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Changing lives for 50 years

Rabiner Center grows to help troubled boys

September 9, 2012
By JOE SUTTER, , Messenger News

Fifty years ago, Louis Rabiner felt strongly that runaway boys should have some place to go other than a jail cell. Today the organization he helped build includes five residential cottages, a middle school and high school, a vocational program and a baseball team.

To celebrate its 50th year, the Rabiner Treatment Center is holding an open house for the public from 2 to 4 p.m. on Sept. 22 on the center's campus northwest of Fort Dodge.

Rabiner staff and kids will give guided tours of the grounds, said Chief Executive Officer Brad Klug. The tours will end with refreshments at the newly renovated Rabiner Rocket Bakery and Cafe, which is run by kids in the vocational program.

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The Rabiner Treatment Center has been a part of Fort Dodge for 50 years. An anniversary open house will be held on Sept. 22 that will include guided tours of the grounds, including the newly renovated bakery and cafe — which is run by the boys the center serves.

Klug explained how two fishing buddies, Louis Rabiner and Fort Dodge Police Capt. Marion Lamb, started the whole thing.

"Rabiner saw this kid, this teenager who was kind of disheveled in front of the police station, and he asked Marion 'What's the scoop with this kid?'" Klug said.

"Marion said, 'He's kind of a runaway, and he doesn't have any place to go.' He says, 'What are you going to do with him?' 'I don't know, we're going to put him in jail.'

Fact Box

If you go:

What: Rabiner Treatment Center 50th anniversary open house

When: 2 to 4 p.m. Sept. 22.

Where: Rabiner Treatment Center campus, 1.5 miles west of Fort Dodge on State Highway 7 and then north for 1.5 miles on Johnston Avenue.

"Because back in the '60s they didn't have any programs around, they'd just put the kid in jail. Louie was moved and said, 'If that police organization that you belong to,' which was the ISPA, 'would be willing to open a home for boys, I will donate 80 acres of land. If you do something with that 80, I'll give you another 80.' Eventually Mr. Rabiner donated 240 acres, and our campus is on that 240 acres today."

The Iowa State Police Association unanimously approved the idea, and the center was incorporated in November of 1961. It was originally called the Jerry Rabiner Memorial Boys Ranch, named after Louis Rabiner's son who died in a car crash in 1953.

After the first residential cottage opened, more were built, as well as a gym, an administration building and a chapel.

The home originally received referrals for runaways and boys with behavioral problems, who couldn't get along with their peers.

"It was mostly misguided kids who needed structure and guidance in a group setting," Klug said.

In the 1980s and 1990s, he said, mental health diagnoses became more prevalent, as did medicinal management of some issues.

Today, most of the center's boys are court-ordered into treatment, said Klug. The two main referral sources are the Department of Human Services and the Juvenile Court Services.

Some kids come in for breaking the law. Other times it's a community safety issue, where the Juvenile Court has to remove a boy to keep the community safe. Some boys are referred in because of problems in school, or getting into fights.

On the DHS side, boys are sometimes referred in for serious parental problems. Sometimes it is for the child's safety, with issues of physical or sex abuse. Other times, the boy needs treatment for oppositional defiant disorder, autism or fetal alcohol syndrome issues.

Lamb was executive director of the center until 1974, when David Kilian took over.

"Under Dave's leadership, the Ranch experienced monumental growth in terms of buildings and programming, with the agency serving well over a thousand boys throughout his tenure," Klug said.

State budget cuts have put the center through some rough times through the years. The residential treatment program was once the main focus of the Ranch and had nearly 100 kids on campus, Klug said, but that number dropped to as low as four kids by 1999, when Klug became CEO.

The center pulled through with some creativity and hard work, and now hosts a large variety of programs in addition to residential treatment.

"There's kids in day treatment, where they come here and live with us during the day, go to school, get some treatment, and we send them home at night," Klug said. "There's kids in the day school program, where they just come to our school only. There's the weekend program, where kids come just on weekends."

The weekend program has seen between 2,000 and 3,000 boys since 2002, Klug said, and more than 70 percent of them did not re-offend the next year.

The center started offering classes on-site in 2000, he said. It now has both a high school and a middle school, a soccer field, a go-cart track and a baseball diamond to host the Rabiner Rockets little league team.

There's also the vocational program where kids learn business skills and gain real-life experience.

"The kids do jobs with Starlite and the humane society, and they learn some job skills," Klug said.

They also helped renovate a room in the gym to house the bakery, which is run by still other vocational students.

"We've developed a bakery where we bake goods and sell them to folks, and the kids learn a variety of business-related skills," he said. "They learned how to develop a budget, they learn how to market, they learn how to order their raw materials and plan for those materials."

The celebration will include the open house for the public and a by-invitation only anniversary dinner at Best Western Starlite Village Inn and Suites, where local dignitaries and members of the ISPA can meet to celebrate the center.

"What we are really excited about is having some of our former staff and former boys join us for this celebration," Klug said. "They are our true connection to the past and our reason for the future."



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