SHERIDAN — Ranch for Kids, a nonprofit residential center located outside Eureka, Montana, has served as a refuge and source of hope for more than a thousand adopted children and their families for almost two decades.
Bill Sutley, executive director of the nonprofit and the 2019 Sheridan College Distinguished Alumni, describes the creation of the ranch as almost serendipitous. But his path toward helping others began as a child and was cultivated while he was student at Sheridan College.
“Growing up, I always felt like I was meant to do something significant,” Sutley said. “That might sound strange or cliché, but I just knew I was supposed to impact a lot of people’s lives somehow.”
Sutley was born in Sheridan, and his family has deep roots in the area. Although they moved away when he was 7, he returned to attend Sheridan College as a nontraditional student. He discovered he had a unique talent for mentoring others working as a student tutor.
“It was one of those significant milestones in my life where I realized I have an ability to share with others,” he said. “I just really enjoyed being able to help people who are stuck and to offer solutions.”
According to his nominator and former Sheridan College instructor Ron Krikac, despite the demands of working four part-time jobs and raising a family while in school, Sutley always found time to help others.
“He loved helping students, and the students loved him. He approached the work with enthusiasm and a positive attitude that inspired those working with him,” Krikac said. “In addition to that work, he always made time to help those in need.”
After graduating from Sheridan College in 1996, Sutley transferred to the University of Wyoming and earned his bachelor’s degree in engineering. He spent several years working as a successful electrical engineer in Spokane, Washington, before he and his wife Elena decided to devote their lives to Ranch for Kids.
Today, the nonprofit offers a treatment solution for families struggling with their adopted children’s challenges due to Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, Reactive Attachment Disorder or other trauma. Although Sutley’s mother, Joyce, started the nonprofit primarily to serve Russian adoptees, it has become a resource for adopted children from many different countries and throughout the U.S. As executive director, Sutley is responsible for financial management, marketing, customer service, teaching and mentoring children in the program.
“My natural gift is as a teacher, so that’s the most rewarding thing I get to do,” Sutley said. “If you put enough of the right ideas and principles into the minds of the kids, you see change.”
Ranch for Kids has been featured in several national publications and media outlets, including the New York Times, TIME, Chicago Tribune, ABC, CBS and CNN. Hallmark Entertainment also did a full-length documentary about some of the adoptees.
Sutley has become a recognized authority on therapeutic processes. He presents at national and international seminars each year and has written several articles for Adoption Today and Fostering Families Today. He also participates in the Joint Council on International Children’s Services, among other organizations.
But for Sutley, success is when a child in the program makes strides toward healing.
“What we don’t transform from we transfer to the next generation,” he said. “If we can change the life of even one child, we know that person has an impact on at least 10,000 other people throughout their life, so a lot is at stake.”
Despite living far away, Sutley has never forgotten Sheridan College. One of his long-term goals is to provide internships at Ranch for Kids to Sheridan College students, and he works to provide scholarships to his students to attend the college.
“I always felt welcomed, supported and encouraged at Sheridan College, which is a pretty amazing thing to be able to say,” he said. “I can’t think of a better place for children who leave our program to continue their path toward a better life.”
The Sheridan College Alumni Association invites the community to honor Bill Sutley Thursday, May 9 at the Distinguished Alumni awards ceremony in the Whitney Academic Center Atrium at Sheridan College, starting with a reception at 5:30 p.m. and followed by an award presentation at 6:30 p.m. To RSVP, contact Bobbi Mitzel at email@example.com or call 307-675-0703.
By Claire Barnes