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Courageous Transformation in North Idaho

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At last July’s Wine, Women & Shoes fundraising event in Coeur d’Alene, IYR clinician Amanda Smith shared an amazing story with hundreds of generous guests, all gathered to support promising futures for Idaho kids and families. With her permission we're glad to have the opportunity to share this story with you. The story is true, but we've changed the hero's name to protect his privacy.

Good evening ladies,

When I look around this room I see a group of women who are successful, independent, influential, and who make a difference in their community. I would imagine that most of us in this room have faced significant challenges on our journey to get where we are today. And while some may be able to relate to the challenges that my IYR clients face, like homelessness, abuse, and addiction, many others of you may have encountered other seemingly insurmountable obstacles along your path.

But most of us found someone who played a key role in our struggle by believing in us, helping us, encouraging us, and giving us chances, Successful people can usually look back and identify someone who made a difference in the outcome of their life.

Tonight, I want to tell you a true story about my client “Jason” (not his real name). I met Jason in March 2014. He was a 15-year old who came to my program under the influence of substances with a known history of being addicted to pot, alcohol, hallucinogens, and amphetamines, as well as experimenting and using countless other substances including inhalants. He came through the door with a shave mark in his eyebrows, tattoos on his body, and dressed in red, all indicative of the Eastside Gang I knew he belonged to.

And man, was he not only high when I met him but he was also angry. And Jason had every right to be angry.

He came from a home with parents addicted to drugs, parents involved in gangs, he witnessed domestic violence, he himself was abused, he’d been in and out of jail countless times, and he owed the court $23,000. Jason’s anger, thug persona, and criminal thinking were a constant struggle in the program. I’d get phone calls regularly at home, at night, and on weekends because of his behaviors.

And then he had a breakthrough. He had gotten into a fight with his mom over the phone and then an argument with his peers about it. He was shaking and trembling and he punched the floor so hard he busted up all of his knuckles. And then the tears came. Big old crocodile tears. Years’ worth of tears. Tears for all the pain he really felt. Tears for all the reasons he was really angry. Tears for a childhood and innocence he never got to experience. Tears for the damage he had done to himself and others. And when he stopped crying he was surprised and confused and shocked that we didn’t see him as less of a man for expressing his feelings.

That day his knuckles got patched up, but what also started was him patching up all of his emotional wounds. And Jason started changing his life.

Jason had never had a birthday party before. So, since it was his sweet 16th and he’d been sober a couple of months, he decided he wanted us to throw him a party. So we did a princess theme, with pink and zebra print and a homemade Oreo cookie cake. I even got his mom into the spirit, and after teaching him how to address an envelope to go through the post office, she even sent him up some special birthday presents. And man, did he proudly wear that tiara all day!

He had dropped out of school in 5th grade, but now Jason bonded with our IYR educator. He decided he LOVED science and loved to learn. He even told me one day that he was “proud that secretly I’m a nerd.” I suggested he make a science project. So he did. He worked for months creating a mobile of the solar system. He got an A.

Jason also participated in equine therapy. Week after week he’d complain he was a city boy and the horses didn’t like him. And so he’d have little to do with them in return. He’d try to touch them and they’d walk away from him, which just really angered him more. Then one day he was out in the pasture and he tried again. And this time, the horse let Jason pet him. And Jason got super snuggly with it. And when Jason walked away from the horse, the horse followed him all around the pasture. And Jason brought the horse over to me and I asked him, “Who’s this?” And he said, “This is my horse, Trust.”

From that day on, Jason wasn’t only a sweet-sixteen princess, and an academic nerd, he was also now a cowboy with a horse.

Jason successfully completed our program and decided to go to our Ranch Campus in Rupert so he and his family could keep make significant progress in a safe environment. All he wanted from me before he left was a game of basketball. So even though I’ve been out of the sport a while I decided to humor him.

Now, he may have beat me in the one-on-one game, but man, I killed him at Around the World! And then we went to his good-bye coin ceremony, where we both proceeded to cry our eyes out. I got the biggest hug I’ve ever received. Jason went to the Ranch Campus and kept in touch. He loved his time there and continued to make progress, especially with Family Services. And he had some struggles, too, so he asked if he could come back to Coeur d’Alene.

Jason came back to my program in November. He continued to work hard on his anger management, his issues with authority, and on his social skills. He participated in some specialized PTSD counseling and had some seriously heavy counseling sessions with his mom and stepdad.

He was even able to fly home thanks to IYR and go on a Home Pass with his family. They chose to go tubing down the Boise River, an activity they’d never done before, and made the best family memories.

Jason started co-facilitating groups and rec activities. He became a positive leader and mentored the new clients. He helped staff cook and run errands. And he even helped out doing volunteer work at the CDA thrift store.

And he decided he was going to Job Corp. Idaho Youth Ranch staff worked hard for months to get him accepted into the program. We had to take his case all the way to the Job Corp Headquarters in Washington, DC, to get approval. IYR also had to plead his case in front of two judges to get approval from the courts for him to go.

And in June 2015 I was overcome with emotion once again as we threw Jason a Mexican fiesta party and said our good-byes as he started the next chapter in his life at 17 years old. When he drove onto campus for the first time he called me to say he had arrived at the Job Corp campus and he wasn’t quite sure what to do, he was so happy.

He continues his counseling services with me once a week. I even got a special call to tell me when he had invited a girl to prom, when he earned his first six job certificates, when he got an A in his first class, and when he became a dorm room leader for new orients. He called when he had two teachers fighting over him picking their program, and to say he’d been through the 4th of July and was still sober. All this and he had only been gone for two months!

When I spoke with Jason about this speech and got his permission to tell his story he proudly and excitedly said yes. He said, “Miss, you and the Idaho Youth Ranch saved my life. You are the reason I’m successful.”

The truth is, all of us make our own success and we get to own those accomplishments. But most of us along the way needed some help. We needed someone. I’d like to think that that Idaho Youth Ranch and I are the “someones” for Jason. And all of you out there today, with your donations and your big hearts, each of you just may be that person for another one of our kids at an Idaho Youth Ranch program.

Jason is only one of the many young people I have had the privilege of counseling through the Idaho Youth Ranch. They were able to transform their lives because IYR was there with the support, skills, help and relationships they needed to heal from their trauma and pain and to rebuild themselves and their families. As the Idaho Youth Ranch continues to expand our services in Coeur d’Alene we will be able to reach more kids and families, just like Jason, and hopefully intervene earlier before things get to a crisis point.

Jason sent me a text last night, to wish me luck today on telling his story. He texted, and I quote, “Thank you so much, Miss Smith. It’s a pleasure to have you and the Idaho Youth Ranch in my life. If it wasn’t for your brilliance and me going through what I have when I was there I would never have been able to make it. You’ve changed lives. You should be proud.” I want to thank all of you out there for caring about these kids in our community as much as I do. We at the Idaho Youth Ranch couldn’t do what we do without people like you. Thank you for making a difference!

To learn more about IYR's north Idaho services for youth and families, click here. To learn more about Wine, Women & Shoes, visit [link to WWS site].

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