Female Leadership in Wilderness: Executive Director, Danielle Hava, LCSW
The wilderness therapy industry is widely male-dominated. A study published as recently as 2017 asserts that notable gender barriers still exist in the U.S. to both accessing outdoor recreation and sports broadly (Outdoor Fdn, 2017). Blue Ridge’s Executive Director, Danielle Hava, LCSW, is one female leader who strives to change these narratives. A first-generation American from a multi-cultural family who has overcome leagues of adversity, Danielle’s story, spiritedness, and vision makes for a remarkable departure from wilderness industry norms. Danielle explains: “I am proud to be a woman in leadership, especially in this male-dominated wilderness industry. There are unique obstacles that face women in leadership roles, and in a way, we have to both earn our seat and prove our standing more frequently than our male counterparts. I have had to be bolder than I ever considered myself to be. It’s no small feat to be a female Executive Director at a wilderness therapy program.”
Danielle’s mother grew up in England and her father in Israel. Her mother was one of seven children with a single mother, while her father was born to Iraqi Jews who fled to Israel in 1949 to pursue a better life for themselves. After Danielle’s mother obtained her master’s degree and her father served time in the Israeli army and an operation in Lebanon, her parents moved far from their families and support systems to New York City in search of greater opportunities. Danielle, witnessing her family’s tenacity and benefiting from their endless support, grew up inspired to exceed societal expectations for first-generation daughters.
Danielle grew up in Long Island, New York, and studied psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After undergrad, she received her Master of Science in Social Work at Columbia University. During an internship at Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Study Center where she studied the significant contributions of prominent schools of thought in psychotherapy. Danielle was 22 years old when she saw first-hand what it was like to essentially run her own private practice with college and graduate-aged students. She reflects on this experience, explaining that “it was difficult and, at times, scary to see how badly young adults — people my own age — were struggling. I realized then I had a lot of work to do, and there were still many experiences that I needed to have in order to thrive in this helping profession.”
Seeking deeper understanding, Danielle accepted an invitation to work as a Life Skills Counselor in Boulder, Colorado. The program, Living Well Transitions, was one of the first young adult therapeutic programs of its kind. In this role, she was exposed to opportunities for self-growth and introspection as she worked with young adults ages 18-30, many of whom had recently transitioned out of wilderness programs. Danielle was humbled to work alongside clients who were also experiencing big transitions in their lives. In this time, she also learned the practice of mindfulness meditation and the art of looking inward, which inspired her to take time for herself and act with more intentionality. She obtained her licensure for Social Clinical Work while working in Boulder, but knew she still had room to grow in her field.
Danielle found her impetus for growth and professional development under the guidance of a woman who would become one of her life’s most notable influences, Marti Weiskopf. Marti, Director of Admissions and Marketing at Living Well Transitions, saw in Danielle a unique keenness for developing and fostering relationships spanning beyond those with her clients. Marti believed Danielle could help meet and assess clients and families who would fit the program’s criteria and asked her to travel the country to market the program while learning more about the private pay behavioral health industry. While still working with some clients, Danielle received Marti’s mentorship in admissions, outreach and marketing. She traveled to meet other professionals in the industry, touring programs and connecting with Educational Consultants.
Her time working with Marti eventually propelled Danielle into the role of Director of Outreach for Vive Family Support Program: a community-based wraparound service where she operated under the wings of Founder Dave Herz and Clinical Director Willow Rubin. During this time, Danielle worked directly with adolescent clients and their families. She also managed the New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey-based team and traveled the nation to speak about the program.
Danielle’s wide-ranging exposure to wilderness and behavioral health industry dynamics confirmed her desire to work for operator-owned programs which prioritize the value of employees and client outcomes over profit. Once Vive was sold to a corporate company, Danielle was connected with Dan McDougal, the Owner and Founder of Blue Ridge Therapeutic Wilderness. At the time, Dan had just separated from his partners at Second Nature due to his visions for more integrative treatment and care for students. Blue Ridge Therapeutic Wilderness was rebuilding from the ground up, but Danielle believed in Dan’s mission and joined the program as the Director of Marketing and Outreach.
Since 2017, Danielle has supported Dan and the rest of the Blue Ridge team to cultivate a robust programmatic identity and build its reputation in the wilderness therapy industry.
“When I first arrived at Blue Ridge, I believed in Dan’s vision and was moved by the notion that we were doing something greater than ourselves. He wanted to make a difference in the student and family experience through clinical sophistication while staying true to the immersive wilderness experience. So, from 2017 through today, I’ve overseen Blue Ridge’s business development, marketing, admissions, and outreach efforts. I have been honored to work with the most amazing and dynamic Admissions and Marketing team, who are so passionate about the programming we provide and dedicated to the families we serve.”
Over the past 5 years, her experiences with Blue Ridge have bolstered Danielle’s belief in the power of wilderness therapy, particularly when combined with the clinically integrated and individualized programming the program provides. Reflecting upon the outcomes and stories she has witnessed and supported, Danielle explains “the direct experience and distraction-free environment of pure wilderness helps to facilitate extraordinary change and healing in our students. We look at each student individually and examine what it is they need… I have learned that wilderness is the foundation for which therapy flourishes. There’s not a breaking down process, it’s only a building up process. It requires physical and emotional work, but that is a crucial part of the journey. That is the way we build resilience — by moving through hard things.”
Earlier this year, Danielle moved into the role of Executive Director at Blue Ridge Therapeutic Wilderness. Her collaborative, relational leadership style and therapeutic background benefits Blue Ridge’s employees, families, and students alike. Danielle’s background informs the way she has driven the program’s development, including the individuals she and Dan work to bring onboard. “I choose to work at Blue Ridge because we strive to focus on the small details, which form the bigger picture of optimal treatment and programming for our students and families. We employ the most dynamic and tenured therapists and direct-care staff who are known for their contributions to wilderness therapy. We continue to build an incredibly influential team of clinicians who deeply understand how to work with struggling adolescents and families, and excel in connecting with Educational Consultants in order to provide the best customer service.”
As Executive Director, Danielle coaches, empowers and collaborates with employees to provide feedback, manage stress, and prioritize the student and family experience. She utilizes her education and experiences to collaborate and problem-solve by attuning to the needs of the program and its employees. Of her approach to the role, Danielle says “I aim to nurture each employee’s individual strengths and focus on strategies which enable our teams to work better together. My skills lie in holding boundaries and delegating company needs while always maintaining relationships in the process. Because my priority and desire is relationship, it instills trust, so when a tough conversation needs to happen, my team always knows that I have their back and that we share a common goal.”
Through each chapter of her career, Danielle has helped to change the stories society has written about women in leadership and the outdoors. While she executes and supports Blue Ridge’s evolution and mission, she is also a mother to a spirited 3-year-old boy, who she says has “taught [her] the importance of creating an environment for our children to thrive.” When considering her time with Blue Ridge and transition into the Executive Director role, Danielle shares “my focus as a leader is to serve the organization and help continue that sense of purpose in each vein of the company. What I have realized in my time here is that, through the hard days or long weeks, the personal life struggles, being a working parent, the isolating moments through Covid-19, and everything else going on in the world… what ultimately shines through and feeds our enthusiasm for the work is our community and our shared purpose at Blue Ridge.”
About Blue Ridge Therapeutic Wilderness
Blue Ridge Therapeutic Wilderness offers clinically-driven programs encompassing advanced therapeutic skill, a highly flexible nomadic wilderness therapy model, licensed wilderness therapy assessment, and multiple treatment options for troubled teens ages 13-18 years old. Our individualized approach, family support, and commitment to service translate to an unparalleled experience and better outcomes for adolescents and families.