By KEITH ERICKSON
Scott Curtis has spent his entire professional life devoted to nonprofit organizations, particularly those dedicated to helping disadvantaged young people and their families.
It’s that demonstrated passion that recently landed Curtis the chief executive officer position with Idaho Youth Ranch, a Boise-based nonprofit with a mission to provide troubled children a bridge to a valued, responsible and productive future.
Curtis is in Coeur d’Alene this week to meet with Idaho Youth Ranch leaders and visit the organization’s facilities, including the thriving midtown thrift store.
He also visited The Stables at Mica Meadows, just south of Coeur d’Alene. At the sprawling ranch, Curtis was introduced to some of the dedicated servants that are instrumental in promoting positive change in vulnerable youth: Horses.
Working with horses has been a proven method of emotional recovery that can be powerfully transformative, said Amy Evans, North Idaho regional director of Idaho Youth Ranch.
Using an experiential equine therapy model, therapists use the intuitive connection between animals and children.
“It’s a nontraditional form of therapy for these youth and their families,” Evans said. “Being so close to these animals with such a large and loving presence complements traditional counseling settings.”
Twenty-seven horses at Mica Meadows are available for the organization’s therapy sessions, which include immersive family exercises like coaxing a 2,000-pound horse to move off a mat without saying a word.
“It’s a therapeutic, hand-on approach where clients are given space to project and analyze their situation, make connections and find their own solutions,” Evans said. “The horses are tools for processing the needs of clients.”
At any given time, Idaho Youth Ranch officials in Kootenai County are working with around 40 youth and their families offering services ranging from emergency shelter and residential care to job readiness and adoption services.
An Idaho Youth Ranch therapist also spends about 20 hours a week with students at alternative Venture High School in Coeur d’Alene.
Beyond important therapy practices, Idaho Youth Ranch is a valuable community partner.
Locally, the nonprofit employs about 40 people full-time at its Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls thrift stores and distribution center on Seltice Way. Statewide, Idaho Youth Ranch employs more than 400 people, Curtis said.
Those businesses provide important youth employment programming, job skill training, mentorship and workplace coaching, Evans said.
Services, programs and job opportunities offered by Idaho Youth Ranch are far-reaching and life-changing, said Stables at Mica Meadows manager Mike Pippin.
He’s even paid an occasional visit from “grown-ups” who have been positively impacted.
“I’ve had kids grow up and come back when they’re 25 or 26 years old and said if it hadn’t been for this program, they’d probably be dead or in prison,” Pippin said.
Idaho Youth Ranch offers a three-pronged approach to providing support for vulnerable children and their families:
Behavioral. Skill-based programs that help kids and families learn emotional control, coping mechanisms and positive reinforcement.
Relational. Youth- and family-based programs that help disconnected families build trust, develop respect and improve communications.
Experiential. Animal-based or activity-based programs that develop emotional strength, resilience and fortitude.
As the new CEO for Idaho Youth Ranch, Curtis said he will embrace the nonprofit’s unbridled commitment to helping vulnerable children and their families. And he’d like to do even more.
“I’d like to continue to find ways to expand these important services to fill an incredibly important and growing need,” he said.
Before joining Idaho Youth Ranch last month, Curtis held executive posts for the YMCA in southern Idaho and served as a social worker for the Boise School District.