After nearly four decades of dedicated service, our Director of Clinical Services, Bruce Kaufstein, is retiring at the end of this year, leaving behind many grateful kids, families and co-workers who have benefited from his abundant wisdom and compassion.
Kaufstein, LCSW, who interned at the Guidance Center in 1976 before joining the staff in December 1984, spent the bulk of his career working with adolescents, helping them grow and heal not only through traditional talk therapy but also with a life-changing initiative that he developed some 25 years ago: the Wilderness Respite Program, which takes at-risk adolescents on hikes and other nature activities that foster individual growth, leadership skills, self-esteem and friendships while also promoting environmental stewardship.
“Out in the natural world, in places like Bear Mountain, the teens become completely immersed and realize they have no choice but to respond to the challenges that arise, both physical and emotional,” says Kaufstein. “Sometimes they can meet those challenges independently or with a little help from the leaders, and sometimes their struggles trigger a group response to support and enable them to push on and complete the challenge of the day.”
Kaufstein, who leads the outings and is an avid hiker, explains that many of the teens have issues like autism, ADHD and anxiety, and therefore have trouble sitting still. “Out on the trails, they learn to take one step at a time to successfully complete the day’s goal,” he says. “They learn how to be independent and also how to work together. It’s so affirming for kids who rarely get much praise in school.”
He adds, “Most hikes are not characterized by struggles, but are full days of conversing, laughing, photographing nature and making friends. Since the pandemic, the value and need for interaction with peers has never been more palpable.”
Kaufstein was also the driving force behind our onsite organic gardens, where children and teens learn lessons in cooperation, responsibility and patience.“The kids take the lead in planting, watering and harvesting, and then take the produce to be donated to soup kitchens,” he explains. “It gives them an enormous sense of accomplishment and pride.”
Dr. Reena Nandi, Director of Psychiatric Services, says, “Bruce can bring calm to any situation, and he has truly transformed the lives of hundreds of children and families. He’s also been a mentor to many staff members over the years, making them feel supported and cared for. He will be sorely missed.”
Working with Guidance Center clients and their families has been a privilege, says Kaufstein, who plans to spend his retirement years hiking, playing piano and writing anecdotal stories about his experiences with adolescents. “It has been a sacred and solemn experience to positively impact the lives of so many people,” he says. “The entire staff, from the front desk people who greet clients to the senior supervisors, are so supportive of each other and of the mission. It has been incredibly gratifying to spend my career at the Guidance Center.”