Category: News

YBGR Chemical Dependency Expansion

Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch (YBGR) has announced the expansion of its Chemical Dependency (CD) Program after receiving licensure from the State of Montana. YBGR will be providing additional programs in Montana to include: Outpatient and Intensive Outpatient Chemical Dependency Treatment, Chemical Dependency Screenings and Evaluations, Family Chemical Dependency Counseling, and Prevention Education services for youth. According to Walter Shore, Director of Chemical Dependency at YBGR, “Our youth deserve the opportunity to experience life without being under the influence of alcohol and drugs and know that someone is there to help.”

Shore further explains that “youth are starting at an alarmingly younger age abusing substances and Montana’s current treatment services are not able to address the high rates of children and adolescent alcohol and drug use.”  YBGR has seen an increase in youth dually diagnosed with both Substance Use Disorder and Mental Health Disorders. Early intervention of both disorders is key to preventing higher levels of treatment interventions later in life.

YBGR currently offers CSCT (Comprehensive School and Community Treatment) along with CD services in the Laurel School District and at Medicine Crow and Riverside Junior High Schools in Billings.  The CD services include Chemical Dependency Screenings and Evaluations, along with ongoing Chemical Dependency Therapy Services. Youth placed at YBGR’s Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facility (PRTF) in Billings receive Chemical Dependency Evaluations, Substance Abuse Screenings, and Early Intervention/Education Services. Youth also participate in Chemical Dependency Counseling that includes Group (including Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous), Individual, and Family Therapy Services.

Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch is a multi-service organization providing a broad spectrum of services including Psychiatric Residential Treatment, Case Management Services, Care Coordination, Home Support Services, Therapeutic Youth Mentors, Therapeutic Foster Care, Chemical Dependency, CSCT, Supported Employment, Outpatient Therapy Services, Psychological Testing and Day Treatment.

For additional information on Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch visit its website at or call 800-726-6755.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” ~ Margaret Mead

Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch is honored to welcome our newest board members Wendy Keating and Gary Tognoni to YBGR’s Board of Directors. They are in great company with board members Bob Carr, Chip Youlden, Perry McNeese, Terry Moore, Bill Goodwin and Bob Wilmouth. Wendy Keating who is presently in Washington was able to join the meeting via Zoom, pictured center on a tablet.

YBGR’s 60th year serving troubled Montana kids

Billings Gazette December 25th, 2017

Christmas for emotionally troubled youth served by Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch on campus, in foster homes, and even living at home, can be a lonely time. We want to give our heartfelt thanks to all our friends in the community who supported Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch Foundation and Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch this year with your time, talents and treasure.

This year marked YBGR’s 60th year of serving emotionally troubled children in our community. Each day, YBGR serves more than 650 emotionally troubled children. Its residential program hosts children on the original 410-acre working ranch between Billings and Laurel. YBGR’s community programs are based out of Garfield School on Billings’ Southside, providing therapeutic foster homes, school-based therapy, and family therapy and support throughout southern and eastern Montana. Yellowstone Academy, an accredited public K-8 and private high school, provides special education to YBGR’s residential children and day treatment students from our community and surrounding communities.


As we head into YBGR’s 61st year, we are also thankful for the board members, volunteers, and more than 325 employees of YBGR and Yellowstone Academy who selflessly help these emotionally troubled children day in and day out — and especially at Christmas.

Bill Hritsco, president

YBGR Foundation

Mike Chavers, CEO

Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch


Swing Kidz dance to prevent suicide






Swing Kidz dance group performers rehearse at Broadwater Elementary on Monday.

Larry Mayer Gazette Staff

Billings Gazette 11/29/17 by Jaci Webb

They call themselves the Swing Kidz, a name that fits their dance style and personalities.

The Billings dance company primarily performs West Coast Swing, but they also like to throw in some hip hop and modern interpretative dance styles. They are such a tight-knit bunch that they call their dance instructors Mom and Dad, even though Patricia Lambert and her husband Jarrett Lambert are in their mid-20s.

The family atmosphere at dance practice helps boost spirits when a member is having a bad day. That spirit of caring helped them come up with the theme of suicide prevention and depression awareness for their upcoming dance performance, Swing Kidz Extravaganza.

The performance will be held on Saturday, Dec. 9, at 6 p.m. at the First Congregational Church, 310 N. 27th St. Proceeds from the auction and raffle will go to the Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch and a representative from the facility, which helps youths struggling with emotional issues, will speak during the event. Tickets are $15.

It begins with a swing dance lesson and finishes with a dance party after the performance. Patricia Lambert said dance makes a difference in kids’ lives and she can attest to that because she was once that shy kid.

“I went from not being able to speak in public to starting my own business. Dance did that for me,” Lambert said.

Swing Kidz is open to youths between age 6 and 24. The program currently has six students from age 6 to 18. The youngest member is 6-year-old Gabi Spatzier, who has been dancing since she was 2.

Gabi’s mother, Sam, said dance helps Gabi cope with her anxiety.

“I’ve never seen her more excited than she was the first day she started dancing with this group,” Sam Spatzier said.

Beverly-Ruth Laci, an 18-year-old music education major at Montana State University Billings, has been in the group since August. Laci thought raising money to help the Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch was an excellent idea.

“The message I want to get across is, ‘It’s OK to get help,’ ” Laci said.

Laci said she struggled with depression and anxiety because she was reluctant to reach out for help. She doesn’t want others to suffer.

An Oregon dance instructor that Lambert and two of her students worked with committed suicide earlier this year. That was a wake-up call for them.

“All of the kids have either experienced depression or someone they know has,” Lambert said.

As she worked with students at rehearsal Monday night, Lambert kept things lively. The music was loud and the pace was steady. Girls dance with other girls since there is only one male member of Swing Kidz.

Alex Hunnes, a 17-year-old Senior High student, said even though he’s the only boy in the group, the other members are some of his closest friends.

“It’s like a family. If anyone in the group is having a problem, we’re always there for each other. Today, Beverly got a flat tire and everyone in the group was wondering how we could help.”

Hunnes discovered dance two years ago when he was at a fiddle camp. He started watching YouTube videos and then saw the Lamberts perform during a John Roberts Y Pan Blanco concert featuring Latin music at St. John’s Lutheran Home.

Earlier this year, Hunnes competed in a swing dance competition in Boston, making finals in the Jack and Jill division, which has dancers rotate partners.

Hunnes believes dance helps relieve stress, which is important to people in his age group.

“People feel super connected in the virtual world, but not in the real world,” Hunnes said.



Gazette opinion: Save Montana kids’ mental health care


Gazette opinion: Save Montana kids’ mental health care

Nov 5, 2017

Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch is caring for nearly 600 kids, but only 65 were living on the sprawling campus along 72nd Street West last week. The other children and teens receive YBGR’s help in their schools, their homes or foster homes. It’s that big group of kids who would be hurt first and worst if the state cuts its budget.

Youth in-home care and targeted case management are on the chopping block, even though they are key to helping emotionally disturbed youth stay safe in their own homes.

YBGR, which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, serves Montana through community offices in Dillon, Livingston, Lewistown and Billings. Those services include 32 school-based treatment teams in Billings, Laurel and other Montana public schools.

Kids on the campus west of Billings suffer serious illnesses, including major depression and PTSD resulting from abuse. Many have engaged in self-harm, such as cutting or suicide attempts. About half have chemical dependencies or are at high risk for addiction.

The vast majority of YBGR services are provided through Medicaid. The fiscal year began with zero rate increases for Medicaid mental health care. YGBR and other Montana health care providers already were struggling to pay salaries that will recruit and retain professional staff.

“Medicaid does not cover our costs,” YBGR Chief Executive Officer Mike Chavers said in an interview last week. “Our donors and foundation help.”

Starting and resuming children’s mental health care isn’t like flipping a light switch on and off. If disturbed youth are cut off from treatment, they will regress; they may need a higher level of treatment because they couldn’t access the less expensive care when they needed it. If in-home work with parents and dysfunctional families suddenly ceases, problems will grow.

“Most cuts are focused on low-cost services that serve a lot of people and divert them from higher cost care, hospitals and juvenile detention,” Chavers said. “Cutting down in this area doesn’t save money, it drives costs elsewhere. Let’s figure out ways to drive kids to better outcomes and bring kids home.

Of course, the state needs to control the costs of its high-end kids’ mental health care, too. It’s currently paying $327 a day for residential treatment, but that rate, which doesn’t fully cover costs of care, is under the budget axe, too.

DPHHS Director Sheila Hogan and division heads are “open to thinking creatively,” Chavers said. “The challenge is there is so much noise in the system, nobody knows what’s going to happen. There’s no easy way to make 10 percent budget cuts.”

The state absolutely can improve the system. Montana public health officials should work with in-state residential treatment centers to send fewer troubled kids out of state for care. Montana needs to invest enough in community-based services to prevent kids from deteriorating till they need to be hospitalized. DPHHS must step up engagement of providers, clients and their parents to plan better, more cost-effective services. But none of this will save the general fund the $100 million DPHHS could lose this biennium to balance the state budget.

As Chavers said, “There are ways we can improve the system, but it takes time.”


Music therapy changing lives in Dillon







Posted:  Oct 17, 2017 7:45 PM MDT Updated:  Oct 18, 2017 7:55 AM MDT


DILLON – “Go! Go, Bobby. Play, play, play your instrument, play, play, play,” Bethany Venekamp, Musical Therapist, sings to her class.

Music is more than just fun. At Parkview Elementary, Bethany says music has scientific qualities that are good for therapy.

“Music is organized, it’s structured, it’s predictable and that quality of music makes it a really special medium to work and train or reteach the brain,” Venekamp said.

For a year now, Bethany has been working with special needs students using musical therapy that includes drumming and singing songs.

“I try to pick songs that they know, we call it piggybacking, so we maybe take the chorus and the melody, but we adjust some of the lines to what we’re going to work on,” Venekamp said.

“We love it,” said Special Ed Teacher Beth Pavalis.  “When she first came in I asked if she could come every day, it’s just the beautiful little time in our week that we all look forward to.”

Most people use musical instruments for entertainment, but Bethany used them for learning. She can get the students to follow along and stop, or use a rattle to help them learn rhythm and this is all done so they can develop social skills.

“These kids are learning to follow direction because they need to know that skill in class and in life and so just working on stop, start, play up high, play down low, just simple directives that I’m giving them,” Venekamp said.

Teachers say this therapy has made a difference for the nine special needs students at the school.

“The kids really tune in and engage and follow directions a lot better and more effectively when music is involved,” Pavalis said.

Venekamp added: “So our sessions when we started were like 15, 20 minutes for some of the kids and then they would live or disengage, so the fact that we can have a session that’s almost 40 minutes with independent engagement without needing assistance from their other teachers is huge.”


History in the making YBGR youth make breadboards out of grain elevator wood

History in the making

Our very own Ron O’Leary


Banking on the eclipse: Billings artist designs hundreds of eclipse souvenirs


Ron O'Leary
Eclipse shirt back

T-shirts by O’Leary show the line of the total eclipse on the back. They sell for $24.

JACI WEBB/Gazette Staff

Click here to see the original article 

JACI WEBB/Gazette Staff

When Billings artist Ron O’Leary gets behind something, he doesn’t go halfway.

That attitude fits perfectly with the total eclipse of the sun on Monday. Around Christmastime in 2016, Ron and his sister, Kathleen O’Leary of Riverton, Wyo., were talking about the eclipse. Riverton will experience the eclipse at 100 percent at 11:39 a.m. on Monday.

Folks around Riverton started planning early for the onslaught of viewers looking for a place to stay and ways to celebrate the eclipse. There will be a two-day Dark in the Park festival in Riverton on Saturday and Sunday. Kathleen O’Leary is allowing some camping on her ranchland but has no more spaces available.

Encouraged by his sister, O’Leary put his artistic side to work to make souvenirs. A ceramic artist, he created a wall plaque in the shape of the sun with the date of the eclipse painted around it. A perfectionist who loves color and design, O’Leary hand-paints each sun, using various color combinations to create different effects. Each one is different.

“What’s funny is these items that took the most time and resources aren’t always the ones people like. One day, two different people said their favorite was one I considered my worst,” O’Leary said.

He calls one the goth plaque because it has no bright colors, just black, white and gray. Another has a vintage look, which he calls “retro road sign.” It is painted with a patina made with iron oxide.

O’Leary’s teenage daughter, Lilly, and his partner, Linda Hofer, helped with some of the painting. But for the most part, it’s been O’Leary hunched over a table in his backyard studio painting the sun.

O’Leary has taught art and music at Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch for 18 years and his studio reflects that with shelves of ceramic work he can’t bear to part with.

Over the summer O’Leary traveled through central Oregon, where the eclipse will also be 100 percent. Some of the shops took his sun plaques and others asked about items like T-shirts and coffee mugs.

As soon as he returned to Billings, O’Leary got busy again, designing solar eclipse T-shirts, coffee mugs, key chains, flashlights, book bags and eventually a poster showing a bison with the date of the eclipse and the longitude and latitude of Riverton. The items are for sale at, Etsy or will be sold in Capser, Wyoming, on Thursday and in Riverton this weekend.

“What’s kind of fun to think about is all the different designs people have come up with. There are 23 pages on Etsy of solar eclipse merchandise, all the way from tacky to real nice artistic designs,” O’Leary said.

O’Leary has never seen a solar eclipse and he said he’s getting excited for the experience on Monday.

Learn About YBGR’s Therapeutic Foster Care, June 19

(Dillon, Mont.) June 15, 2017 – Are you considering becoming a foster care parent? Visit with professionals of Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch to learn initial information on what it is to be a foster parent during the evening of Monday, June 19, from 5:30 – 7 p.m. at Dillon Elementary School District Board Room, located at 22 North Cottom, Dillon, MT 59725.

This is an informational evening for anyone who may be interested in becoming a therapeutic foster parent or who would like to learn more about Therapeutic Foster Care.

Contact Charise Lemelin at, Tracey Lujan at, or call 406-683-0416 to R.S.V.P. for the event.


Support YBGR on AmazonSmile

The Yellowstone Foundation has partnered with AmazonSmile, an program for nonprofits, to allow shoppers to donate to the Ranch at no added cost!

How does AmazonSmile work? 

AmazonSmile will donate .5% of all eligible purchases to the Yellowstone Foundation to support Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch programs.

Click here to go to the link on or go to, then login to your Amazon account, shop, and buy!