Dedication of the new Spiritual Living Center at the Utah Boys Ranch marks the halfway mark of planned construction on the 77-acre campus.

The Utah Boys Ranch was founded by Lowell Bennion 30 years ago. At that time, it was an operating ranch. Although the facilities have changed over the years, the philosophy remains the same, according to director D. Chris Buttars. To treat boys who have emotional, behavioral or other problems, you must work with the whole person.The early intervention, residential treatment program specializes in helping boys 9 to 18 years, but it does not work with youths who have a "set" chemical dependency or a long list of felonies. Emphasis is placed on changing destructive behavior early and the program is built on two theories: Actions have logical and immediate consequences. And moral and spiritual values are crucial.

The latter is why Utah Boys Ranch no longer asks for state or federal funding. If the program operated with tax dollars, staff could not require the youths to cut their hair or take out their earrings. And they certainly couldn't talk about moral or religious values - the centerpiece that makes the program effective, Buttars said.

About three years ago the ranch moved to its present location at 5500 W. Bagley Park Road in West Jordan.

Sixty boys are split up by age into the five houses, where they reside with a trained counselor and house parents. When the expansion is completed, the number of houses and boys will double.

At night, the boys' shoes are locked up. "If they're going to run," Buttars said, "they'll have to do it in their socks."

It almost never happens. One mother said that her son had run away almost every week. At the ranch, he's changing and she's grateful.

The youths attend school at the onsite Wasatch Preparatory Academy year-round, studying everything from chemistry to reading and math. The day begins with religious instruction: LDS boys attend seminary and Protestant youths have Bible study with a local youth minister.

Much of the funding comes from insurance companies, which like the fact that the program gets results for about $100 a day, compared to the higher cost of many other residential programs. About 20 percent of the boys receive scholarships so that people aren't turned away because they can't afford it, Buttars said.

It generally takes six to eight months in the Utah Boys Ranch before a youth is ready to go home. After that intensive residential time, youths make the transition home by continuing school and programming at the ranch, while living home overnight and on weekends for one to three months "to see if they are ready to be home."

Once the youth is home, he continues to receive outpatient counseling. Finally, youths are tracked for two years. If there are problems, "we may bring them back in for a weekend or a week" to work through it, Buttars said.

The person who tracks the youth when he leaves the Utah Boys Ranch is always someone who had a relationship with the boy while he was there, so they can relate to each other.

The new Spiritual Center contains a chapel, classrooms, a media center and even a small guest house area where parents visiting their sons from out of town can stay. It will be dedicated Thursday, Jan. 26, at 3 p.m. and will be in full use Jan. 30.