Profiles of courageous transformations

Lauren’s Story

When Lauren was 4 years old, she was molested in a bathroom by a relative. Her parents divorced when she was 10 years old. At age 12, she was raped in an alley on her way to school.

Before Lauren was even a teenager, she experienced more trauma than most people experience in a lifetime. It’s no wonder that she started using marijuana at age 9. Or that she soon began experimenting with heavier drugs. Or that she started self-harming and became suicidal as a teenager.

As Lauren got older, her pain deepened. She became increasingly violent and depressed. She was in and out of Juvenile Detention, followed by foster care. That’s when Lauren found Idaho Youth Ranch’s Hays House.

“Kids that have experienced trauma like Lauren has can start to display behaviors that aren’t healthy. Our job at Idaho Youth Ranch is to help kids overcome those negative experiences,” says Lovena, a therapist at Idaho Youth Ranch. “We provide kids with the skills they need to cope with challenges they may face in the real world.”

In the months that Lauren spent at Idaho Youth Ranch’s Hays House, she began to heal and learned that the things that happened to her weren’t her fault. She wasn’t defined by her past, but instead the potential of her future.

“Something that Idaho Youth Ranch taught me is to never look down on myself like I used to- and to love myself first,” Lauren explained, “Don’t worry about what other people think about you, just listen to yourself.”

In May, Lauren graduated high school. She was the sole graduate at the ceremony for her tiny school, yet the room was filled with classmates, friends, and family- all there to proudly watch Lauren take her next steps.

Today, Lauren is working her first job. Like any 19-year-old, she is carefully navigating the challenges of young adulthood but Lauren is taking it all in stride. She is renting her first apartment with a couple roommates. And she is planning her future with the hopes of college next year.

“Honestly, Idaho Youth Ranch saved my life. You saved my future.”

Idaho Youth Ranch Opens Our New Equestrian Center Thanks to YOU!

There is a place nestled between rolling acres of growing corn and the dairy ranches outside of Middleton away from the hustle and bustle of the city where something remarkable is happening.

Here, life moves at a slower pace. Grief and rage are swallowed by trees and the dusty ground beneath horse hooves absorbs tears and shame, allowing hope and resilience to take root in young lives marked by trauma.

This is the new home of Idaho Youth Ranch’s Equine Therapy program – the Hands of Promise Equestrian Center – and it is unlike any place in Idaho.

It is beautiful and the long silences are broken by birdsong and the whinny of horses like so many places in our great state.

What makes it different is that years of pain and trauma that have bound so many young people to lives of hopelessness and fear are being unraveled and left behind in the dust settling in the floor of the arena.

“It feels strange telling a horse about my problems, but they don’t judge you. They don’t criticize you. They are there if you need to cry,” said Alyssa, who faced the grief of her father’s suicide with the help of a horse.

There are thousands of Alyssa’s out there, in fact:

  • One in four Idaho kids are growing up in a house with only one parent,
  • Nearly 2,000 kids under 18 will be taken out of their homes into the custody of the state as a result of abuse and mistreatment,
  • 13% of Idaho high school students experienced sexual violence.

Is it any surprise that every year in Idaho, an average of 28 kids, ages 10 – 19, take their own lives or that around 10,000 commit a crime or that 21% of kids under 18 have one or more emotional, behavioral, or developmental conditions?

Kids’ traumatic events during childhood or adolescence leave victims in a state of heightened fear and anxiety. Without hope, these young people look for a release from emotions too big to carry any longer.

Equine Therapy gives such youth a safe environment free of judgment to face the overwhelming task of confronting the shame, fear, and grief left in the wake of early traumas. The horses provide an emotional mirror that has been proven to be a powerful mechanism for helping victims confront their pain on safe ground and conquer it.

Until now, there has been very limited access to such powerful therapies that empower youth and build resilience.

On May 9th, we celebrated the grand opening of the Equestrian Center at Idaho Youth Ranch Hands of Promise Campus alongside our donors, volunteers, and Board of Directors. This is a major milestone not just for our organization, but for the youth and families in our community who have had precious little access to the therapies they needed.

The Equestrian Center at Hands of Promise will allow Idaho Youth Ranch to help more kids and families through individual, family, and group Equine Therapy sessions; dramatically increasing our capacity.

But this is only the first step.

It opens the doors for new partnerships with organizations like Ride For Joy who share our mission and values to build a stronger Idaho by supporting youth and families.

It also marks the first major step toward opening the Hands of Promise Campus, bringing long-term residential care for high-risk, low-income families back to Idaho. Today, young people in need of residential care – those coping with violence, abuse, neglect, and trauma – are being sent out of state. They cannot talk with or work with their families to heal the root causes of their challenges, and they do not have the opportunity to be near friends or loved ones.

The Equestrian Center at Hands of Promise is more than an arena. It is a beacon of hope for generations of Idahoans who are seeking the chance to break cycles of pain and trauma and reclaim their futures. With hard work, passion, and hope (along with the support of our four-legged friends) we can begin to chart a new, promising future for Idaho’s most vulnerable youth.


“When I was younger, I started learning about addiction and mental health when people in my life were struggling. I got passionate about understanding mental health and how it affects people’s lives. That’s why I’m here.”

Don Ruffing is a retired engineer. The Idaho native spent decades building an engineering firm in California before he and his wife decided to come back to Idaho and enjoy their retirement.

“I’m a workaholic. I don’t need money or anything – I just want to be out doing things. I want to know that I’m helping.” That’s why he volunteers at Idaho Youth Ranch. Every week, Don donates his time and talents at Idaho Youth Ranch thrift store in Meridian where he takes broken, donated electronics and brings them back to life.

Don’s generosity has had a huge, measureable impact in the store and on our mission. Not only is he helping support sales in the store, but his passion and experience makes him a mentor and a teacher to the team in the store. His role also gives him the opportunity to mentor staff in the store who benefit from his decades of experience in business and engineering.

For Don, the work is fun, but it all comes back to helping people who struggle to help themselves.

“A lot of people don’t understand mental health. It has such a stigma attached to it. There have been people I loved in my life who struggled with their mental health. As an adult, knowing what I know, I can see that now,” Don said. “A lot of people who struggle don’t have the resources to get help.”

If you are interested in volunteering your time or talent, you can reach out to volunteers@youthranch.org.

As Don says, “Everyone, I don’t care who you are, has something to teach. You can help people move up a step in their lives.”
Don Ruffing working in the back at Idaho Youth Ranch Thrift Store in Meridian.


Leaving the world better than you found it is a pillar of a life well lived.

Kids at Idaho Youth Ranch will build futures from a solid foundation built from the generosity of Idahoans who believe in the value of lives changed and cycles broken.

In fact, many of our donors have broken such a cycle themselves, and it is from a deep well of compassion that they find it in themselves to give.

There is a powerful way to celebrate one’s life that continues to break cycles of trauma and abuse, even after you're gone.

Planned giving.

A planned gift is a bequest left in a will leaving part of your estate to Idaho Youth Ranch.

There are many benefits of leaving a planned gift.

  • Your gift can ensure that generations of Idaho’s kids get the help they need.
  • Planned gifts offer you the opportunity to support Idaho Youth Ranch in a meaningful way without giving a large, outright gift.
  • Planned gifts offer substantial tax savings to donors on appreciated properties and securities and can help reduce income tax and avoid capital gains tax.
  • Planned gifts can help your estate avoid the probate process.
  • Depending on how you would like to donate, your planned gift can help in the planning of the needs of your spouse and heirs, providing inheritances at a reduced tax cost, or diversifying an investment portfolio.

If you are interested in talking with an estate planner, please reach out to Perry Pleyte at ppleyte@youthranch.org.

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