Warming Up Kids with Blankets and Bears

(BILLINGS, Mont.) December 7, 2016 – This holiday season, Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch (YBGR) has much to be thankful for, especially when it comes to gifts provided by Billings area partners and businesses. Nonprofit organization Blankets and Bears, founded by Sandy McCaffrey, is just one of the businesses who’ve supported YBGR in years past. The Ranch is excited to see the organization back again this year.

Blankets and Bears LogoBlue“For the past 9 years, Pillows, Blankets, and Bears has provided a number of youth with a unique gift at Christmas,” Rick Hamblin, Director of Community Based Services, said. “The children are all smiles when they receive their bundles.”

For YBGR’s Community Based Services (CBS) kids and families, they get to be a part of a special kind of giving… guaranteed to be cozy and warm. In an event which lasts from 3:30 – 5 p.m. on Dec. 19, at Garfield Center in Downtown Billings, nonprofit organization Blankets and Bears will donate enough bundles which include a new pillow and pillow case, a blanket, and a stuffed animal for nearly 60 YBGR CBS youth and other children in the community. In years past, volunteers have dressed in Christmas outfits and presented each child a gift.

“Deliveries to YBGR have captured me because this is what caused us to grow,” McCaffrey said. “I am just blessed to be able to have our community rally around the children that need us here in Yellowstone County and beyond.” McCaffree said that, in 2005, Blankets and Bears delivered only seven bundles in total, but expects that this year they will deliver nearly 800 bundles. “All of the children have my heart. They’re my first priority,” she said.

Halloween Tricks and Treats at YBGR Annual Harvest Party

By Morgan Tuss

One step, two step, three step… Stop! Justin Bieber’s famous tunes cut short by the swift finger-press of the contest moderator, Vanessa Grossman. Pause! The kids halted to a hop and stumble, each landing on a numbered square. Eyes looked left and right and torsos wobbled as they waited for their fate.


…And then there were nine. Survivors of the elimination sighed a breath of relief and stood by for the “go-ahead” to walk the circle again. The finger pressed play and Bieber belted on.

Trays of Rice Crispy treats and brownies; baskets of candies, bags of cookies, and plastic encasings of cupcakes agonizingly delicious looking, but all unmistakably overshadowed by mouthwatering rows of colorful, green, orange, and brown cakes topped with marshmallows, chocolates, Gummy Worms, and technicolored candy sprinkles.

dsc03369Certainly enough cake for a cake walk… or a cavity.

In the midst of a fall evening, the dining hall glowed from the outside in, lit with bustling activity from all sides of the room. Kids hurried from station to station testing out each game and competing with their peers. In costume and garb, staff and guardians watched-on, attending to the party-goers needs and encouraging Halloween spirit.


The youth toiled over who was next in line and how many turns the person had in front of them. Gladly, they accepted candy as a satisfactory reward for each finished game.

Moving on from one station to the next, the youth looked for opportunities to high-five friends and steal successful techniques.


John Dailey’s “Just Dance” with the Wii attracted the kind of partiers who weren’t afraid to bust a move. They watched the screen closely, flicking their wrists, waving their arms, dipping and kicking their legs out, and shuffling their feet—buoyant with the rhythm of the on-screen dancer. If focus could be measured, this game would take the win.



At different stations, party-goers took turns throwing footballs into holes, mowing down towers of red SOLO cups and monster bowling “pins,” blindfolding each other and pinning the wart on the witch, tossing bean bags into a coffin-shaped Cornhole game, and participating in other carnival games decked-out in spooky, orange and black decor. It was clear that each lodge put a lot of thought into their station, making each of them the engaging and inviting booths that they were.


The hall was hung with jack o lanterns, ghosts, ghouls, spiders, and skeletons and featured a traditional centerpiece with straw bales, corn, pumpkins, a rooster, and a scarecrow.

Some staff brought their spouses and kids, and wore costumes to match the fun. Anya Mohr dressed as the Victorian Queen Anne and served punch until the ladle ran dry. Rishay Watson, PRTF Executive Director,  and Dr. Chandra Perez, YBGR’s clinical director, brought over their kiddos and Jeff Seeley brought his son too.


Every person eyed the cakes, treats, and goodies on the way in and out—even the youngest of us.

A Halloween Poem

Without a doubt, the ghouls, goblins, and ghosts galore would’ve been dancing in their skeletons to be at our door.

But, the biggest scare is yet to come. Not Halloween, the presidential election, or your mum…

Lurking in the backdrop of one of these photos is the iconic reminder of the day that comes only but once a year: The holiday that children dream of and the one that parents fear—Christmas!


“Eat for Change” at Chipotle to Support YBGR Youth

BILLINGS – Hey, are you hungry for lunch? Well, mark your calendars for Wednesday, Nov. 16 and “eat for change” to support Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch (YBGR) Foundation. By filling your hungry tummy, you can help fill the hunger for a full and happy Christmas for YBGR youth.eat-for-a-change-flyer

Stop in to Chipotle, located at 1601 Grand Ave Ste. 100, in Billings, Nov. 16, between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. and donate 50 percent of the cost of your lunch, afternoon snack, or dinner to youth in need. That means that you can donate at no extra cost, and get a great meal!

Support your local YBGR Foundation and help them serve a great cause!


‘It Takes a Village’ to Treat Mental Illness

By Morgan Tuss

The Billings Police Department (BPD) has reported an increase in calls that involve mental illness, within the last two years. The latest report showed that crime involving mental illness cases are up 9.35% from 984 reports, in 2014, to 1076 reports, in 2015. These statistics do not include incidents involving individuals with undetermined illnesses, which BPD said could significantly add to those numbers.

This week is Mental Illness Awareness Week – an appropriate time to take a closer look at mental health issues and treatment in our community.

Increasing Incidents

Lieutenant Neil Lawrence of the BPD offered insight into how the department handles mental illness. He said that Billings officers regularly encounter individuals who struggle with mental illness.

“At least on a daily basis, you’re going to have contact with someone who is attached to a mental illness,” said Lawrence.

He said that police awareness and capability to handle mental illness has increased since the time that he was hired by the department, 22 years ago. He explained that each officer undergoes Crisis Intervention Training which incorporates scenarios of common disturbances and skills on how to deescalate situations. He also said that officers often work with local agencies like Tumbleweed to help find placement and treatment for troubled individuals.

“If we can get them the help they need then we’re certainly going to try to help,” said Lawrence.

Treating Those in Need

There are a number of organizations in Billings which treat individuals struggling with psychiatric and mental health needs. Two of them are Tumbleweed and Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch (YBGR).

Tumbleweed provides overnight, drop-in care; outpatient and crisis counseling for families and individuals; and counseling services within two of the Billings high schools. Jamie Rettig, the Lead Counselor at Tumbleweed, reported that during the fiscal year of 2015, they impacted 482 individuals through their drop-in care and 558 individuals through crisis counseling and family mediation. They also average 227 calls per month on their crisis line.

“The need has increased. I definitely have seen that,” she said. “I think there are some great gaps that can be filled.”

She also recognized the importance of reaching youth and families sooner in their life rather than later.

“We need to be catching kids earlier… By the time they see these places their issues are usually much more compounded,” said Rettig.

Like Tumbleweed, YBGR offers care within schools as well as outpatient child and family counseling, but also offers other services such as residential treatment, Home Support Services, Targeted Case Management, school-based Behavior Support Specialists, Supported Employment for youth seeking jobs, and Therapeutic Foster Care.

“We are committed to building new solutions, adapting existing services, and partnering with others to address these growing needs,” said Mike Chavers, CEO of YBGR.

Chandra Perez, the Clinical Director for YBGR, said that one of the difficulties of treating mentally ill patients is trying to find the balance of properly treating them in their environment of choice.

Perez said, “When kids move to a different environment, there’s a sense of trauma, anxiety—stress for the kids. Because of that research, people want to try everything they can to keep the child in the home.”

She said that while in-home treatment is the first choice, it may not always be the right approach.

Tumbleweed and YBGR both treat many kids suffering from past trauma.

“Many of our kids come from a background of trauma, either in their home of origin or throughout the foster care system. So, them staying in that trauma and chaos isn’t necessarily the most healthy,” said Perez.

Perez also said that the problems associated with individuals’ unwillingness to seek treatment for mental illness are the stigmas attached to them and a lack of education.
“More than half of the population at some time throughout their life has some diagnosis of mental illness, so chances are that other people won’t be judging you. The nice part, also, about mental health services is that they’re typically confidential,” said Perez.

Billings-native and graduate psychology student Alexa Huschka is trying to combat that exact issue—a lack of education. Huschka studies school psychology at the University of Oregon and said that erasing the stigma behind mental illness comes from being informed and understanding.

“It’s really important for people to learn about mental illness and how sometimes, it’s something that can just happen. No one is less of a person because they have a mental illness,” she said.

Her education consists of identifying student learning disabilities, behavior support, and collaborating with parents and teachers to help the student succeed.

“For students struggling with a mental illness, receiving help in any form is taking control and fighting for a better life,” said Huschka.

Orchard Elementary is taking a charge on implementing positive thinking. YBGR Behavior Support Specialist, Breanna Maples said there is a motto that they use to encourage staff and students at the school—“It takes a village.”

And Billings is just that.

For more information about Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch visit ybgr.org, e-mail info@ybgr.org, or call 1-800-726-6755.
For more information about Tumbleweed visit tumbleweedprogram.org or call their 24-hour crisis counseling hotline at 1-888-816-4702.

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.

Billings DeLorean Club Celebrates Back to School with YBGR Kids

Photo: Billings DeLorean Club Members (Clockwise): Brock Williams, Justin Voeller, Vern Ball, and Nick Lambert; Not pictured: Bill Murphy Photo courtesy of Larry Mayer of Billings Gazette
Billings DeLorean Club Members (Clockwise): Brock Williams, Justin Voeller, Vern Ball, and Nick Lambert; Not pictured: Bill Murphy.  Photo courtesy of Larry Mayer of Billings Gazette

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.

YBGR Expands Services within Billings Public Schools

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.”

P66-14-WEB-150x150Yellowstone 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.

Lions, Tigers, and… Armadillos?

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!

Zoo-1-WEB-150x150With 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.

Zoo-2-WEB-150x150The 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!

Yellowstone Academy Summer Program Adds Guest Science Lessons

Summer school may not be appealing to the average student, but it gets cooler with ExxonMobil’s weekly summer science lessons at Yellowstone Academy.

ExxonMobil Public Affairs Specialist Dan Carter shows a YA student a fossil during a science lesson.

“It’s a great way to help students see how science impacts everything we do each day,” said ExxonMobil’s Dan Carter, who leads interactive lessons about everything from rocks, minerals, and geology to chemistry and engineering.

About 40 students in kindergarten through 12th grades are enrolled in YA’s summer school program, which is part of a trimester school year. In addition to Carter’s lessons, YA offers vocational programming, art and music classes, and a full range of academic services to assist special education students.

“We’re trying to help these kids with mental health so we can send them back to their districts and they can be successful academically,” said YA superintendent Mike Sullivan.

Students’ home school districts place them at YA through an Individual Education Plan process. The home districts, which are located within an hour’s distance from YA, pay for the placement of their students at the Academy.

“These kids can be successful, but they just need the right setting,” Sullivan said. “We’re the right setting for them.”

The YA day treatment educational model involves collaboration among educators, therapists, and behavioral specialists to help kids work on social and emotional deficiencies. Classrooms have four adults and eight to 10 students. Teachers fill students’ days with group projects and interactive activities, like Carter’s science lessons.

“Every kid I’ve ever met is curious about the world around them,” Carter said. “I just try to show them a new way of looking at it.”

YA 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.