Wilderness Program

An Update from Sarah Cavallaro

As I write this, we are serving 5 youth at the Van Vleck House8 boys at Red Top Meadows, all of which just left on their 28 day backpacking trip (see the photo above from a past wilderness trip), 42 families at the Hirschfield Center12 youth in the Juvenile Diversion Program, and 180 youth in our Summer Leadership Program.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have remained fully operational as we became like first responders with youth who were court ordered to us, youth in significant crisis who need a safe place to go, families in crisis, and youth who needed an interactive and meaningful summer camp.
Never in a million years did I think I would have created more than 30 pages of policies and procedures about how to work through a pandemic. BUT we did and I think we did it well!
I want to tell you a story about our Group Home. During the shut-down we had to restrict any home visits or visitation to our facilities. These visits are a big part of the program as home visits and seeing family is “practice” for actually going home.
During the community closure we had all boys at the Group Home, each one was struggling, if not failing in school. Over the two months or so during the community shutdown the boys worked with staff on their distance learning school and actually completed their assignments early. We’re proud to say that every boy in the Group Home passed their classes (there was no grading occurring just pass fail).
When able to return to home visits at the end of May, the boys were thrilled to go home and had made significant progress with their families during Zoom therapy sessions. Each boy was able to appreciate their family in a different way. The forced separation highlighted how much love and care was actually there.
During the closure the boys also created a deep connection to each other and to our staff. One day a boy turned to staff member and said, “Hey, it’s kind of like we are just hanging out with the guys, huh?”
While I would not choose to go through the pandemic again, there were a lot of silver linings for our staff and youth as they became more trusting and connected with one another.
As an overall community we have seen some concerning trends. The rate at which abuse and neglect calls are made locally to the Department of Family Services has gone from averaging 15-17 in a month to 2 calls in April and 5 calls in May. This is primarily because teachers are where 80% of where reports come from and children do not have the extra sets of eyes and ears on them to help them if something is going wrong in the home.
Our plan is to remain strong and stable despite the pandemic and the significant state funding cuts that are coming our way. We have a strong team of employees that are deeply dedicated to making sure children and families in our community have what they need during this crisis and in others. We will remain flexible and available to help meet the needs of those we serve and will strive that every child and family member in our community has the supports they need when they need them.
The year to come will be uncharted territory but I do know that connecting with our advocates and supporters will make the bumpy waters a bit easier to navigate.
 “What lies behind us and what lies ahead of us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
This quote reminds me of the small but mighty nature of TYFS. We are a small non-profit compared to many, but the work that is done is very mighty and that is because of the people that run our programs, utilize our services, and advocate for those we serve.
All my best,
Sarah Cavallaro
Executive Director
Teton Youth & Family Services


Employee Assistance Donation

Support Teton Youth & Family Services Employees so we can continue to work during this crisis.

The last two weeks navigating the COVID-19 crisis has shown us that now, more than ever, we need to ensure our children and families who are most at-risk for abuse and neglect have the resources they need to endure. Help support TYFS employees so we can continue to work during this crisis.

The following are ways we need your help:

Financial Contributions – We are working to support an Employee Assistance Fund during this crisis for direct support to help employees pay rent, purchase food, pay for utilities, and meet other basic needs. The fund will also support childcare help so employees can continue their scheduled work hours to maintain a continuity of service. We employ over 40 individuals who are providing direct crisis care and putting their own lives on hold to ensure our programs are available to help youth and families in crisis. 100% of funds will go towards direct payments to employees and on-site childcare.

Gift Certificates – for take-out food at local restaurants, this benefits our local restaurants and youth and employees at TYFS! Or gift certificates to grocery stores to help with residential program food needs.

Care Packages – Let our youth in care and employees know you care! Include personal touches like knitted hats or a note from you and your family. Send packages to:
Teton Youth and Family Services
P.O. Box 2631
Jackson, WY. 83001

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Jackson Hole Leadership Program

New Bike Program at Red Top

New Bike Program Red Top
New Bike Program at Red Top Teaches Many Lessons
The obvious metaphor a bike presents is that of a vehicle. However, it can also be a tool, an adversary, a teacher, or a relationship. It truly is all those things and more. Biking presents the invitation to move beyond our perceived limitations, build a new definition of “what is possible”, and learn from immediate feedback provided by a non-judgmental source, the trail. Biking has several therapeutic benefits. While biking we confront fears, apply coping skills, practice problem solving, and improve our emotional regulation and tolerance.
Red Top Meadows students just wrapped up a successful mountain biking season. This was the first full season for Red Top students to get out and spin the tires on a fleet of Specialized Bikes donated to RTM through a grant with the Specialized Foundation, recently re-branded as Outride. Outride is nonprofit organization that provides evidenced-based cycling interventions to improve social, emotional, and cognitive health. Outride is a national program aiming to increase accessibility to cycling through both fun and sustainable school cycling programs. And through these programs—along with the research—they hope to advance the understanding of how riding bikes can help improve the social, emotional, and physical wellbeing of children, with a particular focus on those with learning differences like ADHD.
Each student was assigned a bike at the beginning of the season and were given the responsibility to maintain it properly. Students had to make sure they kept the bikes clean, and learned some basic bike maintenance to keep their bikes in working order.
During physical education class, our students learned the essential skills necessary for handling and riding a bicycle safely. Focus was given to balance, gear shifting, turning, and tracking what’s upcoming on a trail. Gradually students progressed from pavement to gravel roads and then from gravel roads to single-track. Throughout the course of the season students started to put together the benefits that getting good exercise could have on their ability to engage and manage themselves in the classroom.
During free time our students and staff worked together to create about a mile-long single track around the property. Once the on property single track was completed, the bike program really began to thrive. Students, of varying skill level and ability, were given the freedom of going at their own pace and were able to challenge themselves by riding hot laps around the property. With advancing skills and increased physical fitness, students started to explore further onto some of the trails that are part of the Munger Mountain trail network.
We hope that our students will take the lessons learned through our bike program back home with them when they return to their communities and hopefully continue to explore the world through riding bikes! Special thanks to JD Haas for providing much needed bike maintenance guidance and fleet checkups throughout the course of the season. We also want to express gratitude to Hoback Sports for helping us get our program off the ground.
by Teddy Nichols, Wilderness Program Director

Reducing Stress in Children’s Daily Lives

Reducing Stress in Children’s Daily Lives

Back-to-school season — we all know it well. And even though children and parents are often thankful for the familiar routine of the school day, the transition from summer back to school can create stress. Kids are just as susceptible to this stress as parents, but sometimes it harder to see in our children.
Children display stress much differently than an adult does as their communication skills are less developed and their coping mechanisms not established. Recognizing specific behaviors can help parents support their children through the stressful time and increase the child’s confidence in future stressful situations. The following are potential reactions children may have to stress:
• An increase in oppositional behavior
• Loss of interest in things the child normally enjoys
• Changes in eating patterns
• Regression in behaviors like clinginess or frequent crying
• An increase or decrease in energy levels not due to an illness
It is normal for children to go through phases where life may seem more difficult, providing some simple structure and guidance can assist the child in moving through the phase. Teaching your child stress management techniques can build self-esteem.
Communicate. Try to generate an open environment and create opportunities for your kids to express themselves. Parents can facilitate these openings by asking straightforward, non-threating questions about school, friends, classmates, and teachers. It can even be as simple as, “How are you feeling?”
Eat Healthy. We’re all on the run and once school starts, it is harder to keep track of everything our kids are eating. But a healthy body is one that is better equipped to withstand stress.
Encourage Physical Activity. They don’t have to be flying down the slopes or getting in aggressive activity, but regular exercise can help with health and, especially, with mental health. A daily walk or bike ride can help them sort out their thoughts- and feel better about themselves.
Establishing a Bedtime Routine. Work on getting your child in the routine of going to bed at ‘school time’ and waking up accordingly. The Mayo Clinic states that school-aged children need 10-11 hours of sleep, in comparison to adults who need 7-9 hours. A sleep deprived child will be a child who has less energy for school and activities and will need time to make-up for their sleep deprivation.
Listen. Learning to listen to your child and their needs is a skill developed throughout parenthood and is unique to each child. As a parent it is easy to give advice and not hear what your child may be saying about their perspective on what is happening in their daily life. Taking moments to hear your child’s perspective is a great way to understand what the sources of the stress may be and how you as a parent can best support and show your love for your child.
Matia Wilson

Staff Highlight: Matia Wilson

Matia is a Therapist for the Van Vleck Group Home and Crisis Shelter in Jackson, Wyoming. She was born in Shrewsbury, VT and attended the University of Vermont, majoring in both Psychology and Anthropology. The day after college graduation, Matia moved to Jackson to guide horseback rides in Grand Teton National Park.

In 2015, Matia went back to graduate school at the University of Wyoming and received her Master’s in Social Work. During her search for an ideal job, Matia was drawn to work at the Van Vleck House because of TYFS’s strengths based approach and community involved atmosphere. She enjoys helping kids and their families create meaningful connections and rebuild relationships with themselves and those around them. A sincere thank you to Matia for all she does at TYFS!

Registration is open for 22nd Annual TYFS Golf Tournament

Register now to enjoy some early season golf and raise funds to support children and families in our community. Join us on June 25th at Jackson Hole Golf & Tennis Club for the 22nd annual Teton Youth and Family Services Golf Tournament. An entry cost of $300 (or $1,000 for a foursome) gets you lunch, golf cart rental, green fees, post-golf reception, and an event gift bag.

Register Now

How Do We Shift into Summer?

Much the same as for families, shifting from the school year to summer time brings changes in activities, work schedules and  supervision requirements at Teton Youth and Family Services. Children have more free time that gets filled with varied commitments for sports, jobs, camps, and activities.
Our Leadership Program, for any middle school students, is in full swing starting on June 18th. Youth spend a week doing outdoor activities such as canoeing, kayaking, ropes course and/or backpacking all of which involve getting to know, trust and work with a varied peer group.
The Van Vleck House Group Home and Crisis Shelter have a  productive and fun schedule that fills each day. Some students have jobs or other activities in the community. All of which keeps the staff and students extra busy.
While School continues until mid-July at Red Top and is followed by a 24-day wilderness trip, the daily activities shift from skiing and broomball to jogging and soccer with outdoor duties shifting from shoveling to gardening.
Summer at Red Top also brings the opportunity to take seven young men who are not residents at RTM, but have exhibited dysfunctional behaviors at school or in the home, on a 21-day backpacking trip. This incredibly valuable experience is made possible by a generous grant from the Geraldine W. and Robert J. Dellenback Foundation.
The activities and daily schedule at TYFS change with the end of the school year, but what we are really doing stays the same throughout the year. That is, helping young people and families find their way to fulfilling and constructive lives by helping them improve their relationships with peers and within the family and with our community.

Building Relationships and Starting Conversations

“To help children and families find their way to fulfilling and constructive lives”: This is the mission of TYFS as a whole, and directly aligned with my goal as a therapist for the Van Vleck Group Home and Adam’s Canyon Crisis Shelter.

I took over the role as individual and family therapist for these two facilities back in May of 2017. While they serve different purposes and meet different needs, we begin the relationship with these children and families the same way; by starting a conversation.  By opening these lines of communication and starting this dialogue we begin shedding light on the bigger picture of what factors are impacting the family and child’s life, both positively and negatively.  We become more aware of what aspects of life they struggled with and how we can best begin addressing it as a team. Whether in a long term placement or crisis placement, our residents are in treatment for a limited amount of time and a large part of our job is providing the support and resources necessary to begin setting children and families up for success where they previously struggled. For the family, the conversation starts with focusing on what is going well, what strengths both the parents and the children possess and what has worked in the past. This creates a positive and proactive foundation based on already present strengths and skills of the family as a whole. Once this foundation is established, we move the conversation towards the concept of empowerment and autonomy. This is helping both the parents and child begin to feel that they have some power over the choices they are making as well as the impact those choices have on their life and those around them. Many times we need to understand this to recognize which behaviors are maladaptive and that we have the capability to respond in new ways to old situations.  These skills can range from learning how to ask for what you need to creating choices to accepting responsibility for behavior and responses. This constitutes the bulk of the work done in individual and family therapy as well as in group home and crisis shelter. These concepts of empowerment and autonomy promote social and communication skills, encourage positive peer interactions and aid in establishing healthy relationships.

Whether a 30-day voluntary crisis placement or a long term court-ordered placement, the end goal is to set the foundation for success in the future and provide support and resources needed to facilitate continued success. As an organization we work closely with other community resources to connect children and  families to these supports and ensure the family feels prepared for the future.

Staff Highlight: NOAH STRAUSS

Noah Strauss was born in Brunswick, Maine.

He attended the University of Maine in Orono where he majored in Elementary Education. He then moved to Jackson Hole two days after graduation to ski and play.

He was drawn to work at the Van Vleck House so that he could engage in active work with kids, where his fun loving nature could shine through. He likes the fact that there is constant change in his job with all the different kids he interacts with.

Noah enjoys getting the kids to participate in physical activities that they might not have tried before and loves helping to create new experiences for the kids. According to Noah he gets the most gratification from “seeing growth happen, seeing the kids improve their lives, to return home,  and witnessing a-ha moments for kids when they gain insight into their lives.”

Noah has worked at TYFS since 2013. He is currently a Lead Youth Counselor at the Van Vleck House.


Over the past year, Teton Youth & Family Services has begun to offer a new service to the community. This service comes in the wake of an increasing number of adolescents who are reporting suicidal ideation. Often these kids show up at the hospital, but are also being identified as at risk by school personnel, their parents or the Counseling Center. The service that we offer is utilizing the Staff Secure portion of the Adam’s Canyon Crisis Shelter to house and care for adolescents in a suicidal crisis for up to 72 hours.

While this is not the same level of definitive care that one would find in a hospital setting, it is a safe and secure setting which allows families to rest knowing their child is in good hands while a more definitive plan is made.     Staff Secure means that we have two staff available per individual resident and that the resident agrees to stay in placement voluntarily with the consent of their parents. We are able to provide this service through a collaborative effort between Teton County Government, St John’s Hospital and the Jackson Hole Community Counseling Center (JHCCC). An adolescent who is identified as in need of help can come into the ER or go directly to the JHCCC for an evaluation. A team decision is then made as to the best course of action given the concerns.

Part of the difficulty in helping teens in this type of crisis is that given our rural setting, it can require many hours of travel to find definitive care for these young people. The distances required to travel to Idaho Falls, Casper or even Salt Lake City put a strain on parents who are scared for their child’s safety or local law enforcement personnel who are sometimes called upon to provide transportation. Additionally, St. John’s Hospital is not equipped with a therapeutic setting and staff to help these kids during a crisis. Our Staff Secure facility allows for close supervision with caring individuals who are trained in suicidal intervention. The staff are supervised by our clinical therapist who also meets with the youth and has the additional assistance of a therapist from JHCCC who performs the initial assessment as well as provides ongoing assessment of the individual.

As a precursor to opening this service, we performed a safety audit of our facility with the assistance of the St John’s Hospital safety specialist. In association with Teton County Facilities Department, we completed several safety upgrades that have rendered a safer and more therapeutic setting for youth. During the past year we have been able to serve 10 youth in various levels of suicidal crisis. This has allowed their families much needed respite. In some cases, the adolescents were able to return home with a safety plan and referrals for further counseling. For others, it meant a brief crisis placement then a return home. Those adolescents with the most acute need were able to access more definitive treatment in a psychiatric setting.

For more information about this service please contact 307-733-6440.