PITTSBURGH — When he was 15 years old, Shannon Szwarc was on a path to self-destruction. The white teenager from a comfortable middle-class family was abusing drugs and alcohol, engaging in criminal behavior, carrying weapons and undergoing psychiatric treatment.
Szwarc’s troubling behavior ended when a juvenile court sent him to Pressley Ridge Therapeutic Wilderness Camp in Ohiopyle, Pa., for 10 life-changing months in 1989. The rugged 1,500-acre therapeutic camp for boys is operated by Pressley Ridge, a leading provider of treatment services for troubled children. Boys at the secluded residential camp live in cabins and tents and experience a regimen of daily chores, education, outdoor activities and therapeutic programs. After graduating from the camp in 1989, Szwarc completed high school and then served in the U.S. Navy for four years, before attending Kent State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in photojournalism in 2002.
It was in 2002 that Szwarc, now a photojournalist, returned to the Pressley Ridge Therapeutic Wilderness Camp for an 8-month sojourn to document life at the camp through his camera lens and through candid interviews with the boys and counselors. His project has culminated with the publication of his first book, “Wilderness Within, Wilderness Without, A Personal Journey Through Pressley Ridge Wilderness Camp at Ohiopyle.”
The 100-page book, which Pressley Ridge is publishing this month, is notable for Szwarc’s stark black-and-white photography and revealing interviews that share heartbreaking and inspirational stories about the boys who seek help at the camp, and the counselors who guide them through their journey.
“Pressley Ridge turned my life around,” says Szwarc, 30. “As a teenager at Ohiopyle, I learned to believe in myself and my talents, and I found the strength and courage to focus on achieving something positive with my life. As an adult who returned 13 years later, I found boys who were struggling with similar personal journeys.”
Szwarc was born in Akron, Ohio and now resides in Rootstown, Ohio. During his teen years, he lived in White Oak, Pa., near Pittsburgh, for seven years.
B. Scott Finnell, president and chief executive officer of Pressley Ridge, says the book and Shannon’s success illustrate what sets the Wilderness Camp at Ohiopyle apart from more traditional programs.
“The Pressley Ridge Wilderness Camp is a special place where boys with troubling behavior can become excited about their lives again, in a safe but rugged environment where they find firm guidance and an abundance of new opportunities,” says Finnell. “This book captures the essence of the camp’s mission. In taking us to Ohiopyle, Shannon shares a personal journey that is inspiring and unforgettable.”
Book Launch Events
To celebrate the book’s publication, Pressley Ridge is holding a book signing party and photography exhibit of Szwarc’s work on Tuesday, Nov. 16 at the University of Pittsburgh’s main campus in Pittsburgh. The invitation-only festivities will be held at the Connie J. Kimbo exhibit and The Lower Lounge of the William Pitt Union, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Therapeutic Drumming by Pressley Ridge Boys of Ohiopyle 6:30 p.m. to 6:45 p.m.
About Pressley Ridge
Pressley Ridge is one of the nation’s leading providers of services for troubled and troubling children and their families. Founded in 1832, Pressley Ridge is a non-profit organization that provides services in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Delaware and the District of Columbia. Pressley Ridge specializes in residential treatment services, treatment foster care, educational services and community-based services.
To schedule interviews with Shannon Szwarc, B. Scott Finnell and tours of Pressley Ridge Wilderness Camp at Ohiopyle, please contact Jim Schuyler at (412) 872-9413.