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EDITOR'S NOTE: Every initiative, program, service or action we take at the Idaho Youth Ranch is aimed at helping Idaho's children become productive and caring citizens. When we help children succeed, we help make our communities stronger and more successful, both now and in the future.
We often are reminded of this purpose when we receive notes, letters and visits from those who we've had the chance to help through the support of our generous donors. Sometimes we are contacted by children who recently graduated from one of our programs. Sometimes we are contacted by adults who were at the Ranch decades ago and attribute their successful lives to being put on the right path at the Ranch.
These heartfelt contacts remind us of why we do what we do. Following are the stories of three of our alumni.
Jim arrived home from his 10th grade classes in Mountain Home one day in 1971 to find his gym bag on the porch with a note attached. The note from his mother and stepfather told Jim that "We're moving to England and you're not."
With nowhere to go, Jim stayed one night at a time with school friends until the end of the school year. After a police officer picked Jim up for sleeping at a laundromat, a judge recommended that he be sent to the Idaho Youth Ranch.
"I lived at the Ranch for two years of high school, and was fortunate to have great people there who were genuinely interested in my welfare. I was able to participate in extracurricular activities, including playing basketball at Minico High School.
"Though not a normal teen environment, living at the Youth Ranch taught me personal responsibility and a strong work ethic, both of which have benefited me throughout my adult life.
"Today, I am married, and my wife Sherrie and I have four children and eight grandchildren. We live in the Salt Lake City area, and I have created a successful business career through hard work and the traits I learned while living at the Ranch. Over the years, I have had the opportunity to speak to audiences around the country, sharing the most important lesson I learned; that your attitude will determine your success."
At the Idaho Youth Ranch, Doug not only learned to let go of his anger, he found a passion for a hobby that is the beginning of a career.
Doug entered the Ranch program near Rupert in 2009. He had been bullied daily at school. Not surprisingly, Doug thought it was OK to push around the younger kids at the Ranch. "I was a really angry kid," he said.
As the Ranch's counselors worked hard to teach Doug that bullying others was not OK, he found joy in working in the horse program. The program uses horses as part of treatment, which is called "animal assisted therapy." This therapy can be a very powerful bridge for learning how to form relationships with people.
On one occasion, Rich Halquist, equine therapy instructor at the Ranch, showed Doug and the other kids how to braid leather. "I loved braiding," Doug said.
As his anger went away, Doug became a leader with the other kids. He participated in 4H steer and horse projects. He placed in the top five of the riding events at the Minidoka County Fair.
"After I graduated from the Ranch program I applied for and received a Ranch scholarship to learn more about braiding," Doug said. The Idaho Youth Ranch's commitment to finishing the job includes vocational and college scholarship programs to promote life-long success for our graduates. Because of this support, Doug now earns $15 an hour braiding leather.
Doug graduated from high school and earlier this year returned to the Ranch to teach the current group of kids how to braid leather.
"I saw a dream and the Youth Ranch was there to help me make it a reality," he said.
"I can't imagine my life without the Idaho Youth Ranch because if it didn't exist, I wouldn't exist," said Kim.
When she was 16 years old, Kim tried to end her life. She had made poor choices in friends, became rebellious, fought constantly with her parents and was violently attacked by a stranger. She had engaged in self-destructive behavior to distract herself from the pain in her life.
Kim's parents stepped in and sent her to IYR. Kim credits the structured program and caring staff at the Ranch with saving her life.
"The Idaho Youth Ranch in Rupert taught me to value myself and gave me a second chance in life."
That second chance included an internship with the NBC Network in New York City, thanks to funding from the IYR scholarship program and individual donors. It also included college, and in 2010 Kim graduated from Boise State University. Today she is a highly successful social media marketing manager with a major Idaho company.
"The Idaho Youth Ranch taught me how to live again and gave me the opportunity for a great education," Kim said.
"Making the Anchor House grounds and home a pleasant place to live sends an important message to the boys in the Anchor House treatment program," said Mary Christenson, program director. "The beautified surroundings tell the teens that the community cares about them and supports their recovery."
When a passing biker stopped to thank the teens for their hard work, one of the boys said, "Wow! People really notice when kids do good things."
Volunteering and giving back are a regular part of Idaho Youth Ranch recreational programs. Recreation is more than just play. It includes using free time to care for others in the community.
Kids who are involved with their communities show more respect for others, build self-confidence and personal skills. They also are less likely to use their free time in negative ways.
Through 4-H, each kid learned how to feed, care and raise an animal, which in this case included sheep, steers, dairy calves and pigs. The boys and girls also learned about costs and finances.
After the animal is sold at the fair, the expenses are deducted and each kid keeps the profit. Each kid puts 20 percent into a savings account for when they leave the Ranch. The rest can be spent during trips to buy clothes, at outings and at other events.
The IYR program uses animals as part of treatment, which is called "animal assisted therapy." For abused children, such therapy can be very powerful. The animal can be a bridge for learning how to form relationships with people.
The base is home to the 366th Fighter Wing of the Air Combat Command, nicknamed the Gunfighters.
Such community service is an important part of treatment. Kids who are involved with their communities are less likely to use their free time in negative ways.