The Oregon High Desert Classics hunter-jumper competition is an event not only for the equestrian world, but also for a community organization that gives children and teenagers crucial aid in times of crises.
J Bar J Youth Services, whose J Bar J Boys Ranch in northeast Bend hosts the annual High Desert Classics, began in 1968 to bring local youth mentorship programs together to form one cohesive organization. Today, J Bar J runs several different programs, incorporating alternative schooling, shelter and recreational activities for at-risk children and teenagers.
Those programs include J Bar J Boys Ranch, the Learning Center, The Academy at Sisters, Cascade Youth & Family Center, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Oregon.
During this year's Classics, which got under way on Wednesday, seven of the 27 boys who currently reside at the J Bar J Boys Ranch will be responsible for irrigation of the grounds, setting up decorative plants around the venue, and generally keeping the ranch in flawless condition. These seven young men amassed enough good-behavior points to allow them to help run the event, and they will also get paid for their work to help pay restitution to the victims of the crimes they committed, according to Stephanie Alvstad, executive director of J Bar J Youth Services.
J Bar J Boys Ranch has always been a facility where teenage boys from all over the state have come as a court-ruled alternative to juvenile detention. State funding cuts have resulted in fewer beds at juvenile detention centers, which means more boys who have committed more-severe crimes are ending up at the ranch. But J Bar J officials say they are confident that every boy at their facility can be rehabilitated.
The program at J Bar J offers a strict structure that includes school, work around the ranch, and cognitive behavioral programs of between six and 18 months, according to Alvstad.
“The level of behavior of the kid has to equate to the level of intervention,” she said.
J Bar J Boys Ranch uses cognitive behavioral programs that are broken into two parts. The first provides positive reinforcement by awarding points on good behavior. The accumulated points translate into privileges, such as being allowed to stay up later in the evenings, activities, and opportunities to go out into the community. In order for the young men to participate in activities in the community — such as the High Desert Classics — they must demonstrate good behavior, according to Amy Fraley, program manager of the boys ranch.
The second focus of the program is on individual and group counseling, which, Alvstad explained, examines the behavior and thought processes that lead the boys to commit crimes.
The cognitive behavioral programs emphasized at J Bar J Boys Ranch help to change the thought process of the young men, according to Alvstad.
“I tell the boys what I tell my (daughters): Freedom and responsibility go hand in hand,” the director said.
The first priority for the boys ranch is education. The facility has an on-site school, the Learning Center, which is an accredited high school in the Bend-La Pine school district. According to Alvstad, the Learning Center stresses the importance of receiving a high school diploma so the boys can become successful adults in the future.
The High Desert Classics competition is J Bar J Youth Services' signature annual fundraiser and raises between $100,000 and $250,000 each year. Last year, the event raised enough money to make 50 additional matches between a role model and a child for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Oregon, provide college scholarships to two of the boys from J Bar J Boys Ranch, and assist with the function of the youth and family shelters (including food, lodging and counseling services).
More skill-building classes for the Learning Center at the ranch are also now available. The center added three new programs last year with money raised from the High Desert Classics. The boys are now able to learn organic farming and entrepreneurial skills, and to become workforce ready, according to Alvstad.
J Bar J officials say the boys ranch has been successful in turning around the behavior of its residents. Several years ago, J Bar J Youth Services examined from a two-year period 35 boys who had completed the program and found that of the 35, 34 had received high school diplomas and the other had earned a General Educational Development (GED) diploma. Only 13 percent of those in the study group had returned to the corrections system.
Alvstad noted one of J Bar J's success stories recently visited the boys ranch to show his family the place that he claimed turned his life around. That J Bar J graduate is currently serving in the U.S. military, according to Alvstad.
“Often these boys are really smart,” Alvstad said. “They just need a structure in order to succeed.”
Week one of the 2012 High Desert Classics will continue through Sunday. Week two runs next Wednesday through Sunday, July 29.