60 F
Davis

Davis, California

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Progress Ranch director transitions into retirement

Progress Ranch, a group home for boys with behavioral problems that make them ineligible for foster care, will be entering its own phase of progression. Its current director, Russell Kusama, will retire at the end of the year.
Kusama has been with Progress Ranch since 1978, almost since the organization’s beginning in 1976.
Some things, such as location, may have changed with the organization, but Kusama said the most important thing is that it managed to maintain its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.
“We’ve been able to maintain a point-and-level system,” Kusama said. “We have a very strong program that provides resilience, operating on the concept of not failing until we’ve tried everything working with a youngster.”
The facility offers trained staff working around the clock as well as its own social worker and psychiatrist. They also offer individual and group therapy at the site.
“Through a program that is based on a behavior log and natural consequences, the kids are able to respond,” Kusama said. “It takes between one and three years to get them to a point where their behaviors might be retrained and they can go into a less restrictive setting.”
The organization also helps boys transition into mainstreaming by placing them in Davis public schools.
They are forced to operate within those parameters to keep their behaviors in check in school,” Kusama said.
If they’re ready, completers of the program move on to foster families or kinship homes. Some of them are even able to return home. Kids that aren’t ready for foster care are required to go to adolescent group homes.
The ability to help kids change their behavior for the better is what hooked Kusama at the beginning. He trained as a junior college teacher, but fell into counseling when he discovered a lack of jobs in the field.
“I first worked in a boys facility with 60 boys from ages 10 to 18,” Kusama said. “But I tell you, when I first came to Progress Ranch, it was more difficult working with three kids from this age group than it was working with an adolescent group of 12 boys.”
Though Kusama said their cognitive abilities and lack of impulse control makes them more difficult to deal with, he enjoyed working with younger kids because of their potential for improvement.
“One of the reasons I’m not still working with adolescents is because they don’t change,” Kusama said. “I went down an age group because I used to see kids going through the system and returning all the time. You stand a better chance of making some lasting changes in the kids you work with because of their age.”
Another aspect of the job Kusama enjoyed was community engagement. Progress Ranch promotes the participation of several organizations in Davis, as well as offering students an outlet to get some real-world experience in counseling.
Recently, the United States Forest Service built 30 raised beds for the facility’s backyard to help the boys grow a vegetable garden.
“Each kid had a plot and decided what vegetables they got to put in it,” Kusama said. “It worked out really well.”
Progress Ranch also worked with California Education through Animals in Vacaville.
“We went out to the ranch once every two weeks, and the kids got to learn about feeding, caring and the behavior of certain animals,” Kusama said.
The organization maintains an open attitude toward help from community members, including UC Davis students.
“We’ve had a lot of UC Davis students go through the program, offering opportunities for internships in human development and nutrition,” Kusama said. “We have a good relationship to UCD, promoting human services through our agency to the student population.”
It’s the collaboration with students that Kusama chose to emphasize in conclusion.
“I really liked this job and I enjoyed it,” Kusama said. “The collaboration with students worked out really well. It’s an ideal community to work with because of the student population, and we wouldn’t have been able to do it without participation from the community.”

EINAT GILBOA can be reached city@theaggie.org.

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