Monthly Archives: September 2016

A Great Place to Grow Up

Donald Finch was used to being on his own. His mom was rarely home, working night shifts as a nurse in order to feed her eight children. His dad was an alcoholic. As the second oldest, Donald knew it was up to him to take care of himself and his siblings. But it wasn’t long until social services put them in the foster care system.

“I’d stay with one family for a little while and then they’d come and uproot me,” he said.

Donald felt stripped from his family. He was craving a home, and that’s what he found at Yellowstone.

df-001-web“I came out here in the fall of ’57.” He was caught stealing beer, cigars, and money. The judge gave him the choice between Pine Hills Youth Correctional Facility and the Boys Ranch.

“I always liked the idea of a ranch,” he said. Donald was the 10th boy to stay at Yellowstone, where he lived for close to six years.

“It was a great place to grow up,” he said. “It was like a home. It was a good place to live. It felt like a big family.”

But Donald still yearned to connect with his biological family. This made the holidays tough.

“When Christmas rolled around, everyone at the Ranch here got to go home,” he said. “I was the only kid here. I had to do the chores, milk the cows, feed the hogs. I resented that because I was the only one here.” But his lodge parents made him feel at home and like he was a member of their family.

Donald’s days at the Ranch started at 3 or 4 a.m., when he would check the water. He would farm in the corn and wheat fields, garden, irrigate, and work with the horses. He helped build lodges on the ranch, as well. When he was done working, he knew he could go back to the lodge for a home-cooked meal.

df-004-web“Mrs. McNeal was a super good cook,” he said. “When she baked pies for dessert, you’d get about a quarter slice of pie. She didn’t skimp at all when it came time to feed you. She made darn sure you got fed well.”

It was those caring relationships with staff that Donald remembers most.

“They were positive role models,” he said. “They taught you a lot of values.”

And they gave him a family when he couldn’t be with his own.

“It was a great place,” he said. “It helped me grow up and gave me a lot of good direction in life. The Boys Ranch was the best thing that ever happened in my life.”

Yellowstone Academy Classroom Converted into Sensory Room

Students at Yellowstone Academy will be wiggling around their classroom nonstop this fall. However, their teacher isn’t worried. In fact, she’s excited to teach them in a new state-of-the-art classroom that was designed specifically for their needs.

Prudence Lybeck teaches students in the sensory classroom.
Prudence Lybeck teaches students in the sensory classroom.

“They’ll now have a desk where they can sit and bounce and pay attention,” said Prudence Lybeck, the special education teacher for kindergarten through third grades at Yellowstone Academy. “The new classroom will really add to the sensory-based teaching I already incorporate into their learning activities.”

Lybeck will teach about five high-needs students in the self-contained, special education classroom this fall. They will enjoy new carpeting and paint, as well as ergonomic furniture pieces that include swinging footrests, bouncing seats, and easy-to-move desks. The classroom remodel was made possible by partnerships with 360 Office Solutions, A-line Drafting and Design, Pierce Flooring and Cabinet Design, and Sherwin Williams.

Yellowstone Academy staff work with students in the remodeled classroom on the first day of school.
Yellowstone Academy staff work with students in the remodeled classroom on the first day of school.

“We hope that after they’ve had a chance to use the furniture, they will see a positive change in the kids,” said Frank Cross, an owner of 360 Office Solutions. They donated about $15,000 worth of time and materials.

Pierce Flooring and Cabinet Design donated antimicrobial Millikan carpet tile and installation at a value of $3,000. “We strongly believe in the Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch and have for years,” said Jon Pierce, the general manager of the flooring division. “We love giving back to our communities that help drive our business, as well.” The Pierce family of businesses also includes Pierce Homes, Pierce RVs, and Pierce Leasing.

As Lybeck prepared for the school year in a classroom under construction, she said she appreciates the generosity of the community. “We are so grateful that these companies have created a sensory learning environment to help our students continue to grow in a safe place,” she said.

Yellowstone Academy is a fully accredited K-12 program through AdvancED Accreditation and an accredited K-8 elementary district through Montana’s Office of Public Instruction. It is located at the Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch, a nonprofit organization that is trusted locally and nationally as a leader in the field of mental health care for children and their families. YBGR has impacted more than 10,000 youth and their families since 1957 through Residential Services in Billings, Community Based Services throughout Montana, and the Yellowstone Academy in Billings.