, while many families now have health insurance, high deductibles, copays and out-of-pocket expenses make the cost of mental health services increasingly unaffordable. Adventure Works is an accredited outdoor behavioral healthcare program that seeks to reduce these barriers by providing a full spectrum of integrated healthcare services including prevention, education, mental health counseling and positive youth development programming to underserved youth in DeKalb County and surrounding areas.

Our programs

What are the organization's current programs, how do they measure success, and who do the programs serve?

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Adventure Therapy

Positive Youth Development

Early Risk Assessment Program (ERAP)

Where we work

Charting Impact

Five powerful questions that require reflection about what really matters - results.

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

What is the organization aiming to accomplish?

What are the organization's key strategies for making this happen?

What are the organization's capabilities for doing this?

How will they know if they are making progress?

What have they accomplished so far and what's next?

Adventure Works defines success through the positive growth experienced by clients and their families and through growth of the organization. Adventure Works has established the following goals for its work: 1. Reduce stigma associated with mental illness. 2. Provide experiences that will enhance the learning and therapeutic environments. 3. Alleviate the poverty of positive experiences that affects those living in financial poverty. 4. Provide alternative approach for those who have not been successful in traditional/office-based therapy. 5. Build the “6 Cs” of PYD in youth: Confidence, Connection, Character, Commitment, Compassion and Contribution to community.

Adventure Works is an accredited outdoor behavioral healthcare program that provides a full spectrum of integrated healthcare services including prevention, education, mental health counseling and positive youth development programs to underserved youth. Adventure Works accomplishes its goals through the following strategies and programs: Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare (Adventure Therapy): Adventure Works’ outdoor behavioral healthcare programming relies on adventure therapy, which is the prescriptive use of adventure experiences provided by mental health professionals, often conducted in natural settings that engage clients on cognitive, affective and behavioral levels. Examples of adventure therapy activities include walking to the nearby lagoon, going on a nature walk, slacklining on property, playing basketball, or participating in a challenge course. Adventure Works serves children and adolescents through age 26 and will accept any individual in need of treatment regardless of their ability to pay. Youth are often referred to Adventure Works in situations where traditional counseling methods have been unsuccessful. Positive Youth Development (PYD) Programs: Through its PYD programming, Adventure Works provides group-based activities in the school setting. Groups meet once a week, and sessions focus on developing positive behaviors through activities that incorporate healthy risk-taking. Whenever possible, these groups engage in outdoor activities aligned with the tenets of outdoor behavioral healthcare. Adventure Works’ PYD programs seek to develop in youth the “Six C’s” of prosocial behavior: Competence, Confidence, Character, Compassion, Connection and Contribution to the community. Adventure University: In 2016, Adventure Works piloted Adventure University, a PYD program in the University Village community, specifically working with critically underserved youth. Adventure University has evolved into a multi-faceted, collaborative program taking place after school and on-site in University Village, where 100% of the families are living in poverty. Youth served by the program face several challenges, such as food insecurity, anxiety, poverty and academic concerns. Adventure University provides safe, consistent and stable programming, homework help and nutrition to youth in the community. Youth also are provided opportunities to engage in outdoor behavioral healthcare and PYD activities to develop prosocial behaviors and address mental health concerns. Early Risk Assessment Program: Adventure Works provides assessment and case management services to first-time offenders in collaboration with DeKalb County Juvenile Justice Council, county police departments, juvenile court, and Youth Service Bureau. This program addresses the social service needs of youth with the goal of reducing recidivism.

Adventure Works is an industry leader in providing mental health treatment through outdoor behavioral healthcare. In 2017, Adventure Works earned national accreditation as an outdoor behavioral healthcare (OBH) program by the Association of Experiential Education (AEE). As one of only fifteen nationally accredited AEE-OBH programs, Adventure Works offers evidence-based treatment and is committed to adhering to above industry standards of ethical care, treatment evaluation and risk-management practices that have been developed exclusively for outdoor behavioral healthcare programs. Adventure Works’ programs are approved by AEE and the OBH Council and are guided by evidence-based practice. Outdoor behavioral healthcare treatment has been validated through peer-reviewed research, and the National Association for Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP) engages in ongoing research to examine the effectiveness of programs addressing behavioral health. Adventure Works is one of the outdoor behavioral healthcare programs included in NATSAP’s research database. Adventure Works employs a team of highly trained therapists to work with youth of all ages and to utilize tenants of outdoor behavioral healthcare. Adventure Works has experienced a steady, if not increasing, demand for its services year after year, revealing that youth desperately need the quality mental health treatment Adventure Works offers. Adventure Works offers life-changing mental health treatment in a setting not offered by other mental health providers in DeKalb County. Not every adolescent responds to traditional talk-therapy treatment, and the level of demand for the Adventure Therapy Program reveals that youth and their families are seeking innovative treatment options. Further, Adventure Works is available to bring its program to youth, reducing the barrier to access many families face. Adventure Works therapists go to local schools and community centers to provide outdoor behavioral healthcare to youth with no means for traveling to the office location.

Adventure Works relies on consistent evaluation to ensure its programs are meeting clients’ needs. Adventure Works uses the following indicators for its youth to gauge progress toward outcomes in the Adventure Therapy Program and the Positive Youth Development Program: engagement in the therapeutic process, progress toward individualized treatment goals, positive relationships with adults and peers, positive self-worth and sense of identity, sense of tolerance and empathy for others, positive view of skills and ability, the ability to recognize and abide by social and cultural rules, and active participation in community activities and issues. Adventure Works measures and monitors indicators and outcomes through the following data collection measures: Collaborative Treatment Plans: The primary evaluative measure Adventure Works utilizes is collaborative treatment plans, which are developed between parents, youth and therapists. Research shows that clients who are engaged in the development of their treatment plan are more likely to reach the goals they set, and Adventure Works has found that clients are also more trusting in the therapeutic process. Additionally, the process of developing the treatment plan lays a foundation of a lasting and trust-based relationship between youth and therapist. Once a treatment plan with behavioral goals has been agreed upon, youth, therapist and parents participate in periodic evaluations of behavior changes and progress toward reaching goals. Therapists use these evaluations to inform ongoing treatment and ensure progress toward positive outcomes for youth and families. Tracking Database: Adventure Works uses its internal database to track outputs, including the number of youth served, client demographic information, and the number and type of sessions. Partnership with University of New Hampshire: Adventure Works is working with a group of students at the University of New Hampshire to measure the social-skills development of the participants in its PYD Program. University students will be analyzing data collected using the Social Skills Checklist. This evaluation will assess pro-social behavior and progress toward developing confidence, connection, character, commitment, compassion and contribution to community. Collaboration with National Association for Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP): The NATSAP database collects information from individual programs across the country and provides this data to the OBH Center, engaging Adventure Works’ individual programs in ongoing research to examine the effectiveness of programs addressing behavioral health. Adventure Works also participates in discussions with the NATSAP and the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare (OBH) Council on evidence-based outcome measurement tools and best practices in adventure therapy.

In 2017, Adventure Works engaged in a rigorous study to assess the changes in youth engaged in its programs. This study, published (May 2018) in Journal of Social Work with Groups, found that clients who participated in Adventure Works' adventure therapy activities showed improvement in overall functioning as well as in areas related to personal relations and critical items. Adventure Works’ participation in this study builds on a body of research supporting the use of adventure therapy as an effective intervention in community setting. Through this research study, Adventure Works was not only able to expand upon and validate its existing program, but also to provide other outdoor behavioral healthcare programs with a successful example to replicate and build upon. Results of prior evaluations reveal that Adventure Works is successfully supporting youth and their families. A 2017 evaluation by an independent consultant found that youth developed positive attitudes about themselves and their treatment through adventure therapy; parents were confident in the process and saw positive change in youth; and the unique model of adventure therapy made an impact beyond Adventure Works’ clients. Additionally, relieving negative stigma is crucial to engaging youth in meaningful growth. Adventure Works’ clients not only let go of their negative associations with therapy, but also enjoyed their experiences with Adventure Works so much that they talked about it with friends and at school. Similarly, parents reported that their children were motivated to attend sessions, were engaged in the process, and felt positively about the outcomes of their therapy. One hundred percent of the parents also reported that Adventure Works offered a safe place to learn, that their child was treated with dignity and respect, that they had a clear understanding of the program goals and objectives for their child, and that they would recommend Adventure Works to others. Adventure Works continues to grow its programs and expand its reach in DeKalb County and surrounding areas. It provides quality mental healthcare services to youth who do not thrive in traditional talk-based therapy and is committed to serving every adolescent, regardless of their ability to pay. Finally, through its AEE-OBH accreditation and partnership with NATSAP, Adventure Works looks forward to contributing to a national body of research exploring the impacts of outdoor behavioral healthcare.

External Reviews


Adventure Works of Dekalb County

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The people, governance practices, and partners that make the organization tick.

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FREE: Gain immediate access to the following:

  • Address, phone, website and contact information
  • Forms 990 for 2018, 2017 and 2016
  • A Pro report is also available for this organization.

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Board Leadership Practices

GuideStar worked with BoardSource, the national leader in nonprofit board leadership and governance, to create this section, which enables organizations and donors to transparently share information about essential board leadership practices.

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization


Does the board conduct a formal orientation for new board members and require all board members to sign a written agreement regarding their roles, responsibilities, and expectations?

Not Applicable


Has the board conducted a formal, written assessment of the chief executive within the past year?

Not Applicable


Have the board and senior staff reviewed the conflict-of-interest policy and completed and signed disclosure statements in the past year?

Not Applicable


Does the board ensure an inclusive board member recruitment process that results in diversity of thought and leadership?

Not Applicable


Has the board conducted a formal, written self-assessment of its performance within the past three years?

Not Applicable