Reflections on Meaningful Work in Recovery

woman feeding goat with grass

Working Toward Wellness has long been the refrain at Spring Lake Ranch Therapeutic Community, and it is our Work Program that provides the structure to help residents progress on their journey to wellness.

About the Work Program

The Work Program (and life) at the Ranch in Cuttingsville is centered around upkeep of a diverse Vermont farm. Each day residents and staff, in small groups, participate in all the work involved in keeping a community of nearly 70 people going. There are generally four crews that are engaged in five hours of work each day.

  • Our farm crew takes care of our cows, sheep, chickens, and pigs, and runs the haying operation every summer.
  • Our gardens crew tends our vegetable and flower gardens, lends a hand in the kitchen, oversees our year-round farmers market booth in Rutland, and does most of the holiday preparation.
  • The woods crew busies itself in our 700 acres of forest, felling, limbing, bucking, splitting, and hauling the wood we need to heat our buildings and run our substantial maple sugaring operation.
  • On the shop crew, residents build and repair furniture, fix tools, and keep our engines running. Other projects include sewing, cleaning, painting, landscaping, and all kinds of other work required to keep the Ranch running through all seasons.

The routine and work made sense. It helped to begin to sort out what was real and what was not real. This was the first place I ever got dirt under my nails. — Resident

Work Program Philosophy

Since 1932, the Ranch has believed, at put in practice, the principle that working at something meaningful to you can bring you a sense of purpose that will anchor you. Work-centered therapy provides meaningful activity that expands your sense of self-worth by adding to your skills and helping you accomplish goals and feel good about yourself.

When working together on a common task, it is much easier to make friends and focus on what you can do, rather than what you can’t.

Residents are asked to be reliable, on time, responsible and respectful – life and work skills that are expected in any job they may have in the future. Through work, residents become active participants in their lives once again in ways that are unpredictable, enjoyable, and transformative.

The steadiness of working with your body on the land, that’s what feeds you, gives you an internal locus of control, gets you up in the morning. — Resident

The Flow of the Work Program

In addition to the seasonal cycles of work on a farm, the Ranch has many rich traditions associated with major holidays, and we have created a few unique events including Yule Log Night, May Day, the annual all-Ranch Canoe Trip, and our Harvest Festival. The Work Crews are an integral role in making these events happen – and become a memory of success for the community.

On December 19, 2018, the day after the annual Yule Log Night, the Work Program Department Heads of Spring Lake Ranch sat down to reflect on the year, their work, and the true meaning of the holidays. They have graciously shared their musings with us here.


Lisa (Gardens Crew leader): Well, department heads – do you have any bright moments on crew in the past year that you want to share?

Carl (Farm Crew leader):  Can I talk about Kevin, our house advisor? It’s been amazing to have the support and help of someone like Kevin who is just looking for a challenge. He is capable of running a crew so we were able to tackle haying together. It was magical!

Ray (Shop Crew leader): What stands out to me was working on the Lake house. People rose to the quality of workmanship, and we got the whole community involved. I want the project completed because it needs to be done, but I also don’t want it to be over. I’m dreaming up lots of excuses to go up there for maintenance because it’s in the most spectacular place in VT.

Doug (Woods Crew leader): This isn’t a specific job, but I think about the strength of character of the woods crew, their playfulness and humor. We have been blessed with residents and staff who like to get work done, but have fun doing it. It’s a good experience to do more than you thought you could do and laugh along the way.

Lisa: Our highlight was… pumpkins!

Carl: You did have a good year, huh? The woodchuck didn’t take out too many?

Lisa: We’re talking about successes right now. Not woodchucks. We grew beautiful pumpkins for Halloween and delicious ones to make pie and roasted seeds. You probably thought I was going to say something nice about working together.

Carl: When it comes to pumpkins, it’s all about the pumpkins.

Doug: Speaking of pumpkins, the Halloween dance at our house was great. There were lots of people in attendance. People let loose and celebrated together.

Lisa: It’s similar in a way to work program. People take risks together and try new things. So what about something you found challenging this year?

Ray: I think the traditions are beautiful but the effort put toward it can feel like a lot. I’d rather just go out and work. Then again, the reward can also be wonderful. When I see something like Yule last night… it was beautiful. [Sighs wistfully at the memory.]

Doug: A lot of work goes into Yule, and it’s for an evening. It goes against my instincts, but it’s the fleeting part of it that’s magic. The night comes and goes, and you were a part of it.

Lisa: I’m trying to think if there’s a good metaphor in that. [Silence] Okay, maybe no metaphor.

Carl: One of the challenges that I’m finding is some residents can’t go home for the holidays, and they are look to us to be their home. From Chanukah to Yule, Christmas to New Years, sledding parties, Christmas tree parties, Thanksgiving – we’re up for the challenge! I’m glad we’re there for people.

Ray: That’s true. You live here, Carl, which can be a challenge. But it’s also hard NOT to live here and drive away at the end of the day. That makes it feel like a job when it’s really a life.

Lisa: I think there’s a way to make our sense of home extend beyond our actual houses making the Ranch an extension of our lives, where we share ourselves and the holidays…

Ray: … and our hearts! Wait, does that sound weird?

Doug: It sounds a bit mushy. [Carl puts his arm around Ray in a manly hug.] Usually that level of mushiness is saved for the seventh or eighth blog post.

Lisa: I think it’s interesting that we are talking about community instead of just the accomplishments of the work program.

Doug: These connected moments feel more important than all those tangible achievements.

Carl: Or we’re just tired from working late last night.

Lisa: Well, it’s almost time to get back to crew. Thank you all for all your contributions on work program, and in making the community feel like home!


CARF Accredited: Spring Lake Ranch programs are CARF accredited. The CARF accreditation signals our commitment to continually improving services, encouraging feedback, and serving the community.

Spring Lake Ranch is a member of the American Residential Treatment Association (ARTA). ARTA members are dedicated to providing extraordinary care to adults with mental illness.