PRESCOTT — The work of teens at Jubilee Youth Ranch in Prescott means that four homeless dogs will have an easier time finding homes.
But in the end, the program is about how the teens are evolving in the process of learning to be leaders.
"We truly believe that every young man can be a leader," said Rick Griffin, the ranch's executive director.
Since 1995 the Christian-based private school and residential program has served as a working ranch where boys ages 13 to 18 go to learn and work on personal issues.
But leadership skills were something the counselors and teachers felt was missing in their education.
Now leadership training is included throughout the curriculum, and a month ago, the boys started training dogs from the Walla Walla's Blue Mountain Humane Society.
The program connects to what Griffin calls the "Pay Project."
It sounds simple, with "pay it back," "pay yourself" and "pay it forward" being the principles at the core of the new leadership focus.
But it speaks to activities that are anything but simple -- reconciling with people who have been wronged, strengthening themselves and acting in ways that benefit the less fortunate.
The switch in focus will hopefully give them more specific skills, Griffin said.
About 40 percent of the teens have been through the juvenile justice system, said Griffin, who asked that the students only be identified by their first names.
Most aren't at Jubilee by their own choice but parents were drawn to it by the school's reputation.
Jubilee Youth Ranch looks more like a collection of rural farm homes than a traditional school. It's isolated by design to keep students focused and out of trouble, but there's still amenities like their own skate park, a driving range and a paintball course.
Before Steven, 17, of Yakima, came to Jubilee 14 months ago, he did pretty much everything parents tell their kids not to do -- smoking, drinking, taking drugs, skipping school and lying to his parents.
He has heard people describe Jubilee's students as criminals. But he sets them straight, since the ranch actually is for those who want to become better people.
Steven said that the new leadership focus is helping him create a different mindset and do the right thing for the right reasons.
He said his mom is at the top of his payback list. He's doing that by being at the school where she knows he's safe and working hard.
He said the ranch has helped him start to change his life, get his school work done and become closer to God.
He plans to graduate from high school, get a bachelor's in communications and become a motivational speaker. To "pay it forward," he's working on a food drive.
Kendrick, 13, of Kennewick, said the program's leadership course will help him become more of a leader than a follower.
Before coming to Jubilee almost two months ago, Kendrick said he belonged to a gang and was getting into trouble at school.
When he first arrived at Jubilee, Kendrick got in trouble often, Griffin said.
Kendrick admits he has spent a lot of time running up and down a well-worn path on a ranch hillside as his penalty for his misbehavior.
He also has written an apology letter to someone he stole money from and intends to pay the person back. And his mom also is at the top of his list of the people to apologize to for his past misdeeds.
Shane Longmire, the school's guidance counselor, said the leadership program still is in the early stages.
About five or so of the ranch's 30 students have enthusiastically embraced the new leadership focus.
Telling someone to be a leader isn't enough, Longmire said. The boys need to be shown how to be a good leader, which is both skills and "a change of thought process."
The real test will be seeing how the program is working after a year or so, Longmire said.
Measuring the students' success might take time, but the teens already are seeing results with the shelter dogs.
Jamaal Johnson, the ranch's agriculture manager, said the dogs are better behaved, and the teens are learning patience.
Johnson said that it's good for the boys to see the results of their work quicker than they might in their own lives.
"Every week is an accomplishment that they get to see," he said.
- To learn more about Jubilee call 509-749-2103 or go to www.jyranch.org.
* Kristi Pihl: 509-582-1512; firstname.lastname@example.org