We have been alerted to the fact that the program hitherto known as Cedar Ridge RTC, renamed as Cedar Ridge Academy, and thereafter rebranded as Makana Leadership Academy or Makana Outreach continues to operate and market itself as a suitable residential program for children and youth. We, as adult survivors of this behavioral modification program, in all of its names and incarnations, are deeply concerned that this program continues to exist. We are surprised that with such a sordid history, anyone would want to purchase this property. 


As parents ourselves, we understand that it is difficult to deal with a seemingly "troubled" teenager. We encourage you to take a deep breath, do your research, and understand that you are risking a great deal by placing your child in the care of strangers. This program profits from parental anxieties and separating families.



We would like to clarify some of our concerns. Firstly, the former owners of Cedar Ridge RTC/Cedar Ridge Academy currently live on-site. Until this website launched, one of them, Wes Nielson, was on the executive board of Makana. This man lacks qualifications to work with children and adolescents in a residential setting. Wes received his “degree” through the University of Phoenix. He inherited the program from his father, Robert Alexander Nielson, who pretended to have a PhD, and instructed teens to call him "Dr. Rob." The ex-marine/Vietnam war veteran incorporated militarized discipline in the structure of the program. He incorporated physical violence on an everyday basis. was the only therapist at the program for years. Rob only has a Master’s degree from a public university. Rob opened Cedar Ridge on family property after briefly working at Cross Creek Manor, notoriously violent program (formerly affiliated with WWASP) which has since been shut down after charges of child abuse and sexual assault came to light. 


While Cross Creek has since shuttered for good, Cedar Ridge borrowed its model and has repeatedly rebranded itself. Rob merely imported Cross Creek’s defunct model and deliberately misleading marketing strategy.


The Nielsons make false promises to parents and capitalize on their insecurities. Online, they commit to providing a "premier boarding school experience," "world class leadership training," along with psychological counseling and a high school education. Your child will not receive any of these things in Roosevelt, Utah. Wes Nielson is described by survivors of these programs as an “unequivocal sadist” quick to use corporal punishment and verbal abuse to humiliate children as young as 13. These inmates were unable to report his physical and emotional abuse—as doing so placed them at risk for further punishment which ensured that they would remain incarcerated for significantly more time. Dates of release were often postponed by months or years after minor rule infractions.



Why might the program opt for such a punitive approach? This is a for-profit program, meaning, the longer your child is enrolled, the more financially lucrative it is for program owners. If a child is repeatedly traumatized within a residential setting, she is unlikely to report or recognize abuse.


Cedar Ridge did not provide basic mental health services for teenagers. Rob preferred to use hypnosis and other unconventional tactics with youth (e.g., “karate therapy.”) These pseudoscientific techniques left many survivors extremely uncomfortable. It seemed that Rob lacked the patience, desire, and capacity to develop rapport with teens. He refused to engage in the emotional labor of deep listening. He, along with therapist Brent Crane, also neglected to report cases of sexual misconduct at Cedar Ridge in 2016, which prompted an investigation by the Department of Health and Human Services.


Makana is currently seeking to recruit psychotherapists from the Chicago area, they specify that they want someone trained in CBT, utilizing the model of Dr. David Burns. While at Cedar Ridge, we read Burns' work, and it is INADEQUATE for survivors of ongoing abuse. It is equivalent to gaslighting children and believing they can change their lives with a few positive affirmations. What the children need is to return to live with their families. To be freed from captivity. 


Makana Leadership Academy is not rooted in evidence-based treatment for adolescents (community-based care and talk-therapy). The program's behavioral modification approach is extremely problematic and poses great risks to adolescents. Although their marketing department does their best to deceive parents, daily life in the program is structured by a hierarchical system of deprivations and privileges, reinforced by a degrading regime of physical and emotional punishment (e.g. painful restraints, isolation, silencing for long periods of time, continual surveillance, and manual labor). 


Personnel Problems.

This program is located in Roosevelt, Utah—a place with few job prospects. Staff are under-qualified, most having only a high school diploma. The COVID crisis and mass unemployment in the United States has helped Makana lure some recent university graduates to Roosevelt, Utah, however, it is highly unlikely they will remain on staff for long if they have any sort of conscience. It is troubling considering the track record of this industry at large. Why would these university graduates want to work with involuntarily incarcerated teens? Children who cannot leave the program at-will? Children who don't have cellphones and cannot call for help when they need it?


With every new incident reported, each lawsuit, and every program closure, we have learned that America’s wilderness programs, emotional growth schools, RTCs, and therapeutic boarding schools are notorious for attracting adult predators. Remember, the program’s objectives are punitive and financial, rather than educational and rehabilitative. Program owners care about maximizing profits and cutting overhead expenses. They do not care enough about the short-term safety and long-term health of you or your child.


See Public Data on Cedar Ridge Staff "Qualifications"


The program was and is punitive.

We have extensively researched the Makana website, and the "changes" they claim to have made to the program are merely cosmetic. The underlying structure of the program is IDENTICAL to what we experienced. Since we posted this site, they removed Wes Neilsons photograph from their marketing materials. However, it is concerning they have worked with him at all given the well-documented cases of abuse that took place at the facility while under his direction. Moreover, Makana has retained additional staff members who worked at Cedar Ridge.


Whether or not the child was displaying significant behavioral problems when they began “the program,” they will treat her the same: as a child who was cast out of their family and undeserving of care. They will strip her of possessions, clothing, identity, and continue to break her down until she is a mere shell of her former self. She will start to make "progress" in the program only after she understands that there is nowhere to run. The program controls her destiny.


Separating a child from her family is traumatic enough itself; but when combined with the quotidian humiliations of working the program, it is catastrophic. Long-term detention, which denies autonomy and self-determination, means that  your child will miss important milestones and opportunities for healthy adolescent development. They will struggle to communicate what they have experienced. Many descend into self-destructive cycles, earnestly wishing to forget their years in “Utah.”


As survivors, we have been deeply saddened to witness the premature deaths of our peers: by suicide, domestic violence, drug overdoses, and/or long sentences behind bars. 



We reiterate: the troubled teen industry capitalizes on your fears as a parent. Cedar Ridge and Makana Leadership Academy continue to operate, in part, because regulations for teen residential programs are extremely lax in the state of Utah. These facilities operate under the radar of Child and Protective Services and the Department of Health and Human Services. When investigators visited the facility, we were told to keep our heads down and forbidden from articulating complaints. As a result, the rule of silence prevails. 


The tip of the iceberg.

Geary Oakes Sexually assaulted children for a decade.


For example, after having worked at Cedar Ridge for a decade,  former “nurse” Geary Oakes was finally charged in 2009 for sexually abusing young men in the program. We have no idea how long such activities were taking place. We have no way of knowing how many children were intimately violated by him and other staff members. After having published the first draft of the website, we have learned of DOZENS of additional and hitherto unreported cases involving just as many staff members.

As we have learned, the only reason this case was reported at all was because the survivor repeatedly removed the stitches sustained from such injuries—as a brave attempt to denounce his abuse to medical providers and state authorities. This clearly represents the tip of the iceberg. 


See: Salt Lake Tribune. Former boarding school employee sentenced to prison



In the program, survivors internalize a deep sense of shame about being sent away from their families and articulate deep feelings of worthlessness. They leave Roosevelt deeply traumatized. Many do not know how to speak, think, or discuss what happened to them in the program. Many of us repress our memories; others are haunted by vivid nightmares. This has a great deal with the nature of childhood trauma. As a teenager, your child does not have the mental capacities required to deal with long-term captivity.  Remember, your child's brain is still developing. It is highly sensitive. Humans fully develop the ability to control their impulses by age 25. In short, whether or not you send them to the program, THEY WILL GROW OUT OF IT.


By sending your child to live with strangers who have no concept of age-appropriateness or maintaining professional boundaries, she will  grow to confuse care with abuse, and tragically, may come to identify with or idealize her captors. This is a hallmark features of Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a near universal diagnoses for survivors of the troubled teen industry. It is the result of having been held in captivity for long periods of time in childhood and adolescence. In short, this program will be DEVASTATING for your child's development.  


What we find disturbing is the extent of the trauma we carry, decades later. We all manifest scars from the years of neglect and abuse we experienced at Cedar Ridge. Common diagnoses for adult survivors include: Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, agoraphobia, BPD, panic attacks, generalized anxiety disorder, abandonment issues, nightmares, sleep disturbances, and clinical depression. As adults, we have struggled to learn to trust again. Intimacy can be challenging. Relationships with our parents, strained. Many of us, accustomed to violence and gaslighting, have been unable to identify red-flags within abusive relationships. The most significant lesson Nielsons have taught us is to accept mistreatment by others and confuse violence and abuse with care. The difficulties we experienced as young adults are not coincidental: they are the predictable byproduct of enduring years of child abuse. 



 We refuse to sit in silence. We demand that young people's fundamental human rights are honored and respected. They should have phones to call for help. They should have the freedom to leave at will. They should be able to report abuse. They should not be subject to psychological torture. 


The troubled teen industry is like the proverbial many headed hydra. Where one program closes or is sold, another comes in its place. Unspeakable horrors took place at Cedar Ridge, in those very buildings... Please reconsider sending your child to this isolated, insulated, and dangerous place. 


 For additional information, please reach out to WWASP Survivors and #BreakingCodeSilence. 

We are part of a national network of survivors who seek to promote comprehensive reform of the troubled teen industry. This is not about our past suffering, it is about present exploitation of teenagers and families in the pursuit of profit. It is a deeply shameful business that only persists due to a series of antiquated laws and legal loopholes that deprive American teenagers from enjoying the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.


We are also deeply troubled to see videos and photographs of teens involuntarily detained at Makana online. These children are in no position to provide affirmative consent. Given the stigma attached to survivors of these programs, it is wrong that they are being used as pawns in a false advertising scheme. 


Remember: This facility cuts teens off from the outside world. Staff monitor their communications. They punish them for stepping out of line. This is a dangerous place to send your children. Please remove them from this facility IMMEDIATELY.  

Written in loving memory of 


Nicole C. 

Katie Jo K. 

Phillip S. 

Lauren A. 

Scott B. 

Eric A.

Mark L.

Noah G. 

Thomas H. 

Austin G.