The Echo Springs faculty of twenty works with about twenty students between two campuses.

We bring over 250 years of experience, working with youth in educational settings.

Our team:

John Winton: Director

John is an engaging and devoted leader who brings over 20 years of experience in wilderness therapy to Echo Springs. John studied therapeutic recreation in college before spending many years as a wilderness guide and lead instructor. Eventually, John and a business partner created Breakwater Expeditions, a company that offers therapeutic wilderness expeditions to young adults and their parents. John is proud to be the director of Echo Springs where he tirelessly inspires the faculty and interacts with the students on a regular basis. John is also a talented musician and passionate athlete.


At Echo Springs

John is the big kahuna on campus, but that doesn’t mean you won’t see him leading student trips and attending group therapy sessions with Echo Springs students. John is a hands-on kind of guy and is passionate about meeting every student and understanding their story. John oversees the entire staff and all the students at Echo Springs. He also keeps in close contact with parents and works closely with his senior staff to constantly refine programming and the goals of the organization.

John considers himself to be a conductor who helps bring out the best in the incredibly talented Echo Springs staff and faculty. His long career working with at-risk youth and his experience in running a successful wilderness expedition company have given him the perspective and tools he needs to inject new energy into Echo Springs and to maintain its reputation as the leading young adult transitional program in the country.

“Echo Springs has such a strong foundation in quality programming. The real-life experience of our faculty members is absolutely unmatched, and our students really get the full benefit of their hard-earned wisdom. This team represents a ton of energy, a ton of care, and a ton of experience. Echo Springs is already at an amazing level, but I’m really excited to see just how much farther we can go.”


John earned his Bachelors of Science in Therapeutic Recreation from Radford University in Virginia. Since 1995, he has been working closely with at-risk teens and adults, first as a wilderness guide and then as a lead instructor. Along the way, he started to realize the integral role parents could play if they also participated in the transitional process. Eventually, John teamed up with Lars Hall to found Breakwater Expeditions, a company that offered wilderness excursions for teens, families, and school groups. One of Breakwater’s clients was Echo Springs. When Doug Kim-Brown decided it was time to hand over the reins of Echo Springs, he contacted John, and the rest is history.


John is a consummate athlete who loves climbing, wild surfing, biking, tennis, golf, basketball, soccer and more. If it’s a sport, John has probably played it at some time. He also comes from an artistic family and enjoys photography and building his own furniture.

Fun Facts

John plays the guitar, mandolin, and banjo.


Chris Ankney: Director of Operations

Chris is incredibly passionate about working with young adults. He brings a lot of humor and wisdom to his role as Director of Operations. His multifaceted background includes educational degrees in sustainable business and political science, a stint in the Marines, and a number of years as a wilderness therapy guide. He is also a passionate traveler who has explored many parts of the world, and a serious mountain biker and runner.


At Echo Springs

As Director of Operations, Chris Ankney’s job is to make sure all of the faculty members at Echo Springs have the tools they need to excel as they work with their students. Chris is the man behind the curtain, keeping everything running. He handles the company’s financials and works with co-owner John Winton to develop the company’s goals. He and John also continually update the programming to keep it fresh and relevant to Echo Springs students

“Every day I am blown away by our faculty here at Echo Springs. We have such a unique collection of personalities and backgrounds and such an incredible well of real world experience. I love how much each staff member believes in what we are doing, and I know this makes all the difference to our students. Watching our students grow into confident adults who look forward to their future is incredibly satisfying to me.”


Chris brings an eclectic lifetime of experience to Echo Springs, which gives him a unique perspective. He earned his MBA with an emphasis in sustainable business from Marylhurst University and a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Montana State University. Chris served with the United States Marine Corps but eventually heeded a desire to “get paid to be outside.” Chris became a wilderness therapy guide and discovered that he had a natural ability to work with young people. Chris has also worked as a rainforest guide in Costa Rica and at a fitness-related internet startup company. (We said his background was eclectic!)


Chris’s passion for adventure has lead him all around the world and onto the starting line of some crazy difficult races. Chris has traveled to more countries than he can count, including Peru, Panama, Australia, Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, and more. When he isn’t packing his bags, you can often find him running trails, mountain biking, or training for his next half Iron Man.

Fun Facts

Chris also participates in ultra running races. The longest race he’s ever run is a 100k (over 62 miles!).


Emily Phillips: Admissions and Marketing Director

Emily comes to Echo Springs with 15 years of professional experience working with young adults and adolescents in a variety of alternative educational environments. Professionally, she has served as a program manager, recreation leader, and academic director at a variety of alternative education institutions before founding her own company that provides adventure expeditions across the globe. She has also participated in multiple service trips to Nepal. At Echo Springs, she encourages students to get outside of their own head and involved in service, adventure, and travel.


At Echo Springs

Emily has a deep understanding of the multi-faceted challenges adolescents and young adults face and how to authentically connect and support students’ unique interests. As the Marketing and Admissions Director of Echo Springs, Emily is in charge of maintaining the integrity and culture of Echo Springs through learning about each potential student and determining if they are a good fit for the program. Emily ensures that every student who enrolls with Echo Springs has the best opportunity to make their own discoveries and contributions to the world.

“I love guiding students and families into a space where they can develop and create a future that offers healthy relationships, goal fulfillment, and peace. It’s beautiful to watch students test their resolve, realize their potential, and ultimately display confidence within themselves as they approach the outside world.”


Emily was born in Ontario, Canada and grew up in Pennsylvania. She earned her Bachelor of Science from Utah State University in a program that integrated psychology, biology, and health education. She is a Wilderness First Responder, Certified Parent Coach, E.M.T. and a trained facilitator of Love and Logic for Parents and Teachers. She has worked with wilderness programs and served in academics and admissions for over 15 years. During this time, she created diagnostic curriculum to help display how student strengths and weaknesses present in a classroom setting.

One of Emily’ greatest passions is service. After multiple service trips to Nepal, she founded the country’s first foster care organization.

She also founded her own therapeutic expedition company, Soul Continuum, which allows young adults to experience multicultural service learning and adventure expeditions in Nepal, Costa Rica, Alaska, and Utah. She has been a professional E.M.T. ski patroller and coach for youth soccer, swimming, and field hockey. She has lived in Canada, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Utah, California, Nepal, and Thailand.


Emily enjoys spending time with her three small children and occasionally finding the time to travel and play in the mountains, rivers, and oceans.


David C. Barth LPC, MS: Clinical Advisor

David brings a unique clinical perspective to the Echo Springs programming. He uses honesty, humor, and trust to build strong rapport with students and to guide them in breaking through negative assumptions and beliefs. He also ensures that our programming is founded in the latest clinical research.

David brings over 25 years of experience in a therapeutic setting to Echo Springs, including a background in wilderness programming. He is deeply attuned to the young adult population and is able to meet every student where they are. His son, who has special needs, serves as a constant inspiration that every perspective is valid and valuable.


At Echo Springs

David helps infuse the Echo Springs program with a more clinical perspective in order to better understand and meet the unique needs of each student. David works directly with the students at Echo Springs, using his strong intuition, compassion, and relational skills to help students break through their perceived limits. David also advises the Echo Springs staff on ways to best support each student.

David is a master of building relationships and teaching on a level of deep honesty, understanding, and openness. Students appreciate David’s humor and his commitment to modeling trust and vulnerability.

“I never write a student off. Instead, I see them where they are and understand them by seeing myself through them. The best part of my job is seeing the light turn on when a student pushes through their perceived limits.”


David grew up in Maryland but has lived with his wife and son in Sandpoint, Idaho for over 20 years. He brings over 25 years of experience in the therapeutic field to Echo Springs, first as an instructor at  wilderness programs in central Pennsylvania and Idaho, and then in various positions in therapeutic boarding schools in Idaho and Montana. After accruing many years of hands-on clinical experience, David went back to school in order to earn his master’s degree in counseling from Prescott College and is a licensed counselor in Idaho. In addition, he has taken Level I and Level II training in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing).

He was attracted to Echo Springs for its commitment to relationship-based teaching and the ownership that each staff member takes in the program.

David considers his autistic son to be his greatest teacher and influencer.


When he isn’t guiding students to important personal breakthroughs, David enjoys back country skiing, mountain biking, and getting his hands dirty in the garden. He is also committed to his wife and teenage son.

Fun Facts

David loves music and plays the guitar and mandolin.


Shannon Earle: Phase One Program Manager

Shannon uses her education, experience, and passion for the outdoors to connect with and inspire her students. Shannon has been working with at-risk young adults and children for over 25 years as a wilderness guide, kindergarten teacher, and certified parent coach. She brings an incredible amount of dedication and positivity to her job at Echo Springs. Shannon also loves spending time with her daughters and backcountry skiing.


At Echo Springs

Shannon fulfills two very important roles at Echo Springs. As the program’s Parent Coordinator, she not only keeps parents updated on their child’s experience and progress, but she also helps parents learn how to approach their children as young adults. As students mature and grow as a result of their experience in Echo Springs, Shannon helps prepare parents for a new, stronger, and more connected relationship with their child.

Shannon also serves as the Phase One Program Manager and the individual Advisor for all female students. In this role, Shannon’s deep compassion helps her break through the walls many of her students have created and help them envision a new future for themselves. Her students come to appreciate and rely on Shannon’s honesty and integrity, and many of them keep in touch with her even years after graduation.

“I love that I get to assist young adults in discovering that they are capable of succeeding in life. I love those moments where they get it ; when they realize This is my life. This isn’t about my parents or my teaches. I’m in control. I believe that the most important part of my job is approaching and treating my students as who they are capable of being, not who they were in the past.”


Shannon grew up in San Joaquin Valley in Central California and has also lived in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. She studied at Arizona State and earned her degree from the University of Idaho. Throughout her professional career, Shannon has earned her Parent Coach certification, become a certified Waldorf math teacher, and earned her license as a massage therapist.

Shannon previously worked at a therapeutic boarding school, serving first as an intern and then as a wilderness guide for several years. She also taught kindergarten before joining the staff of Echo Springs in 2008.


In her free time, Shannon enjoys back country skiing. “There’s just something so satisfying about working to get up that next hill against a beautiful backdrop of snow and mountains.” Shannon doesn’t always get all the free time she wants, but that’s okay, because she loves being a mom to her two wonderful daughters.

Fun Facts

At Arizona State, Shannon made the school’s travel swim team as a walk-on. She has also been practicing massage for over 20 years.


Kay Brocke: Phase Two Program Manager

When students graduate from Phase One of the Echo Springs program and move to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho to start Phase Two, they are greeted by Kay Brocke. As the manager of the Phase Two program, Kay is involved in every aspect of this exciting transition as her students take on new challenges, like attending college classes, interviewing for jobs, and becoming active members of the local community.


At Echo Springs

Kay is both compassionate and strong and is able to find that difficult balance between watching over her students and letting them make their own choices and accept the consequences.

On any given day, you can find Kay volunteering in the community with her students, acting as a sounding board as a student decides on his college class schedule, or watching one of her students participate in a local poetry slam. Kay’s proudest moments come when it is time to guide students through Phase Out and into their exciting, autonomous lives.

“I really trust the Echo Springs process. I am here to support my students, but I can’t save them. They save themselves. I’ll always put my hand out, but I’m not going to pick them up. When they learn to stand up on their own, they realize that they can do anything. I really have a passion to help these young adults find their own way to success.”


Kay grew up in Washington state and received a degree in Outdoor Recreation with a minor in Outdoor Therapy from Eastern Washington University. During her time at school, Kay ran an outdoor rafting program. At that time, it was unusual for women to be rafting guides, and Kay was often asked to run women-only rafting trips and excursions for women who had experienced abusive relationships.

For ten years, Kay also managed the outdoor program for North West Academy, a therapeutic boarding school. Kay’s deep compassion for others and her many years working with adolescents and young adults makes her a wonderful fit for the Echo Springs faculty.


Kay is a proud mother of two with a passion for cycling. She is also a hopeless travel addict and jumps at the chance to plan trips to Europe with her students. She has visited many different countries, including France, Italy, and Costa Rica.

Fun Facts

Kay is passionate about giving back and travels to Mexico several times every year to deliver medical supplies and bicycles.

Serena Sprungl: Academic Advisor

Serena draws on her experiences as a formally trained historical researcher and writer, a teacher and mentor, and a community organizer to reignite a love of learning in her students. As an academic advisor at Echo Springs, Serena is responsible for helping students achieve their educational goals. As a teacher and tutor, she has a unique gift for presenting information in new and interesting ways to help students grasp difficult concepts and make big leaps in their learning journeys. Serena is passionate about making academics enjoyable and meaningful for teens and young adults.


At Echo Springs

Serena’s goal in working with students is to facilitate their own educational journey. At Echo Springs, Serena serves primarily as a tutor to help our students succeed as they take on new educational challenges, whether that is to earn their GED or complete a degree program at North Idaho College. Serena is dedicated to meeting each student where they are and helping them learn at their own pace. Serena’s own love of learning and her passion for teaching shine through, inspiring her students to see education as fun and rewarding.

“Echo Springs is a place where young people have the opportunity to access a variety of tools and guides to help them decide who they want to be in the world. It’s a place where possibilities bloom.”


Serena was born and raised in Boundary County and earned her associate’s degree at North Idaho College, where many of our students attend. She graduated magna cum laude from Western Washington University and then went on to earn a master’s degree in History at Yale University. While at Yale, Serena especially enjoyed mentoring students who, like herself, were from socioeconomic groups underrepresented in academia. As a Yale graduate teaching fellow, Serena discovered her passion for making education accessible and relevant to a diverse audience.

Serena has lived in Washington State, Connecticut, and Texas and, most recently, has worked as a substitute teacher in Boundary County schools. Serena understands that each student faces their own unique educational challenges, and she looks forward to helping them break through limiting assumptions in order to succeed both inside and outside of the classroom.


In her free time, Serena enjoys running, reading, music, and spending time with her daughter, Josy.



Johanna Hanson: Student Advisor

Johanna grew up in Germany, but her passion for traveling led her to many different corners of the world. Now, she works to help her students break through their own self-imposed boundaries so that they can see how much the world has to offer them.

As a student advisor, Johanna always looks for the good in each of her students and approaches them with kindness and understanding. One way that she often breaks through to students is by sharing her love of the outdoors. On any given weekend, it is routine to find Johanna leading her students on hikes, swims, or even climbs.


At Echo Springs

Johanna often believes in her students before they believe in themselves! She remembers on one occasion working with a student who did not even want to get out of bed. With time and work, that same student was able to climb to the top of the climbing wall. Johanna will never forget the big, proud smile on that student’s face when he achieved something he never thought was possible.

“I love watching students grow into strong individuals and being part of that process. It is great to see students develop confidence and new passions and learn how to see themselves and the world in a new light.”


Johanna grew up in Stuttgart, Germany but she is not the kind of person who is content to sit still. While she worked for a degree in Germany, she studied abroad in Spain and in Oregon. The outdoor wilderness of Oregon appealed to her, and she moved to the state to receive her Masters degree in education. This would be followed by a teaching license.

After earning her master’s degree, Johanna worked as a substitute teacher in public schools as well as in therapeutic boarding schools. When she moved to Sandpoint, Idaho, she fell in love with the area’s natural beauty and decided to put down roots


Johanna and her husband thrive on outdoor adventures. They love tackling difficult rock climbing routes in remote places and also backpack, mountain bike and ski.

Fun Fact

Johanna loves to indulge her duel passions of traveling and learning foreign languages. Both allow her to learn about other cultures and grow as a person.


Tom Riverman: Student Advisor

Tom uses humor, strong listening skills, and empathy to encourage his students to open up. After spending many years in an unfulfilling career, Tom made a profound shift and entered the world of therapeutic education. He brings over seven years of experience with at-risk youth populations to Echo Springs and has also participated in Dr. Foster Cline’s renowned Love & Logic course. He loves being a dad and using his time at Echo Springs to instill his students with a desire to change their lives.


At Echo Springs

As a student advisor, Tom spends a great deal of time directly in contact with the students of Echo Springs. On any given day he may take his students grocery shopping for the first time, show them how to do laundry, or listen as a student describes a difficult relationship with parents. Helping his students develop real world skills is an important part of Tom’s job, but his true mission is to develop a strong and trust-based relationship with each student. The trust he builds helps Tom when encouraging his students to choose a better path for their lives.

Tom describes himself as a “kid at heart,” and uses humor and understanding to help his students lower their barriers. Students consider Tom approachable, dependable, and incredibly funny. Beneath the humor, Tom is always working to instill within his students the desire to do what is right.

“I think my favorite moments are the ones that sneak up on you. There are those times when I am hanging out with a student; maybe we’re playing a game, going on a hike, or just chatting. Then it dawns on me how mature and confident that student has become. I think back on when they first came here and can hardly believe I am talking to the same person. You’d think it wouldn’t surprise me anymore, but it always does. I love that!”


Tom’s childhood was spent in Washington state and Texas. He attended Washington State University and double majored, receiving a bachelor’s in English and Communication. He spent several years as a buyer for Macy’s, but eventually realized that the work wasn’t fulfilling his need to make a difference in the world. That decision to try a different path led Tom to a transitional boarding school, where he spent seven years as a team manager. During that time, Tom learned how to connect with adolescent and young adult students. He also participated in a “Love and Logic” conference produced by Dr. Foster Cline, a renowned name in the field of child psychology and behavioral analysis. Tom has been with Echo Springs since 2011 and considers his job remarkably rewarding and just plain fun.


Tom loves being a father to his two young daughters and considers himself to be the world’s best reader of children’s stories (title not yet official, but it should be).

Fun Facts

Tom is a crossword puzzle junkie who often creates his own crossword puzzles.



Dave Frost: Student Advisor
Dave grew up on the East Coast and has been in the Pacific Northwest since 2008.  Dave began his career in wilderness therapy as a wilderness guide. Dave has worked for over 10 years with youth and their families through Adventure based programming. Dave joined Echo Springs in July of 2018 and is thrilled to work alongside our young adults, supporting their growth as they navigate through life’s opportunities. Dave teaches our Enneagram Class, Health & Nutrition, and is a Student Adviser here at Echo Springs. Dave is a proud father of 3 young children who help him remember to stay present and to enjoy the gift of every moment.


At Echo Springs

For Dave, working with his students and their families is a privilege and an opportunity to build lasting relationships. He is grateful for every relationship and experience he is able to create. He particularly enjoys teaching the Enneagram and Health & Nutrition class, and witnessing his students’ self awareness, knowledge and confidence expand.

Dave enjoys connecting with the youth to teach them about honesty, courage and respect, through patience, compassion and tough love.

I love the opportunity to connect with people, to provide opportunities for students to ‘see themselves’ and to learn alongside these incredibly unique individual’s how to navigate life moment to moment.  Whether it be on a trail, in a classroom, in conversation, I have the chance to be my best self, and to be an example of: respect, compassion, humility, patience, resilience, generosity, honesty, wisdom and love.  I’ve been given the opportunity to reflect back to others their frustrations, their issues, their needs, their wants, and ultimately their own guidance, when they start to hear their own voice reflecting their true self – I love that.”


Dave grew up on the East Coast and has been in the Pacific Northwest since 2008. He began his career in wilderness therapy at Redcliff Ascent as a wilderness guide in 2005.  Since 2007 Dave has been focused on connecting with the youth and their families through Adventure based programming. In addition to his work at Echo Springs, Dave is pursuing a Masters in Counseling.


Dave loves to cook, ski, mountain bike, build and create.

Fun Facts

Dave is a fraternal twin and while in High School, he had the distinction of being awarded the “Best Dancer Superlative”.



Matthew Honsinger: Faculty, Phase One, Phase Two Liason

Matt is passionate about connecting with nature and enjoys sharing this love of the outdoors with his students. Before joining the Echo Springs faculty, Matt spent seven years working in the emergency medical services department in Sandypoint, Idaho. He is a Wilderness First Responder and a certified Smart Recovery Facilitator. Matt enjoys spending time with his young daughter and helping Echo Springs students meet all the challenges of the Phase Two program.


At Echo Springs

Transitioning from Phase One of the Echo Springs program to Phase Two in Coeur d’Alene can be difficult for students. Matt helps ease this transition by acting as a liaison between Phase One and Phase Two. He gets to know every student as they enter the Phase One Program but spends the majority of his time working with students when they reach Phase Two. This arrangement ensures that students can always expect a familiar face when they arrive at Coeur d’ Alene.

Matt often participates in the potluck hosted each week of the Phase One program, where he begins to learn about each student’s unique story and circumstances. When they arrive at Phase Two, he uses his familiarity with their challenges to help prevent any backslide into negativity and to keep them connected with the goals they started in Phase One.

Matt uses his humor, compassion, and love of the outdoors to support the continued growth of his students in Phase Two. They often take back pack trips, go hiking, skiing, and kayaking. Matt works on maintaining the balance between providing his students with a safe and emotionally supportive environment while allowing them to take greater responsibility for their lives, which includes taking college courses and holding down a job.

Matt is also a certified facilitator of the Smart Recovery Treatment program, an alternative secular sobriety program that allows him to work closely with his students on their recovery from addiction..

“It is my privilege to work with students all the way through the program, from enrollment to phase-out. It is an honor to witness and support their growth. I see them come in struggling, and I get to be there as they start to find success, and then build on those successes as they move forward into the world.”


Matt grew up in Bailey, Colorado and Sandpoint, Idaho. He has earned certifications in firefighting and emergency medical services. For seven years he worked in the field of emergency medical services, rising to the rank of lieutenant in the EMS Department in Sandpoint. He joined Echo Springs in 2011. His experience in the medical field helps him keep all of his students safe on their outdoor excursions. His knowledge and experience as a Smart Recovery Treatment facilitator allows him to help his students in a different way by learning their stories and supporting them as they identify negative patterns and begin focusing on small successes that build into big successes.


Matt is a proud father of a young daughter and delights in introducing her to all of his outdoor passions, which include hiking, backpacking, kayaking, snow shoeing and basically everything outdoors.

Fun Facts

Matt is an ardent bicyclist and enjoys teaching his students bicycle care and repair. Since many students ride their bikes to work and college, this knowledge quickly comes in handy!



David Rookey: Student Mentor

Dave Rookey is a mentor, guide, and friend to the students who come to Echo Springs ready for change. He combines his love of the culinary arts and great sense of humor with over 18 years of experience working with at-risk populations to create unique programs for the students of Echo Springs.


At Echo Springs

Dave cares deeply for each and every one of his students and works to help them discover their individual talents and strengths. In weekly one-on-one meetings, Dave challenges his students to imagine and create goals for themselves. For many students, this is the first time they’ve ever created goals, and just the process of asking, What do I want to accomplish in my life? can create incredibly powerful paradigm shifts and kindle new hope. Dave loves watching his students grow and mature during their time with Echo Springs. He is an incredible listener who is equally comfortable cracking a joke or tackling serious topics with his students. Even as Dave challenges his students to embrace their full potential, they also challenge him to grow in his own life.

Wherever there is a meal cooking, you are likely to find Dave nearby. After running three school culinary programs, Dave loves rolling up his sleeves and shepherding the Sunday night community meal and the Tuesday night potluck. Dave has been a part of the Echo Springs faculty since 2009.

“Many of the students who come here have never seen a future for themselves. When we start working on goals, I see it click with them. Goals create hope. A person with goals is a person who is living in the present and looking forward to the future. When that light turns on, it is one of the most exciting parts of my job.”


Dave grew up in Spokane, Washington, but has called Idaho home for over 30 years. After studying history in school, Dave embrace the culinary arts and found his calling working with adolescents and young adults. Before coming to Echo Springs, Dave developed and implemented a culinary arts curriculum at three different transitional and therapeutic schools. Dave has worked with young, at-risk populations for over 18 years and continues to find inspiration and joy in his work each day.


Dave and his wife have been married for over 20 years. Together, they operate a busy farm that includes sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, and a large garden. Dave also loves to fish and spend time with his family, including his grandson.

Fun Facts

Dave can often be found riding his Enduro 650 motorcycle down the many miles of dirt trails around his home.



Debbie Aaron: Student Mentor, Life Skills Teacher, Gardening Queen

Debbie Aaron is a free spirit and highly talented artist who uses her 25+ years of professional experience to teach life skills to the students of Echo Springs. She manages a large garden and orchard on her expansive farm and loves traveling to out-of-the-way places across the globe. She also showcases her creativity through almost every kind of art medium imaginable. Students love Debbie’s warm personality, her fascinating stories, and the belief she possesses for each and every student.


At Echo Springs

Debbie works hard to instill the pride of self-sufficiency within her students as well as an appreciation for growing and cooking healthy foods. Many students enter the program having never sewn a button on a shirt or made a grocery list. Once Debbie gets through with them, students are raising crops, doing their own grocery shopping, and making meals from scratch!

Debbie helps her students grow a different kind of seed – confidence, self-assurance, and maturity. Debbie is also an artist with an incredible breadth of mediums. Once a month, you can find her teaching students how to weave a basket, knit, paint, sculpt, or express their creativity in another amazing artistic form.

“I am 100% invested in the Echo Springs program. I have seen our program turn around lives again and again, and I feel so lucky that I can be a part of that. I have accumulated a lot of knowledge during my life, and I love sharing that knowledge with my students. It is amazing what happens when you introduce them to nature. Cultivating crops helps cultivate the soul as well.”


Debbie’s wisdom and experience comes from living a life of purpose and joy. She spent 25 years working at a transitional boarding school and has worked at Echo Springs since 2005. Over these many years, she has forged a deep understanding of the challenges that many young adults face as they struggle to find their place in the adult world. She has also developed an uncanny ability to connect with young adults by inspiring a deep appreciation for nature and sparking creative artistic expression. Her lifetime of travel has also given her a unique mentoring perspective and many great stories!


Debbie is a proud mother two and grandmother of four. Many years ago, she and her husband purchased 80 acres of land in Bonners Ferry and set out to build their own homestead. This included building their log cabin by hand (with the help of her students, of course) and starting a massive garden and orchard. Today, the farm runs on solar power, helping Debbie and her husband live as close to nature as possible.

Debbie is a talented fiber artist and painter. Art is a crucial part of who she is, and when she isn’t working at Echo Springs, you might be able to find her painting store windows, teaching fiber arts, or painting a water color just for fun.

Debbie is also a consummate traveler and actively seeks out-of-the-way places where she can appreciate the local flora and fauna and experience the culture of many different people.

Fun Facts

Debbie and her family have lived completely off the grid since 1979.



Tucker Sweeney: Activities Coordinator

Tucker brings a deep passion for the outdoors to the Echo Springs program as our activities coordinator. He believes in leading by example to help students develop a greater awareness of the beauty and power of nature. Tucker enjoys challenging students to discover new strength and courage. His background in teaching at therapeutic boarding schools helps him relate to his students and build friendships for life.


At Echo Springs

After a week of hard work and personal growth, the students of Echo Springs always look forward to weekend activities. Tucker Sweeney is ready to guide students on a fun and soul-enriching journey, whether that means a relaxing nature hike, a refreshing kayaking trip, exciting rock climbing, local cultural events or something else.

Tucker leads by example and helps his students actively engage with the real world around them. He believes that introducing students to the power and beauty of nature can help them shift perspectives and view their lives in a more expansive context. Tucker is thrilled to work at Echo Springs. Its small group sizes allow him to get to know each student and form solid friendships. He takes great pride in helping students gain the self-confidence they need to actively take part in their own lives.

“I love listening to a new student express that they have never been happier in their life or watching their expression the first time they eat a huckleberry.”


You could say that Tucker was practically born to be a member of the Echo Springs staff. He grew up right here in Bonners Ferry, and both of his parents worked at a therapeutic boarding school. From a young age, he was very conscious of the struggles that many young people face during these difficult transitional years. His childhood made a strong impression on him, and Tucker eventually embraced a life of teaching and helping at-risk youths. He earned a K through 12 teaching credential from Boise State and a wilderness technical certificate from North Idaho College.

During his educational training, Tucker chose to perform his student teaching and substitute teaching requirements in alternative schools. He also worked for several years at a therapeutic school before joining Echo Springs as our activities coordinator.


Tucker loves the active life, which makes him such a great role model for his students. On his off time, he can often be found enjoying all sorts of exciting activities, like rock climbing, mountain biking, hiking, skiing, and ice climbing. He also makes sure to spend lots of time with his wife and young daughter.

Fun Facts

Tucker has written a book about a special diet that he used to help him manage a digestive disease. The book has been purchased by readers all around the world.



Ben Porietis: Weekend Coordinator

Ben is a passionate outdoorsman who is always down to kayak the river, climb the mountain, hike the trail, or ski down the snowy slopes. In other words, he never runs out of ideas when it comes to crafting activities that will challenge each student to reach his or her full potential. It is Ben’s job to help his students find joy and serenity in nature as well as face and overcome new and challenging scenarios. That might mean hiking through the woods on a pristine fall day, fighting the rapids during a white water rafting adventure, or literally climbing a mountain.


At Echo Springs

Ben also helps his students develop real life skills, like how to balance a budget or whip up a healthy dinner. Whether Ben is accompanying his students on the trail or teaching them about budgeting and saving, he treats his students like the adults that they are, offering mutual respect but also giving them space to make their own decisions.

“I love it most when a young adult makes the connection that they are the architect of their own life. It’s the moment when I become a friend and mentor rather than a “parent figure” or a “staff member” in their life.”


Ben grew up on the Minnesota/Mississippi river bluffs in Minneapolis and has been in love with the outdoors ever since. He graduated from the University of Montana-Missoula with a degree in Outdoor Recreation and quickly put it to use as a Wilderness Instructor for nine years. After leaving that position, Ben hopped around a number of careers, including stints as a middle school math teacher, rock climbing program manager, and family workshop coordinator. After spending 11 years running a contractor/construction company, Ben decided that he preferred building up young hearts and minds rather than houses returned to his outdoor roots with Echo Springs.


Ben loves rock climbing, waterskiing, kayaking, hiking, gardening, and traveling…basically if it’s outside, he’ll do it. He also loves sharing all of these passions with his wife and three amazing children.

Fun Fact

While he was studying for his degree, he took a semester off to travel the States, which included living out of the back of a Nissan pickup and looking for the prettiest rocks he could scale, the highest mountains he could climb, and the cleanest waters he could paddle.


Kristie Rickter: Administrative Assistant

Kristie has an amazing ability to stay calm and collected in our busy office.We appreciate her caring nature and bright smile. Kristie spent over 20 years working with at-risk youth, including many years serving as the manager of two floors at a therapeutic boarding school. Her experience, organizational skills, and compassion make her a great asset to our staff. Kristin is also a great mom who loves spending time with her two children.


At Echo Springs

A program like Echo Springs has a lot of moving pieces, and Kristie is the person who makes sure all of those pieces are flowing. Chances are, if you call Echo Springs, you’ll hear her pleasant, caring voice answer you on the other end. Kristie is an excellent administrative assistant who is somehow always calm and delightful despite the whirlwind of activity around her. She keeps every student’s information up to date, makes travel arrangements, answers calls, tracks referrals, makes sure students have minutes on their phones and so, so, so much more!

“I consider what we do here at Echo Springs to be extremely important, because we need more young adults in the world with character, discipline, and direction. I take a lot of pride in watching our students progress and make healthy choices on their own. Nothing is better than knowing that our students are on the path to productive lives.”


Kristie grew up in Lake Arrowhead, California and received her Associate’s Degree from San Bernardino Community College. She then spent over ten years working at a transitional boarding school, first as an assistant team manager and then as a team manager. This experience allowed Kristie to deeply connect with the students in her charge and gave her great insight that comes in handy at Echo Springs. Kristin joined Echo Springs in 2014 so that she could continue working with youth in transition while spending more time with her young family.


Kristie describes herself as a “Total Mom,” and takes great joy in raising her two young children.

Fun Facts

Kristie was once a professional figure skater. Though her job and her kids keep her plenty busy, Kristie finds time every once in a while to lace up her skates and get out on the ice.



Rebecca Bonnell: Administrative Assistant

Rebecca is a cheerful soul and brightens the day of those who come into contact with her. She is known for her patience, organization, and ability to stay calm under pressure. Rebecca enjoys meeting and assisting the students of Echo Springs whenever she can. When she’s off the clock, Rebecca can often be found spending time with her two children or hiking through the woods when the weather is warm.


At Echo Springs

The life of an administrative assistant at Echo Springs is a whirlwind of activity, but Rebecca always has a smile and a cheerful greeting for her co-workers and the students of Echo Springs. At any given hour, she may be found answering a parent’s question on the phone, scheduling appointments, paying invoices, helping students register for college classes, and so much more. Her organizational skills and positive attitude are greatly appreciated by everyone she comes in contact with.

A day at the office of Echo Springs is never boring, and Rebecca wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s exciting to be part of the quality team that makes up the Echo Springs faculty and having the opportunity to offer support to both the faculty and the students in various ways. I love the small, friendly environment at Echo Springs and the sense that people care about each other and about the work they do.”


Rebecca is a native Idahoan and earned her Associate’s Degree from Bryan College in Dayton, Tennessee. A few years after she graduated, her first child was born. She welcomed another baby into the family soon after and decided to stay home and raise her children during their first years of life. As her children grew older, Rebecca re-entered the workforce at Echo Springs in 2010. She appreciates the ability to work on a part-time basis so she can spend time with her growing family.


Rebecca loves being a mother of two, but when she’s not laughing and playing with her children, she loves being outdoors. Rebecca hikes, skis cross country, and is always experimenting with new seeds in her garden.

Fun Facts

Rebecca is a self-proclaimed super good ping pong player but asks that she be allowed a few days to shake off the rust before being challenged to a match.



“Your patience, support, and persistence, have influenced my growth significantly. I can now lead a happy, healthy life because of what you did and do.”
Echo Spring Graduate, 2006practicing neuropsychologist

© Copyright - Echo Springs Transition Study Center 3210 Kootenai Trail Rd. Bonners Ferry, ID 83805 | 888.688.3246