rving hated authority. As a seventh grader, he was defiant, depressed, unfocused, and suicidal. He didn’t care about school or learning, nearly failing all his classes. Summer classes allowed him to continue into eighth grade.
“My life was awful,” he recalls. “I hated my parents for even bringing me into the world, and I told them on a regular basis how I felt.”
Although it happened when he was 7 years old, Irving blamed himself for his parents’ separation, and he struggled with accepting criticism, even when it was constructive. “I felt the world was against me and that my life wasn’t worth living,” he says.
Then his good friend and classmate died.
“That sent me over the edge,” Irving says. “I completely gave up.”
When Irving failed the eighth grade, his mom searched for options and discovered Project Patch, a residential behavioral treatment facility in the mountains of Idaho.
Tackling the Tough Stuff
Project Patch is a Christian nonprofit organization focused on helping hurting teens and building stronger families. It was founded in 1984 when Tom Sanford, an Adventist pastor, became overwhelmed by the needs of hurting teens and felt called to care specifically for them. Tom and his wife, Bonnie, started a foster-care placement program, which developed into Project Patch Youth Ranch for youth ages 12-17. It’s located on 170 forested acres about an hour north of Boise, Idaho. Since then, Project Patch has helped nearly 1,000 teens like Irving find direction, respect for themselves and others, healthy ways to handle life’s challenges, and, most important, a relationship with Christ.
“The staff really worked with me on self-worth through God,” Irving says. “It’s because of Him that I’m worth something, and that core concept helped me realize I need to rely on His strength and not my own.”
Each teen at the ranch is assigned to one of Patch’s five therapists, all of whom have master’s degrees in therapy-related fields. In both one-on-one and group settings, counselors help them deal with physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, divorce, attention-deficit disorder (ADD) and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), terminal illness, loss of a family member or friend, rape, and innumerable other traumas.
During Parent Weekends, ranch therapists equip parents to be more effective with their kids. They see the positive changes in their child, participate with their teens in trust- and communication-building activities, and attend workshops where they learn the basic skills their children are learning.
“The parents we work with are doing their best to help their children,” says Chuck Hagele, Patch executive director. “We’ve found great success in teaching parents how emotions work and specific skills to help their teens.”
Every Moment Counts
Patch is a safe, high-quality, and effective program based on the Bible. Very few treatment programs are both accredited by the Joint Commission and provide solid biblical discipleship. Project Patch is also licensed and accredited by the Idaho Department of Education, the Northwest Association of Accredited Schools, and the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.
WOODWORKING: Patch gives teens the opportunity to learn skills beyond those taught in a classroom or therapy session by offering woodworking, automotive mechanics, gardening, cooking, and more.
Utilizing individualized coursework to accommodate each student’s ability and experience, the licensed education program at Patch enables students to keep up with or catch up to their school grade level and, when necessary, attain their GED. The school’s personalized program propels students to succeed where they have failed in other environments.
“Patch uses every moment for teaching,” Hagele says. “Whether they’re playing, working, in a therapy session, or doing community service, the kids are learning skills they need to create a positive future for themselves.”
In addition to regular recreation, Patch teens complete daily chores and participate in the ranch’s community service program to learn responsibility, the importance of helping others, and how to be part of a local community.
After an average of 14 months at the ranch, returning home is not easy. Teens come into the Patch program angry, hurt, bitter, and confused. They leave confident, determined, and more mature than they arrived. The transition is still difficult, but Patch equips teens with the skills they need to handle it.
“When I got home, I had to find out who I was, what I believed, and how I could have a meaningful relationship with God for myself,” Irving says. “I gained wonderfully helpful tools at Patch, but it was still a challenge.”
Irving completed high school and in 2011 graduated from Walla Walla University in College Place, Washington, with a degree in industrial design. Currently he works for a custom-cabinet shop, designing and building cabinets for both commercial and residential clients.
Strengthening Families and Communities
BIBLE STUDY: Situated on 170 forested acres near Boise, Idaho, the Project Patch Youth Ranch offers many opportunities for outdoor communion with the Creator God as part of its Christ-centered behavioral treatment program.
In 2003 Patch received a donation of 500 acres of wooded property near Goldendale, Washington. Built by Maranatha International and other volunteers, the Project Patch Family Life and Conference Center, home to the Family Experience program, opened in 2011, providing a resortlike environment for families to learn to thrive despite their challenges. Here, over a long weekend, families enjoy experiences such as a ropes course, crafts, and hiking, and together they learn about facing and weathering challenges.
“Serving teens and families doesn’t stop at home,” says Hagele. “To truly help kids thrive, we need churches and the community at large to support the families and teens we work with individually.”
To this end, Patch has developed a seminar and workshop program addressing issues such as parenting, raising grandchildren, technology in the home, outreach to youth in the church, and more. Presenting information gleaned from more than 24 years of working with teens and families, Patch reaches out to community and church members, providing educational materials and other helpful resources.
To learn more about Project Patch, visit projectpatch.org, call 360-690-8495, or e-mail email@example.com.
Becky St. Clair is director of communication for Project Patch. This article was published February 28, 2013.