By Michael Howell
The Bitterroot Youth Home (BYH) is a coeducational, dual-licensed home that provides shelter and longer term group care for local youth. It is located on Providence Way, north of Hamilton High School. The program combines the qualities of short-term sheltering and longer term group care in one program and offers immediate and extended care and services.
Shelter is defined as care for 30 days or less and emphasizes safety and crisis intervention. Group care is a placement of more than 30 days and, while maintaining safety and addressing crises, the program moves on to a transitional process that addresses longer term goals and behavioral stabilization.
BYH serves youth ages 10 to 18 and gives priority to young people from Ravalli County. Youth served may simply need a place to stay, may have, or are at risk of, running away from home, have significant social, legal, emotional, protection or family issues. BYH accepts referrals from parents or guardians, youth court probation officers, child protection workers, mental health professionals, chemical dependency counselors or anyone knowing of a child in need of shelter or assistance.
The first floor of the home provides eight beds for kids and a spacious living room adjoining a large dining area and kitchen. There is also a small office space that serves as a private meeting room as well. Although the basement currently houses an exercise room filled with equipment, it is essentially unfinished and currently serves mostly as storage area, but Program Director Anna Green plans to change that as soon as she can.
“There is room down here to add four more beds,” she said. She hopes to accomplish this through donations of labor and materials if possible.
If anyone could make that happen, Green is one of those people. Her energy and dedication to “her kids” is palpable as she discusses the basement’s potential.
She is always looking for other donated items as well, such as toothbrushes and other hygienic items, and also games, musical instruments, camping gear, coats, shoes and suitcases.
“Many of the kids who come here arrive with all their belongings in a black plastic trash bag,” said Green. “When they leave we want them to pack their stuff in a suitcase.” She said clothing items for any size and age are welcome donations because the program involves much more than the kids currently filling the eight beds.
“We work with the whole family,” said Green. “I believe in the power of the family and the importance of the family and helping a kid often means helping the whole family.” She said that poverty was a big family splitter and in many cases the brothers and sisters and even the parents could use some essential items to help make home life less stressful.
Green said that as much as she cares for the kids in the youth home, the main aim is to get them back with their families and to keep them involved in the community and in school in the process.
To do this the program not only provides a clean and healthy environment, but a structured one that can provide stability and support for troubled kids. There are chores to do and rules to follow and every opportunity is provided to build self-confidence and make good choices.
“We try to eat healthy food and plant our own garden area to supplement that,” said Green, “although we do allow a little bit of junk food like chips and things, for normalcy.” They also encourage regular exercise and provide a wide array of exercise equipment for the kids to use. They also provide opportunities for community involvement such as regular trips to eat with the Lunch Bunch at Sapphire Lutheran Homes where the kids can interact with seniors. Trips to film festivals in Missoula and other community events as well as trips to the wildlife refuge near Stevensville and other outdoor areas in the valley are regular activities.
“We have seen some amazing transformations in health and attitude take place here,” said Green.
BYH operates on a $250,000 annual budget, about $200,000 of which goes to salaries for the 16 staffers required to run a 24/7 operation. Eight of the employees work full-time.
“It’s not a lucrative job,” said Green. “You have to really care for kids.” She said that the good retention rate for employees at the home is not only testimony to the employees’ dedication but also provides the kind of consistency in care that helps the kids tremendously.
Anyone who would like to donate items or time to the program can call BYH at 363-0619 for more information.