The Idaho Youth Ranch (IYR) is an integral part of the Idaho community. Last year approximately 300 young people, from five residential facilities, served more than six thousand volunteer hours. They impact their local communities through service learning activities, which results in a life changing experience for most of them. IYR believes in continuous service that builds a connection with the community while having a definite impact on those it serves.
Community service is emphasized in all IYR programs. The participants fill sandbags when floods hit the area, adopt families in need during the holidays, and they have even built a playground in Coeur d’Alene. They help senior citizens rake leaves and do necessary painting, help at soup kitchens and volunteer their services doing data entry for a local marathon.
Two projects they are especially proud of are the ongoing commitment to Lake Walcott State Park and Cougar Bay Nature Preserve. The state does not have the money to maintain the facilities and without the time and energy of the IYR, both would probably be abandoned. Several times a year, they youth pick up garbage, do minor repairs, refurbish picnic tables and clear brush to make the trails. The children learn to recognize a community need and respond to it. Many times the youth work next to community leaders, members of fraternal and community based organizations as well as churches and heads of schools and corporations. This interaction helps them brush up on their communication skills, which will help them throughout their lifetime.
Other ongoing activities the IYR participates in are three adopt-a-highway projects, Boise River Festival, Special Olympics, Boise First Night, Christmas Tree lots, Paint the Town and commitments to a local community hospital and senior center.
The impact of some service organizations may not be measurable, technically, but they are definitely seen. This is the case of the IYR with regards to Lake Walcott in particular. Ongoing repair and cleanup is critical, and hundreds of people would be unable to utilize the park’s facilities without the help of the young people of IYR. The flood response is also another example of impact where a specific need was met with extra person-power to fill and place sandbags. Their effort saved thousands who live along the river from major flooding.
Getting troubled children involved in hands-on project to help a community is challenging and rewarding. Each community and each situation are unique. What is not unique is the benefit to both the volunteers and the community. The youth realize they can succeed at tasks and are valuable to society. They understand more about their self worth and characteristics like courage, perseverance and integrity. The experiences allow the children to be a positive part of their community and recipients of praise. The positive encouragement received by the youth results in a positive attitude and hope for the future.