BOISE — The Idaho Youth Ranch was struggling to serve kids and families.
Employees had been sounding the alarm about how the nonprofit was being operated, which resulted in rapid turnover in its therapy programs. The thrift store operation that most Idahoans see as synonymous with the Youth Ranch? It wasn’t doing great, either. The storied Idaho nonprofit needed an overhaul, including a change to its culture.
Now, Youth Ranch officials say the nonprofit is in the middle of a turnaround. And it has a new leader: Scott Curtis, a social worker known in local nonprofit circles for his leadership of local YMCAs. He says the Youth Ranch is on track to help more kids and operate better than before.
The nonprofit is “committed to impacting those most in need, expanding services and having accountability,” he said in an interview with the Statesman.
As for revitalizing the Youth Ranch? “We’re not done yet,” he said.
Concerns raised last year
Many former employees of the nonprofit last spring came forward to tell the Statesman the revered Idaho Youth Ranch — which they believed was unique in its approach to serving at-risk youth and families — was in trouble.
They said turnover among clinicians was at a critical level, making it virtually impossible to provide therapy to the children and families who needed it. They said the Youth Ranch was exaggerating how many people it served, and that it placed too much emphasis on its retail stores.
One former therapist said staffing was in such a tailspin that, for a time, the nonprofit could not provide any outpatient therapy to children or families.
The Youth Ranch’s leaders at the time said they were aware of problems and were addressing them.
“This mission is too important — the work we do — the need is too great for us to falter here,” the nonprofit’s interim CEO Jason Fry told the Statesman then. If the Youth Ranch was out of the picture, he said, it would be “a tragedy for the state for hundreds of kids and families around here. ... That’s at the forefront of our mind.”
Fry and board chairman Garry Beaty wrote a lengthy response to the Statesman report, saying it “included a number of inaccuracies and distortions of the truth.” They wrote that the organization had improved its employee retention by 30 percent in the preceding six months, that its survey of its own employees was positive, and that its net income from the thrift stores was much higher than the figure cited by the Statesman.
Ahead of schedule on reform
Fry and others worked to right the ship financially and made changes to leadership and the Youth Ranch’s culture and practices, according to spokesman Jeff Myers. That left the Youth Ranch in a better place when Curtis picked up the reins, Myers said.
“We needed to transform cultural elements of our organization,” Myers said. “We have come so far, and we have the right team in place.”
The nonprofit’s goal, starting in February 2018, was to “break even” within two years. But changes in the past year have put the Youth Ranch well ahead of schedule for financial sustainability, Myers said. The changes have also put the Youth Ranch’s thrift stores on track to contribute an “all-time record” — $2.4 million this year — to the nonprofit’s programs for youth and families, he said.
One major change: The Youth Ranch is now able to bill Medicaid. That allows the nonprofit to give therapy and other services to children and families on Medicaid and get paid for it.
- The Youth Ranch put in place an electronic record system so it can track cases and do “quality control,” Myers said.
- A clinical director who was the focus of several employee complaints no longer works for the Youth Ranch.
- Underperforming thrift stores have been or are being closed.
- The Youth Ranch will count each client once, for the purpose of telling the board and the public how many lives it is impacting. Previously, clients could be counted multiple times, for each service they used.
Myers said the organization is excited to have Curtis aboard.
“He was beloved in the Y because of his ability to build a culture and create an environment where people like coming to work,” Myers said.
‘An awesome day’
Curtis previously ran the Caldwell Family YMCA and most recently was on the leadership team of the Treasure Valley YMCA. Before that, he was a social worker. (He maintains his state license in social work.)
As he looked deeper into the Idaho Youth Ranch, though, he saw the CEO job as an opportunity that perfectly matched his skills and his values. He could work with at-risk and disadvantaged youth, and he could help a nonprofit rebuild itself and find new life, he told the Statesman.
“I feel called to serve those who seem to fall through the cracks of society and am passionate about systemic change that eliminates the root causes of trauma so many Idaho youth are facing,” Curtis said in a news release announcing his appointment to CEO.
Curtis said he is excited about the Youth Ranch’s new facility in Canyon County — the Hands of Promise campus that includes an indoor horse arena. The organization said the arena is slated to open in March. It will help the organization expand its equine therapy program — which uses horses to help children work through psychotherapy.
The Youth Ranch also wants to open a new long-term residential care facility on that campus. Idaho has very few residential treatment facilities for children and teens. The Youth Ranch closed its residential facility in Rupert several years ago, with plans to move its operations to the new Treasure Valley campus.
“There are so many kids that are not able to be served effectively by the resources available in Idaho,” Curtis said in the news release. “The new residential program will be a statewide resource critical to transforming the lives of some of Idaho’s most vulnerable youth.”
Curtis told the Statesman that his first day on the job was “an awesome day.” He visited the residential facility Hays House, where at-risk youth receive treatment.
“I got to know young people who are going through things I never had to face, taking those challenges on,” he said.