(a.k.a. Life Designs)
(we are working to acquire the complete records for ALL years)
We advise current and/or former staff to report any abuses you may have witnessed while working at Life Designs Ranch. For information on your rights and how to take action, visit www.heal-online.org/blowthewhistle.htm.† If you were fired or forced to resign because you opposed any illegal and/or unethical practices at Life Designs Ranch, you have the right to take action.†
If you were harmed (family or survivor) by Life Designs Ranch, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you remember the long-term employees and from which years.† This will help!† Also, if you recognize any of these staff as having worked at another program, please send in any information about their past or present employment at other facilities and/or cults.
Please donít place your loved one in Life Designs Ranch and rescue them if they are there now.
|Colleen Russell||(Randy's Wife) Founder|
|Vince Barranco||Owner/Executive Director||Vince started working as program director at Life Designs in 1999 for founders Randy and Colleen Russell. Vince and his wife Bobbie took over ownership of Life Designs Inc in 2005.|
|Kim Mlinarik||Counselor||Mlinarik formerly worked at Wilderness Quest. In 2007, Caleb Jensen, a 15 year old boy, was killed at Wilderness Quest in Monticello, UT. Keith R. Hooker, the medical advisor for Wilderness Quest was indicted for negligent homicide (criminal negligence).|
|Matt Donahue||Motivational Coach|
|Dee Boeck||Office Manager|
|NO OTHER NAMES||NO OTHER TITLES||There is no additional information on staff at this location at this time.*|
|*(Life Designs Ranch, like many other programs in this industry, keeps a "tight lid" on any specific information regarding their staff, qualifications, and practices. Please contact us with the names of any staff of which you have firsthand knowledge or experience. Thank you for your help.)|
HEAL Review: Life Designs
We have decided to write the review in this space as the application does not include the complete contract nor program details and we are unable to provide a more thorough review without the additional information requested. We have linked to the actual application provided by Life Designs Ranch above and ask that readers open the application in a new window if further contextualization is preferred.
Overall, the application seems contradictory as to purpose of enrollment. On the one hand, the program claims to be therapeutic in nature, and, on the other, the application and structure of the so-called "apprenticeship" program, suggests that individuals are paying an average of $6,000/mo to have their sons/daughters work as ranch hands for the Russells. While we can see this would benefit the ranch and the Russells, it is unclear how this benefits the individual client and his/her family.
Seeing as the Russells stand to benefit greatly from any individual's enrollment in the program, it is a concern that there is an additional application fee of $100.00 that is non-refundable. (page 1) This seems excessive and profit-driven, especially given the high cost of the program (discussed below). In addition, there is a five day interview process for which Life Designs Ranch charges $800.00. The interview process and the apprenticeship program seem to suggest an employer/employee arrangement and the control of wages appears to lie with the Russells and be included as part of the financial discipline program. These are young adults who are arguably performing labor from which the Russells stand to benefit, but, not necessarily the young adults. And, this is a concern given the remoteness of the program's location and likelihood that help may not be near enough in the event of emergency or necessity. Families should remember the old songs about "the company store" and the inequity involved when the employer controls wages and the cost of living. These are concerns.
Another concern arises due to the inability of those who write for the program. Here is a direct quote from the application, "For those parents who want be bring their young adult, we suggest Tuesdays for visiting the Ranch, meeting staff and students, and taking some time to visit and take a tour of our facility." This sentence makes little to no sense. It is an additional concern that visitation is encouraged during the middle of a typical work week as opposed to during the weekend which would be more in line with service to the families and their scheduling needs. (page 1)
On page 2 (.pdf page number/not as shown), the admission's form requires the social security number, full name, and date of birth of the "student". Life Designs Ranch is not a school and not licensed nor accredited as a school. So, the use of the word "student" is misleading. It is a concern that they require the social security number of individuals enrolling in the program. Families and individuals should inquire as to how this information is to be used and why it is requested. It may be a good idea to request the financial statements and tax returns for Life Designs Ranch to see how the information is being used.
Also, on page 2, Life Designs Ranch requests the full contact information for the individual/business that referred families to their program. Parents/individuals should ask Life Designs Ranch if they ever compensate referrers for referring to the program. If so, this raises serious ethical concerns as the "pimps" for the industry have a profit-motive for referring to programs.
On page 3 (Admissions Data Page 2 of 8, but, page 3 in regards to .pdf), the questionnaire for admissions is filled out by the parents of a young adult that the parents are looking to institutionalize temporarily. It is a serious concern that Life Designs Ranch is marketed to parents of young adults as opposed to the young adults who will be enrolling in the program. This program takes adults up to age 25, and this raises serious concerns regarding the respect for the young adult as an adult and individual upon program entry.
On page 5 (Admissions Data Page 4 of 8, but, page 5 in regards to .pdf), Life Designs Ranch asks some very personal questions about the young adult. The questions include: "What type of romantic partners has student pursued?" "Does your daughter/son have a boyfriend/girlfriend?" and "How would you describe the student's spiritual interest and practices?" These are private and personal questions that should be addressed, if at all, with the adult entering the program, not with his/her parents. This again raises serious concerns regarding the seeming disregard of and disrespect for the young adults entering this program.
Also, on page 5, Life Designs Ranch asks the parents to designate people that the young adult should be allowed to contact on a permitted contact list. These are young adults and the program/the parents have no right to limit their communication with the outside world in this manner. This is a serious concern and appears to be a civil rights violation (due process, privacy, first amendment--freedom to associate, etc.).
On page 6, Life Designs Ranch (LDR) asks the family to describe the young adult's role in the family ("Hero, Mascot, Scapegoat, Lost Child, Rebel, Sick Child, Other"). There are a number of problems with this, including the fact that it requires the parents (likely lay-persons) to assume what is meant by the role names listed by LDR and what this means for the family dynamic as a whole. This question can only be answered effectively by those with experience in therapy, specifically dysfunctional family therapy, who have been exposed to the model that includes the designated roles listed above. In addition, in order to be effective at all, LDR would need to understand the family dynamic from each individual family member's perspective and objectively review each family member to determine what role applies to which family member. The questionnaire is unprofessional and may lead families to believe they are being treated respectfully and with empathy, but, seems a way to get families to share without having to do too much actual therapy. This coddles the parents at the expense of the young adults and is a serious concern.
On page 9, (Admissions Data Page 8 of 8, but, page 9 in regards to .pdf), LDR states, "Once the student is enrolled past the first 30 days Life Designs Ranch will not refund the tuition. This policy helps students and parents have a greater commitment to completing the program. If a student should choose to leave the program before completion, Life Designs Ranch will give them the opportunity to possibly re-enroll within 6 months of their exit date." This again is misleading. Life Designs Ranch is not an accredited school of any kind. And, this is a serious concern as they claim the cost as "tuition" and the young adult as a "student". Let's, for argument sake, consider the notion that LDR is a "school" of sorts. Well, if so, it costs more (page 17) than Harvard University with room and board. And, this suggests it is a profit-driven scam, and not a school nor a treatment program. "Harvard University will increase tuition next school year by 3.8 percent, the school announced yesterday, bringing the annual cost of a Harvard education, including room and board, to $50,724." (Source: boston.com, March 19th, 2010) This raises serious concerns and families should really take into account what they are getting for their money and how, if at all, their adult child stands to benefit from such a program.
Also on page 9, "Parent work shop sessions will be held approximately every two months. Due to rolling enrollment in this program, you will need to check with the Director of the workshops, Randy Russell, to find out when you will be required to attend your workshop." Why are parents of an adult required to attend parent workshops? And, parents should know these workshops are not included the extreme price tag of the program. The workshops cost $650/person. So, if both parents or at least 2 parents (step, adopted, or biological) attend these "required" workshops, the program seeks to get another $1300 of your hard earned money. This is a serious concern given the likelihood of the benefit to the family to be extraordinarily minimal, negligible, or non-existent, while the benefit to the ranch is quite clear.
On page 10, "The above student is going to participate in an ranch living environment, experiential emotional growth program that is both physically and mentally challenging. On occasion he/she will hike, ski, snowboard, and may reach elevations of 7,000 feet. We would appreciate your candid appraisal of this applicant's health." This is a quote from the physical examination form that is part of the application. Parents and individuals should ask what is meant by "emotional growth program" and what the program entails. If the program claims to be individualized depending on the client, then the program should at least provide examples of the process as it applies/applied to former clients. This would at least provide a clear explanation of the types of activities and "services" provided by the program. We also point out that the first sentence in the quoted segment is incorrect and that it should read "in a ranch living environment". The error is that of LDR's, not HEAL's. What does LDR mean by physically and mentally challenging? These questions should be answered directly and effectively by LDR or the program should be avoided. If LDR can't explain what they do, they don't understand what they are doing and this is a serious concern.
On page 15, (Medical History Page 4 of 4, but, page 15 in regards to .pdf), LDR requests the social security number, date of birth, and name of employer of the parent/insurance carrier. This information is excessive and subject to misuse. Parents should inquire as to why the information is required and how it will be used prior to sharing this information with the program. Remember, this is the application, not the contract. And, LDR may refuse you. Yet, even if they do, they will have this personally identifying information on you and your family member(s). This is a serious concern.
"Admission Fees" (page 16, or Schedule of Fee page 1 of 2)
"$100 Application Fee"
"$800 Admission Interview Fee: Due upon interview completion. Potential students interview for five days prior to acceptance."
"$30,000.00 (first month is $7,000; next 2 months are $6,000 each; fourth month is $6,000; fifth month is $5,000)"
"Life Designs Ranch minimal stay is five months and is paid at admissions. The tuition for additional months (after the initial five-month stay) is $5,300.00 billed monthly. The first 30 days after enrollment is an assessment period. If it is determined that Life Designs Ranch is inappropriate during this time, the balance of tuition minus $7,000.00 is refundable. Tuition is non-refundable after the end of the assessment period."
"Student Account Fund $6,000"
"Initial expenditures may include proper outdoor work clothing, wilderness gear, and basic linen supplies if they have not already been purchased. A $1000.00 fee is also expensed through the student account fund for a month long guided development plan for the "Rights of Passage Ceremony" directed by Randy Russell."
We included the above to show that the cost for 12 months is $67,100, for the base "tuition" alone. The cost of Harvard University in 2010/2011 is $50,724 per year and includes room and board. Life Designs Ranch is not Harvard University and not even in the ballpark. Why do they charge families so much when they get free ranch hands for their ranch at the families' expense? This is unconscionable and unfair on its face. Now, if you include the Student Account Fund, the total expands to $73,100. Now, that would even cover books and social activities at Harvard. So, if you think LDR is worth the cost of a year at Harvard or more, it may be a good investment to you. But, reasonable people think not. Graduates of Harvard have become presidents of the United States. What is the greatest accomplishment of an LDR graduate and does said graduate attribute any of his/her success to having spent any time at LDR? This are serious concerns.
What is the "Rights of Passage Ceremony" and how is LDR not a cult or at least, run like one?
On page 17 (Schedule of Fee, page 2 of 2, page 17 in regards to .pdf), LDR states, "Life Designs Ranch teaches practical finance skills. Each week is a simulated month and students must keep accurate records, pay bills, and show up to work on time in order to earn spending or savings cash." This was mentioned above and we include it again here. Are the young adults being paid a fair wage for their labor? Is LDR violating labor laws at the ranch? These are serious concerns as young adults are not generally aware of their rights in the workplace. Also, here is where we begin to see that this is a work farm, not a treatment program. And, this is a serious concern.
Also on page 17, "Damages made by the student to our facilities or equipment will be covered from this fund. The student will then have to reimburse the parent or SAF fund." It is a serious concern that the company/ranch is not insured to cover damage caused to facilities or equipment due to the failure of the company/ranch to properly supervise or train individuals who use the facilities and equipment. This lack of responsibility on the part of LDR raises additional concerns.
A contradiction in terms, on page 18 (Enrollment Contract Page 1 of 2, page 18 in regards to .pdf), LDR states, "Financial Sponsor understands that the tuition and fees are non-refundable, and will not be pro-rated or refunded if the apprentice voluntarily terminates the apprenticeship or is expelled. Life Designs Ranch may, in its sole discretion, refund a portion of the tuition or fees if it determines that the apprentice is not appropriate." The only way families will get any money back, according to this, is if Life Designs Ranch decides to ask the young adults to leave. This is unconscionable and does not respect the rights of the family or the individual client to self-determination. LDR assumes more respect for itself then it shows to its clients. And, this is a serious concern.
The following quoted portions are derived from page 19 (Enrollment Contract Page 2 of 2, page 19 in regards to .pdf)
"Financial Sponsor agrees to pay all expenses not included in the tuition. The tuition includes food and shelter, training offered at Life Designs Ranch, and regular program transportation. All expenses not included will be billed to Financial Sponsor, and Financial Sponsor agrees to pay such expenses upon receipt of the bill."
That's right, so, LDR is much more expensive than Harvard University. And, what do you get out of it? Training in how to work at a ranch, because, that is really the likely field of work a young person forced into treatment will be engaging in upon "graduation". Really? Parents, think about what you are doing and really be smart consumers. If you are unwilling to be a smart consumer, then don't subject your loved ones to your ignorant choices, okay?!
"Financial Sponsor agrees to pay $6,000.00 for a Student Account Fund (SAF) for the student at the time of enrollment. The fund will be used by Life Designs Ranch to pay non-tuition related expenses for the student. Financial Sponsor agrees to replenish the fund upon billing to the full $6,000.00."
That's right, again, parents the "more expensive then Harvard" unaccredited program that provides no transferable academic credits, charges extra for necessities (i.e. toiletries, linen, etc.). Are you still considering this? Why?
"Financial sponsor will be entitled to a refund of the amount remaining in the fund at the completion of the apprenticeship. Student Account Fund covers financial training in the form of the stipend and personal expenses such as medications, clothing, personal care, wilderness gear, training/classes other than Life Designs Ranch, and seed money for student investment projects."
What are "student investment projects"? Does LDR benefit from these projects and what is the "approval" process for such projects? Also, the money that young adults earn in the program, what account is it kept in and/or how is the money handled? These are serious concerns and the operation of this "apprenticeship" program suggest that LDR is making money while receiving discounted and/or free labor for the operations of the ranch.
"Apprentice must provide his or her own health insurance and automobile insurance, if apprentice will be using his or her own vehicle for transportation. Financial sponsor agrees to pay all uninsured health expenses for apprentice. Apprentice must provide proof of insurance required by this paragraph."
Well, how lovely is this... The young adults, providing cheap/uncompensated labor for LDR, are also required to carry their own health insurance. Sounds like peonage to us at HEAL. And, peonage is a "nice" word for what is going on here. Based on our previous exchanges with Randy Russell and the review of the application, we advise against enrolling in or enrolling any individual family member in Life Designs Ranch.
Last Updated:January 21st, 2011