Our History

Forest Heights Lodge (the Lodge) was founded in 1954 by Hank and Claire Swartwood, a couple who dedicated their lives to helping children. Prior to founding the Lodge, Hank and Claire had been involved in establishing a treatment facility on San Juan Island in Washington’s Puget Sound. Wanting to build upon their success and experience in Washington, the Swartwoods and seven boys moved to Colorado. They found our present site and established Forest Heights Lodge in Evergreen in the spring of 1954. The Swartwood’s belief that close interpersonal relationships are paramount to treatment and success remains the cornerstone of the Lodge’s treatment philosophy to this day. Their intuitive approach and psychodynamic perspective soon found acceptance and support in the professional community of Denver. A group of psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers from the University of Colorado Medical Center consulted with the Lodge to facilitate treatment for the children.

Russ Colburn, LCSW, was asked by Hank and Claire to serve as Executive Director in 1963. Russ had worked at the Lodge while in graduate school and shared a vision and passion for the organization. Russ served as the executive director of the Lodge from 1963 to 1994. Under his leadership the Lodge increased enrollment, expanded and constructed new buildings, developed an on-grounds school and became accredited with The Joint Commission.

Vera Fahlberg, MD was the medical director of the Lodge and became an international voice for children and their treatment. She authored “A Child’s Journey Through Placement” and was the editor of the Lodge’s 1994 book “Residential Treatment – A Tapestry of Many Therapies.” Vera became a speaker and trainer throughout the United States, Canada, England, Scotland, Israel and Greece. Her writings expanded the work and outreach of the Lodge and established our national and international reputation for excellence.

Linda Clefisch, LCSW, became the Executive Director of the Lodge in 1995. Linda had served as a student intern with the Lodge as an undergraduate and graduate student. She began her professional career working as a youth treatment counselor both at the Lodge and another program. After completing her LCSW, she became the director of outpatient services and held that position for 16 years. As Executive Director, Linda was able to expand the program to include the addition of Forest Glen, our wild land campus and the West School/Gym. Linda retired in 2019 after over 40 years of dedicated service to children, families and the Lodge.

In March of 2020, in the face of a global pandemic and for the safety of our students and staff, the Board of Directors and Leadership decided suspend residential services. In the following months, it became clear that Forest Heights would need to adapt to our model of service to families and children. The Board of Directors and staff are working to develop outpatient programing to serve our community.   

Did You Know?

We have years of experience working with kids from all over the United States and world.