CANYON COUNTY, Idaho — Many Idaho kids who need long-term residential treatment for mental or behavioral health have to go out of state, so the Idaho Youth Ranch is building a residential facility right here in the Treasure Valley.
"It's embedded in a phenomenal 258-acre campus," said Idaho Youth Ranch's CEO Scott Curtis. "Access to the outdoors, to streams and ponds and forests. The property really screams Idaho."
Right now this campus is home to Idaho Youth Ranch's Equine Therapy program, which is exactly what it sounds like — therapy with horses.
"The horses have an amazing natural ability to pick up on what you're feeling," said Sadie Nebeker, one of the therapists for the program.
This doesn't mean riding horses, though. The sessions mostly take place right in the horse's pasture, with an equine therapist — like Nebeker — who runs the session and another staff member to make sure everyone is staying safe with the horses. There is no typical session, though.
"One of my favorite things to do is we take a horse to the car," Nebeker said.
She remembers one child who was having a panic attack and couldn't get out of the car.
"The kid's in the car and we open the door and the horse comes to the kid and kind of nuzzles and sits with the kid," she said.
Eventually, the horse helped the kid to calm down so they could get out of the car and join the session. This is just one of many stories Nebeker remembers from her sessions and not all of them even involve the horses. Some involve using these props to work through things. Soon, these horses will have a lot of company thanks to the 64-bed residential facility under construction.
With a national youth mental health crisis, more mental health care options are obviously needed. But this project fills a big gap in Idaho.
"Particularly those that are on Medicaid or low income, they have to send their children to other states to get their needs met," Curtis said.
These families aren't always sending their kids to neighboring states.
"We have a lot of young people from Idaho in Georgia and Arkansas and Texas," he said.
This center will serve a range of kids who haven't been successful in outpatient mental health treatment like traditional therapy. It will feature a year-round school, wellness center, welcome center, dining hall and indoor and outdoor recreation.
Back in 2015, Idaho News 6 reported Idaho Youth Ranch received a $7.5 million donation from an anonymous donor for this project.
Now, "We have raised almost all of the dollars we need to complete this project debt-free," Curtis said.
There are still ways to help, though.
"We really want support coming to this from every corner of Idaho so the young people that come here, who are going to come here from every county in Idaho will know folks from their area supported making it happen," Curtis said.
Idaho Youth Ranch is also trying to get the word out about job openings for this facility.
Just like other industries, Idaho Youth Ranch has been struggling with filling open positions, but they say this problem is fading and hopefully won't interfere with staffing the new facility.
They're hoping to find more people like Nebeker, who says this is the perfect opportunity.
"It was a once in a lifetime opportunity, this is truly a dream job," she said.
Idaho Youth Ranch is not yet hiring for this new facility, but you can find out how to get alerts when the jobs are posted by clicking here. Idaho Youth Ranch plans to finish construction and have the facility ready for use in about a year.