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.
“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.
“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.”
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.
“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.
“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.
The Billings DeLorean Club will be showing off their wheels at Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch for the first-ever Back to the Future Back to School Car Show.
“Our club usually participates in parades and local car shows, so a back to school event is something new for us,” said Justin Voeller, who plans to dress as the character, “Doc”, from the Back to the Future movies. “I enjoy seeing others get the same amount of enjoyment as I do out of the car.”
DeLoreans were produced from 1981 until 1983. They feature a signature stainless steel body and gullwing doors.
“We are ecstatic about bringing these retro cars to campus for our kids,” said Gillette Vaira, the director of public relations at YBGR. “The back-to-school spirit is alive at the Ranch, and the DeLoreans will make this time of year even more special.”
Close to 60 youth who live on Yellowstone’s campus will be turning out for the show the evening of their first day of school. They’ll be watching Back to the Future movies prior to the event to get into the 1980s groove.
Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch is expanding its services within Billings Public Schools. The growth of the program is a result of an increase in mental health needs among students in the school district.
“We are seeing a higher demand for mental health services for our young people,” said Terry Bouck, the superintendent of Billings Public Schools. “Working with YBGR helps us to meet the needs of students and their families.”
Yellowstone has provided Comprehensive School and Community Treatment services for School District Two since 2014. CSCT teams, which include a master’s degree level therapist and bachelor’s degree level behavior specialist, provide mental health therapy and behavior interventions to students while they remain in their regular school environments.
YBGR is recruiting four therapists and four behavior specialists to create the additional teams. With these new employees, YBGR will have will have an additional team at Lewis and Clark Middle School, two teams at Medicine Crow Middle School, and one team at Frameworks, an alternative classroom at the Lincoln Center. Once the four new teams are operating, YBGR will have 12 total teams in Billings Public Schools. YBGR also offers CSCT services in Dillon, Shepherd, Laurel, Lewistown, and Lockwood, as well as Elder Grove and Independent Elementary Schools.
“We are proud to work with schools throughout Montana to meet the mental health needs of youth and families,” said Kim Chouinard, the executive director of YBGR’s Community Based Services program. “We are excited about expanding our services within School District Two and are honored to continue working with all of our school partners across the state. It is a great program that provides hope for children and families.”
Billings Public Schools enrolls more than 16,000 students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. The district has 22 elementary schools, five middle schools, three high schools, and a Career Center. School District Two employs about 1,400 full-time equivalent positions.
Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch, a nonprofit organization, is trusted locally and nationally as a leader in the field of mental health care for children and their families. Each day, YBGR’s employees across the state work with close to 600 youth who struggle with controlling emotions and behaviors. 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.
By Morgan Tuss, Public Relations Intern
The kids squirmed in their seats wondering what was in those three containers. Troy Paisley of Zoo Montana opened up the first container and pulled out a terrarium. Its contents—a Madagascar Hissing Cockroach!
The kids rustled in their seats; some stood up and groaned, “Ew,” or “Cool!”
As Troy stood at the front of the Chapel, he explained that animals have tools and adaptations which help them survive in their environments. He held the bug in his hands and explained how cockroaches hiss like a snake when they feel threatened. He explained that without cockroaches, we might not have vanilla or chocolate ice cream… That’s right! This particular species of cockroach originates from the same forests where vanilla and cocoa beans were first found. Without the forest cleaning and maintenance work that cockroaches provide, these beans might not grow!
With the cockroach safely put away, Troy unlatched the next container and introduced Bambi, the Three Banded Armadillo.
“Aw,” said some of the girls. Eyes bulging, their hands sprung up. “Can I touch it?”
Watching the armadillo wiggle, the kids were dazzled. Troy explained that this armadillo is different from other species because of the unique tri-banded armor on its back. This trait gives the armadillo the ability to flex and wiggle— just as it was doing. He brought the Armadillo around for the kids to see. They giggled at its hairy tummy.
“It’s almost like it hasn’t shaved,” said Troy, jokingly.
After watching Bambi explore the floor for food, she was returned to her traveling crate.
The kids knew there were three animals, so what was next? Troy stretched his gloved hand into the covered enclosure and pulled out Gabel, the Great Horned Owl.
The kids’ eyes glowed as they admired the large bird. In awe, they watched as he stretched out his wings.
The kids learned that Gabel is named after Gabel Road in Billings, where he was hit by a car. His injuries resulted in an amputation of his right wing. Troy explained that because of this, he could not be returned to the wild and landed a permanent home at ZooMontana. He also clarified that owls cannot turn their heads all the way around, but that they do have twice the amount of vertebrae in their necks as humans. This allows them to turn their heads a great deal further than us.
At the end of the presentation, the kids were excited when Troy offered them to properly pet the back of the armadillo, while of course, sanitizing their hands after. Lined up, the kids walked up one by one to pet it.
Some of the girls couldn’t decide whether their favorite animal was Gabel or Bambi, but it’s certain that they had a hoot!
Summer school may not be appealing to the average student, but it gets cooler with ExxonMobil’s weekly summer science lessons at Yellowstone Academy.
The Montana native, hit band, Repeat Offenders, will play at the Josephine Crossing Summer Concert on Tuesday, July 12 from 5 to 8:30 p.m. The event supports Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch.
The band’s bass player, Steve Shelton, was diagnosed with ADHD as a child and struggled with social and behavioral obstacles. He said he feels this event is a fitting way to support kids with similar challenges.
“Anything anybody can do to help kids out, I think, is very, very cool,” Shelton said.
The Josephine Crossing subdivision, developed by McCall Homes, is hosting the concert series for the seventh year. McCall Homes Marketing Director Kelly Smith works and lives in the community.
“I’m a neighbor myself,” Smith said. “I can pack up my red wagon with camp chairs and a picnic blanket, and we can go and have great entertainment, really, in our backyard.”
The concert will raise cash and check donations, which will support YBGR’s treatment programs. YBGR also accepts donations at www.ybgr.org/donate/.
“We are thrilled to partner with the Billings community and the Repeat Offenders to support our kids,” said Morgan Tuss, the public relations intern at YBGR.
Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch, a nonprofit organization, 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.
Listen to YBGR Public Relations Intern Morgan Tuss and Kelly Smith with McCall Homes speak with the Breakfast Flakes about the event!
Listen to YBGR Director of Public Relations Gillette Vaira interview with Livin’ Large Larry about the event!
As told by Lisa Frazier, Therapeutic Recreation Supervisor
In 1982, fresh out of college, I began working at Yellowstone. I spent the majority of my time with kids in the Uihlein Recreation Center, taking them on biking, camping, and sledding adventures. My mentor, Bob McFarlane, one of the three founders of Yellowstone, taught me how to establish relationships through hard work and play. Of course, we never know how our actions and words will impact young people. But we hope that our advice will stay with them throughout life. That’s what happened with Adam Garrigues.
I met Adam in 1983 when he arrived at Yellowstone at 15 years old. By that time, he had plenty of run-ins with the law. He ran away from home, skipped school, smoked, drank, and did drugs. He also ran away from the Casper Children’s Home at age 13. Later, he stole a car and robbed houses, landing him in the Wyoming Mental Hospital and the Wyoming Industrial Institute for Boys.
When he came upon his fourth felony in three years, he knew his next stop was Yellowstone… or prison.
“The judge told me flat out, ‘This is your last chance,’” Adam said.
Adam lived at the Ranch for more than three years, and he was actively involved. He played on the Mustangs basketball team and won Defensive Player of the Year. Later, Adam told me he behaved well so he could participate in recreational programming.
“It kept me focused to do what was being asked of me or I might miss the big game that night,” he said.
Adam was eager to assist staff, as well. I remember when he helped me take a group of young kids on a camping trip.
“I was the pack mule,” Adam said. “After day four, my legs went numb, but I kept going. Now that builds character.”
Other aspects of his Ranch experience were impactful, as well. Adam remembers a staff mentor, Jerry, asking him to look up the word, “empathy”, and use it in a sentence. That assignment stayed with him.
“Later in life, it was just that little voice in the back of my head: ‘Be nice to people. You don’t know where they came from and they don’t know where you came from.’ When I would do something I knew I shouldn’t be doing, I heard a staff member or counselor saying, ‘You might not want to make this choice.’”
Adam wanted to have a chance to be one of those voices for kids currently in treatment at Yellowstone.
In 2015, he began coaching our youth in bowling. He teaches bowling basics, etiquette, and respect for equipment. But he gives advice about more than just bowling.
“This is not a game,” he has told them. “You have to make good decisions.”
The conversations they have about the future bring him back to his past.
“You can talk to them and you see yourself back in those days. It’s been an emotional rollercoaster since I’ve been coming back here, to be honest,” he said.
Now 48, Adam works as a welder for WBI Energy. He and his wife also started a food truck and catering business. He runs a youth bowling league in Billings and enjoys spending time with his wife, three children, and six grandchildren. But even as he enjoys his successful adult life, the Ranch continues to be a part of him.
“The voices of YBGR are still with you,” he said.
And now, his voice is with the kids of Yellowstone.
Written by Public Relations Intern Morgan Tuss
Fourteen-year-old Avery* was struggling with suicidal thoughts, depression, anger, and sadness. In desperate need of help, her family decided the best place for her to find hope was 3,000 miles away at Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch in Montana.
“I’m a long ways from home,” she said, thinking of her 5,000-person hometown in Alaska.
When Avery first arrived on Yellowstone’s campus, she felt overwhelmed.
“At first it was kind of scary being in a new place. But you get the feeling that people care about you.”
Avery had a warm and cozy treat when she first checked into YBGR. She was able to choose a hand-made quilt to keep her company during her stay at Yellowstone.
“I was actually really surprised,” she said. “I thought, ‘That’s really cool.’”
Avery chose a quilt that is scattered with earthy tones, moose, and trails like the Iditarod.
“When I’m missing home, I can see it and it makes me feel better.”
Avery’s quilt was made with love by three quilters from St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Harlowton, Mont. They make dozens of quilts each year for the youth of Yellowstone.
“Those kids, some of them come with absolutely nothing,” said Sue Fortune, one of the quilters. “It really just tugs at your heart.”
Fortune estimates their quilting group has made more than 1,300 quilts for Yellowstone’s kids since 2005. However, keeping up with the amount of quilts needed for incoming YBGR kids is tough. The group started with 22 volunteers, but now just three ladies participate.
“It takes a lot for the three of us to turn out the quilts we do,” Fortune said.
They also rely on donations for materials from generous church members and others in the community. Fortune said she wouldn’t want a YBGR kid to go without one.
For Avery, receiving a quilt helped her settle into her life at the Ranch and heal from wounds of the past. Starting at age seven, Avery endured abuse. She was then diagnosed with posttraumatic stress, major depressive, and generalized anxiety disorders.
“I thought that I would never want to live or enjoy living.”
But the Ranch has given her life again. She has found purpose with various work crews on campus. She earns money by cleaning dishes and tables in the dining hall. She also works by tagging, branding, feeding, doctoring, and cuddling the Ranch’s calves.
“It’s really fun,” she said.
Her time at the Ranch has changed her.
“I’ve been able to do things for myself and helping myself allowed me to help others,” she said. “It’s gotten better since I’ve been at the Ranch, which I never thought I’d get to say.”
And as for Avery’s quilt, you won’t find it bundled in a corner or strewn on the floor. It is proudly displayed across her bed in the lodge, ready to keep her warm at night.
Please call Sue Fortune at 406-632-4204 if you are interested in quilting with or donating to the volunteers at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.
*Name changed to protect client confidentiality
The Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch board of directors has appointed Mike Chavers as the permanent chief executive officer, effective August 1.
“I am honored to be offered the opportunity to serve as the CEO of Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch and to be a part of the incredible history and mission of the agency,” Chavers said. “I look forward to helping YBGR continue to make a positive impact in the lives of youth. As a native of the west, I am grateful for the opportunity to continue my career in an area which I still call home.”
Born and raised in Idaho, Chavers pursued his education and career in Illinois. He has worked at Indian Oaks Academy, Nexus, for the last 22 years. Most recently, he has served as executive director of the organization.
Chavers holds a Master of Arts in Counseling from Olivet Nazarene University and a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from the Moody Bible Institute. He is a fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Juvenile Justice Reform.