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
Mike Chavers, CEO
Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch
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.
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.”
(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 email@example.com, Tracey Lujan at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 406-683-0416 to R.S.V.P. for the event.
The Yellowstone Foundation has partnered with AmazonSmile, an Amazon.com 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.
Performing and singing many current pop songs and hits from the past, kids and staff rocked the stage inside Yellowstone Academy (YA) during this year’s Talent Show on May 26. The auditorium was filled with kids ready to strum, pick, key and hit instruments provided by YA’s music program.
Those who had a knack for acoustic guitar, bongo drums or the keyboard captured the audience’s attention with the vibrant sound of live music. Most of the kids sang to voiceless versions of songs from pop singers like Ariana Grande, Rihanna, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and country songs like those by Sam Hunt, Blake Shelton and more. During the best composed performances and the most well-known songs, kids cheered and stood, swaying to the tempo. Many staff jumped in, including lodge workers, teachers and the school therapist, showing off strong vocals and musical talents of their own.
Once the performers stepped off stage, they were met with high-fives, and words of praise and encouragement from their peers. Impressed with their friends’ performances and sometimes critical of their own, many of the kids walked away with a newfound confidence or a set of goals to achieve the next level of adjunct instrumentalist or singer superstar.
James Brassil came to YBGR in the early 2000’s as a troublesome kid. At home he’d fought with peers, acting out from anger and frustration.
“I’m not exactly sure as to why I was angry…” Brassil said. “I would say it was mixture of my life at home and school – It just wasn’t a very good fit.”
The only way he knew how to deal with conflict was to fight.
“I fought at school mostly because I didn’t know how to walk away from a problem…” Brassil said. “For me it was easier to just fight and settle things that way.”
But, the Ranch helped him find ease and a sense of purpose.
“Getting out on the farm and having a hard day’s work helped me to clear my mind,” he said. “(It) gave me opportunities to work hard on something that was important.”
The Ranch gave him a chance to see a new perspective.
He said, “It allowed me to prioritize the problems in front of me and realize what I had control over…” And to accept the things that he couldn’t control.
Brassil said that talking to staff and creating new relationships with them helped him see his situation more clearly. Gary Adams, YBGR’s Farm and Ranch Director, was one of those people.
“Speaking to people like Gary helped me to understand what was important in my life at that time,” Brassil said.
Adams said, “James was a kid who just had some anger bottled up. We spent a lot of time together working through those problems by just working hard.”
Now that Brassil is 25, he has much to show for the kind of hard work he’s dedicated himself to. After he left YBGR, Brassil finished high school and enlisted in the Army as an Airborne Infantryman. He served there for three years before being accepted to the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Brassil participated in sports while there, and, in 2016, graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Human Geography.
“Seeing the progress of the farm gave me something to be proud of,” Brassil said.
And he takes the hard work he learned at the Ranch with him as he builds his life and his career, currently, as an officer assigned to the Fourth Infantry Division at Fort Carson (CO).