Standing in front of about 75 people in the Yellowstone Academy auditorium, Elly Pfirsch described how programs through the Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch have affected her life.
They helped her graduate high school in Laurel and she credited them as “the real reason I’m even in college.
“We learned to communicate with each other more and work out our problems,” she said.
Now in her third year at Montana State University Billings studying psychology, she is one of thousands of youth who have been helped by the ranch’s outreach programs throughout the state, which aim to help emotionally troubled or disturbed youth in their homes and at school.
Efforts by the ranch to help youth such as Elly got a major boost on Thursday with the donation of $30,000 total from a trio of local businesses, which will help pay for a trio of specialized teams in schools and at the ranch who work to address the problems the kids are facing.
“We couldn’t do what we do here on a daily basis without the amazing support we get from out in the community,” said Glenn McFarlane, the ranch’s CEO.
First Interstate Bank, the First InterstateBanc Systems Foundation and Stockman Bank each presented YBGR officials with $10,000 checks at a ceremony Thursday, held at the Yellowstone Academy on the YBGR campus on 72nd Street West and Hesper Avenue.
Officials told the gathered crowd how, in Billings, 292 youth from the class of 2012 did not graduate high school. They said that about 50 percent of students with severe emotional health issues do not graduate but that proper treatment and work have a positive impact on them.
Of the half that don’t graduate, three-quarters end up arrested within five years of dropping out of high school, said Mike Sullivan, superintendent of the Yellowstone Academy, a day school on the ranch campus.
“They’re the toughest kids around, but they’re the most rewarding kids to work with,” he said.
The new teams the money helps fund will be based at a school in the Billings area, at the academy and at Laurel High School.
Each one will work with about 10 students at a time.
Dr. Stephen Mandler, the ranch’s medical director, said he understands the impact the programs can have on kids because he benefited from similar ones when he was young.
He said he dropped out of high school and ran away before landing in a treatment program, going to college and dedicating his life to the medical field.
He’s now working with the same kind of professionals who helped him.
“Programs like this helped save my life,” he said.
Kurt Alme, president of the YBGR Foundation, said that businesses around Billings were quick to step up and help when the ranch decided recently to put more resources toward such teams in an effort to reduce dropout rates.
“We reached out to business partners and a lot of them stood up and helped,” he said.