5 minute read

Caring Staff Made All the Difference

In 2012, Isiac Hammer’s life was turned upside down. His grandmother passed away, and with her passing, he lost the one stabilizing force in his life. Isiac’s father was on the road a lot for work, leaving his mother to raise three boys. “Dad was a provider but not a father. Mom liked to go to the bar, and, after the death of her mother, the drinking got worse. It became her priority,” recalls Isiac.

Isiac grew angry and began lashing out at school. “I could not hit my mom, but I could hit other kids. I got in a lot of fights at school. I did not know how else to deal with my anger. Grandma was gone. Mom was there, but not really, and my relationship with my grandfather was strained as well. Dad was never home. I didn’t feel like I had the church family anymore either. I went from being a drummer in the worship band and attending church five days a week with my grandmother to feeling like an outsider after she died.”

By the time Isiac was a freshman, he had been expelled from school in Laurel and was given an opportunity to attend Yellowstone Academy at Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch. He enrolled as a freshman in the Day School Program and began attending classes in the fall of 2015. He didn’t expect the school to be any different than prior experiences, but after a few months, he started to see a difference.

“Everyone at the school had a huge impact on me and taught me so many lessons that I use to this day. It is why I am where I am. Mr. Sipes taught me to listen to understand and not just to respond. I couldn’t pursue the same sports at YA that I had in school, but Mr. Hicks helped me to find other outlets. Alissa showed me what patience was every day when she worked with me. I will never forget the day that I was so angry I wanted to throw a chair at Mr. Eckroth. He had a broken leg at the time, and he just looked at me and said, ‘You are going to do what you are going to do,’ in that calm way of his, and I stopped. He didn’t yell or fight back, and that is what taught me selfcontrol. Everyone had an impact on me when I was at Yellowstone,” Isiac reflects.

After leaving YA, Isiac reached a point where he had had enough of his mother’s drinking and neglect of her children. He delivered an ultimatum: us or the booze. That day, towards the end of the school day, he received a text from his mom. He would no longer be welcome in the family home. All his belongings had been boxed up, and he needed to find a place to live. He found a friend to stay with and started working full time at a local restaurant to pay rent and other living expenses.

Balancing work and school became too much for the teen, and he dropped out of school. Thankfully, Isiac’s godmother got word of what was going on. She offered him a place to stay, and he went back to school in Colstrip.

After a time, Isiac returned to Billings and attended school at the Lincoln Center. He achieved his GED. “My mom told me that I would never graduate, and I wanted to prove her wrong. I got my equivalent degree and started working.” Isiac met rapper Tech Nine at the Pub Station and quickly made friends with the artist and crew. He joined the tour selling concert merchandise. After a year on the road, Isiac wanted to be home, so he returned to Billings and started working as an Assistant Manager and then became a Manager at Footlocker.

Isiac enjoyed sales and partnered with Hans Abbey at Purple Snow, a local promotional company. When a job with the Billings Chamber of Commerce opened, he applied. “I saw it as an opportunity to work with a great group of people and to keep Billings a place to raise families. I wanted to make sure that it stayed a place where I could raise kids someday.” In 2021, Isiac joined the Chamber as a Business Development Manager and uses the lessons learned at YA to help him when working with clients.

“I can listen to understand and help find solutions. I have patience with people and self-control even when life is frustrating. There is no doubt in my mind that if I hadn’t gone to the Yellowstone Academy, I would have taken a very different path and ended up in prison instead of working in a community that I love. The people at Yellowstone Academy really cared, and it made such a difference in my life.”

At a recent visit to Yellowstone Academy, Isiac enjoyed reminiscing with Director of Special Services Dwight Von Schriltz and Paraeducator Logan Smiledge.

At a recent visit to Yellowstone Academy, Isiac enjoyed reminiscing with Director of Special Services Dwight Von Schriltz and Paraeducator Logan Smiledge.