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Making a Difference: Service Learning at IYR

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One of the key ingredients to a promising future is a sense of belonging and feeling connected to others and valued for what you have to offer. That’s why volunteering, or what we call service learning, is such an important part of treatment at IYR.

Service learning lets kids experience the satisfaction of making a difference—for some, for the first time in their lives. Our kids spend time every week getting involved in their community through local volunteer projects. It builds confidence and a sense of self-worth—and it just feels good for all concerned.

When we ask current and former IYR graduates what they enjoyed most about their time with us, service learning is always high on the list (although horses usually get first place!) Some alumns come back to visit specifically to take part in whatever service learning activities are currently going on.

For kids in treatment, service learning also provides a welcome break in the schedule. As one alumnus put it, “Working on yourself and facing your issues is hard work. It’s nice to get outside and just go rake somebody’s leaves for a while.”

Idaho Youth Ranch partners with local nonprofits and community organizations to create opportunities for service learning such as cleaning up city parks, serving meals to the elderly and home-bound,  packing up donations for the Idaho Foodbank, doing trail work, caring for animals at shelters and clinic, and more. Here is a partial list of our partner organizations, and the list is constantly growing and changing as new volunteer opportunities come up:

  • Idaho Foodbank
  • Meals on Wheels
  • Stables at Mica Meadows
  • Land Trust of the Treasure Valley
  • Elk’s Club
  • Ronald McDonald House
  • Idaho Humane Society
  • Declo Animal Clinic
  • YMCA
  • IYR Thrift Stores
  • Boise Rescue Mission
  • River of Life Men’s Shelter
  • Chateau de Boise Retirement Home
  • Lake Walcott State Park
  • Zoo Boise
  • Boy’s and Girl’s Club

At Hays Shelter Home, the kids plan their own service learning projects during weekly Youth Council meetings. And in 2014, they set a goal to complete 1,000 hours of service learning for the year. They made that goal by August, and held a “1K Awards” ceremony to mark the achievement.

Every Hays resident who logged any service learning hours during the year was invited to the party for a barbeque, an awards ceremony, and a chance to celebrate. Several local businesses got involved in the celebration, too, generously donating T-shirts and gift cards for the honorees.

Hand-made trophies were created for each attendee. The recipient of the top honor—the Hays 1K Lifetime Achievement Award—was a young man who has been in and out of the shelter for the past few years. He was surprised and could not hide his pride. We saw it in his giddy smile when the entire group applauded his having spent over 200 hours of his time giving back to his community. "I guess all these tiny bits add up to a lot," he said when he accepted his trophy.

He was so right. The Hays Shelter Home kids made it to 1,500 volunteer hours by the end of 2014. As of July, 2015, Ranch Campus and Anchor House residents had collectively logged more than 1,000 service learning hours. All those “tiny bits” really do add up, helping communities and helping at-risk kids realize how much their contribution matters.

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