Our Team

We Help Boys Through their Present Struggle, and Prepare Them for What Lies Ahead


Gordon Birch

CEO & Founder

With over 25 years of experience working in the therapeutic industry, Gordon’s expertise includes co-developing and leading operations of 5 clinically driven programs, becoming one of the nation’s largest experiential education adventure therapy programs. Gordon held the position of National Director and was responsible for working directly with multiple state and federal agencies and national accrediting organizations.

These programs served a population of teens and young adults who characterized an at-risk population, struggling with behavioral issues and suffering from drug and alcohol abuse. Under his direction, over 6,800 youth successfully graduated and logged over 450,000 student days in the field.

Gordon is a national leader in the field of Equine Assisted Wellness. Gordon was among the first to be trained and certified in Equine Assisted Growth and Learning. Through the years, Gordon has continued to develop and train Equine Assisted Wellness to individuals and groups in both private and public settings.

As a combat Army Veteran and having an understanding of the therapeutic needs of individuals suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Gordon was asked by Upper Limit Aviation to help develop a training program for veterans returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan war.

Gordon was an officer in the Utah Army National Guard for 18 years and was twice called to active duty in defense of our country. Gordon is an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma and a named member of the Crow Nation. Gordon is a husband and father and his primary passion is his family.


Mary Lou Wise, LCSW

Executive Director

Mary Lou has been working with young adults and adolescents for 30 years. She grew up on the shores of Bear Lake in southeastern Idaho, where she was at home in nature. She has skills in treating addiction issues such as substance abuse and dependency, eating disorders, gaming addiction. She has skills in working with people with issues in grief and loss, underachievement, oppositional disorders, as well as a wide range of mood disorders.

Her strength as a therapist lies in her ability to connect quickly with clients and use the therapeutic relationship to motivate change and desire to seek the best within themselves and reach their highest potential. Her clients love her for her straightforward and honest approach. She is direct but compassionate and caring.

“My goal as a therapist is to help my clients determine what it is they truly want from life, to recognize their true potential, and to create a life they love and take pride in. I believe we all need to live with intent.”

Mary Lou understands the parental perspective. “One of the greatest rewards of my work, is to help families heal, and to give parents back a child well on their way to a bright and healthy future. I love getting a letter or email from a student or family whose child is living successfully and happily after making necessary but difficult changes.” She believes healing comes from heartfelt and honest communication and authentic relationships.

In her free time Mary Lou loves to travel and to continue to enjoy the outdoors. She loves all outdoor activities, particularly water sports. She and her husband, David, have been married for 29 years. They have four children, a rotating assortment of dogs, and two incredibly adorable grandsons.


Dr. James Palmer


Dr. Palmer grew up in small town Utah but has had wonderful opportunities to complete schooling all over the country from undergrad at the University of Utah, medical school at Des Moines University with classwork in Des Moines and clinical training in Cleveland, OH, general psychiatry residency with Maricopa Integrated Health Systems in Phoenix, AZ, and child/adolescent psychiatry fellowship with Cambridge Health Alliance/Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA. 

He is very grateful for all those who have shared hundreds of accumulated years of experience as patients and mentors. Training in such diverse environments has taught him to learn to work as part of a team and understand a person as a whole. This helps him provide a caring, informed, and evidence-based practice for wide ranging mental health challenges.
James’s first clinical experience came even before medical school as a residential line staff. In that capacity, he came to appreciate the comprehensive nature of a residential treatment team in facilitating stabilization and growth. He does not take lightly the trust implicit in his work to be a member of the treatment team. This perspective has driven him to be an accomplished psychopharmacologist but also to understand people are much more than their psychopharmacologic profile. He approaches his work with an individualized application of this understanding to support a person’s growth toward their potential. Currently, James works across a continuum of care in inpatient, residential and outpatient settings and appreciates the role that each can have in fostering growth.
Throughout these years of education and training, James continues to hold that his most grounding and stabilizing influences have been his family and appreciates whatever time he has with them.”

Aaron Cluff, CMHC

Clinical Director

Aaron started working with adolescents and young adults 21 years ago. Initially, he worked in residential treatment helping people with comorbid mental health and substance issues and later with troubled youth and their families in a county SED (severely emotionally disturbed) program.

In 2009, having moved home to the Southern Utah area, Aaron began working in wilderness therapy where he was able to combine two of his passions: his love of nature and his desire to help others. Continuing with these passions, Aaron joined the Monuments team in 2019, where he engages in relationship-based experiential therapy to help adolescents and families set goals, make changes and find long term success.

Aaron believes in the basic goodness of people and that everybody can make healthy changes. Establishing positive relationships with students and helping them increase their awareness are key elements to the success that he has enjoyed with students.

Aaron loves spending time in the outdoors and appreciates the healing effects that nature offers. His primary passion in life is his wife and children, with whom he lives on a small farm in Southern Utah.


Kristi Gilbert

Academic Director

Kristi comes to Monuments with a unique blend of experience in corporate, public, and private education.  

Kristi Gilbert spent 25 years in the high-tech industry as a professional writer, trainer, and instructional designer.  She also ran her own company that provided instructional design services, content development, and content delivery systems for corporate education, training, and certification programs. 

Kristi comes to Monuments with a unique blend of experience in corporate, public, and private education.  

Kristi Gilbert spent 25 years in the high-tech industry as a professional writer, trainer, and instructional designer.  She also ran her own company that provided instructional design services, content development, and content delivery systems for corporate education, training and certification programs. 

After 25 years in the high tech industry, Kristi Gilbert retired so she could “do something that mattered”: 

Kristi states, “Reflecting on my personal experience, the people who have had the most significant effect on my life outside my own family have been teachers. Elementary, middle-school, high-school, church, music, sports, and college teachers have profoundly impacted my life experiences, world view, values, and sense of identity—for good and for ill. I remember my teachers more than any celebrity, actor, musician, or politician of my era. “

With her extended experience as a professional writer and her love of literature, Kristi decided to become a high school English teacher. She obtained her teaching credential, then threw herself, wholeheartedly, into public education.  She quickly became a department chair at her first school.  She seeks to enrich classroom instruction with experiential, hands-on learning activities. Her guiding instructional rationale is, “What good is it to learn a principle if you can’t apply it?”

This is the vision that Kristi brings to Monuments. She is passionate about teaching and endeavors to help students connect their education in meaningful ways to the world around them. 


Liz Blaha, LCPC

Director of Admissions and Outreach

Liz joins Monuments following almost ten years in the mental health field in a variety of roles and settings. Liz attended DePauw University in Greencastle, IN where she developed her passion and love for Psychology and working directly with individuals to help them process past trauma and find their passion in life. She then went on to get her master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Governors State University.

While in graduate school, Liz began her career by working in direct care roles in two different residential treatment centers. It was during this time that Liz realized the joy she found in working with adolescents. Liz is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in Illinois, and her clinical experience includes case management and individual and family therapy in short-term and long-term behavioral health programs with a focus on teens struggling with mood dysregulation, trauma and eating disorders. In addition to her clinical experience, Liz also worked in business development, admissions and marketing roles for residential and wilderness programs.


Liz’s strength and passion lies in her ability to authentically and intentionally connect with others to understand their needs and provide hope and solutions to families. Liz will provide guidance and walk alongside families and referral partners throughout the admissions process at Monuments.

Liz lives outside Chicago with her husband, precious daughter and their French Bulldog named Frankie. In her free time Liz loves to travel and spend time with her family and friends-preferably outdoors.

Please reach out to Liz with any questions about the admissions process at [email protected] or at 708-703-0171.

Jake Clayton

Jake Clayton

Residential & Progressive Director

Jake has over five years experience working in a residential treatment center setting.  He began working for Monuments shortly after it opened as a residential staff while attending Southern Utah University.  He graduated with his bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science and was very involved in professional student organizations such as the Honors Program, Ambassadorships, Admission Offices, and college preparatory programs.

Throughout his undergraduate years he planned and coordinated activities for thousands of high school and college age students and oversaw experiential learning programs/trips in several countries.  He also spent a lot of time assisting high school students in their preparation for attending college.  At Monuments he most enjoys teaching students new skills and helping them develop a mindset of “I can.”  One of his goals is to work with students individually and to provide quality experiential learning opportunities to students.  Outside of work Jake enjoys traveling with his wife, hiking, drone videography, and personal fitness activities.   


Andrew Larsen, LCSW

Primary Therapist

Andrew earned a Master’s degree from the University of Utah in Social Work. His passion for helping teens with mental health needs is evident in his varied professional experience. Prior to joining the Monuments team, Andrew worked for a residential treatment program as a youth therapist and Weber School District as a Mental Health Specialist. 

He was also a member of the Stabilization and Mobile Response Team for youth mental health crisis. He has been a Youth Trauma-Focused Therapist for Weber County Human Services and a Counselor for the State of Utah Juvenile Justice Services. In his early years, he worked as a Field Guide for an adolescent wilderness therapy program. Andrew truly understands the challenges that teens face in today’s world.

Andrew enjoys fishing, snowshoeing, snowboarding, playing basketball and the piano, gardening and baking.


Sally Mayer-Swift, LCPC

Primary Therapist

Sarah (Sally) received her M.A. in Human Services/Mental Health Counseling at St.

Edward’s University in Austin, Texas and completed her B.S. at Miami University, Oxford,


She has worked as a Licensed Professional Counselor for over 28 years in multiple

residential settings, agencies and private practice, in Texas, New Mexico and Montana.

She has been a Group Leader, Therapist and Clinical Director at Rancho Valmora, New Mexico for over 5 years, where she learned and practiced the Positive Peer Culture (PPC) protocol and fell in love with its principles of care and concern for others and focus on building value and character in each unique individual. She has Doctoral work in Transpersonal Psychology and taught Human Development, Critical Thinking and Transpersonal Psychology at the Master’s level.


Sally has a long history of using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral

Therapy, EMDR, Somatic methods and Mindfulness skills in her practice and also has

multiple certifications in Equine Assisted Therapy. Sally has experience working with

attachment-stressed, adopted and delinquent youth and their families in both the

residential and agency settings. She continues her studies in psychology, healing, and

many other areas that involve understanding and helping the human condition.

Her interests include continuing to expand her knowledge and experiences by working

with the indigenous medicine people in Peru, New Mexico and South Dakota. Sally

enjoys nature, camping, working with horses and hearing others tell their stories.


Christin Jesson, RN


Christin began her career as a nurse in 2014, initially focusing on geriatric behavioral and mental health. After spending time over the winter volunteering with the boys at Monuments Treatment Center, teaching Dutch Oven cooking classes, she was so impressed by the students and team mentality at Monuments she changed her career focus to adolescents.

Christin is excited to bring to Monuments her passion for holistic nursing, which is utilizing nursing knowledge, theories, evidenced based practice and intuition to recognize and care for the totality of the person as a whole.

When not at work, Christin can be found outside, either gardening, farming, hunting, or exploring Southern Utah’s breathtaking scenery and rich history.


Tera Purcell

Co-Program Director

Tera began working with Monuments soon after it’s opening. She started out as a staff where she began building healthy relationships and understanding how to work with the young men attending the program. She enjoys being involved with students in all of the areas of the program including Horsemanship, Photography, Outdoors, etc. She loves helping the students learn and grow into the men they strive to be. She is always willing to lend a listening ear and a helping hand. She makes Monuments feel like home. 

Tera has 3 years experience in Administration. She works along well with clients/co-workers and believes that organization and communication are key. Working together to keep our young men safe and succeeding is her mission at Monuments.

Tera grew up in a large family with 4 brothers and 3 sisters. She’s from a small town in Utah where she learned to love and enjoy the outdoors. Tera is a mother of 3 beautiful children. Together they enjoy outdoor activities such as fishing, hunting, camping and spending time with her boyfriend at his farm. 

Our Specialists

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Our knowledgeable admissions team has years of experience helping parents who are seeking treatment for their child.


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