From the Winter 2012 Oregon Stater
Shivering in an old homesteader’s cabin on the side of an Idaho mountain, Andy Sapp, ’97, wondered where he would find the money to cover the first payment on his ranch – let alone what it would cost to build a beautiful lodge overlooking Black Canyon Reservoir.
Was his vision of a therapeutic boarding school for boys going to be a reality – or would it end here?
Luckily many others shared Sapp’s vision and today Cherry Gulch is fulfilling its mission to help young boys reach their full potential and be an asset to their communities.
Sapp had come to OSU to join the wrestling team as a walk-on (“I was never the star: I got beat up a lot at Oregon State in the wresting practices – but it certainly helped provide me with a good work ethic.”) and became interested in helping adolescents while taking psychology classes.
“I was a research assistant for John Gillis. Doctor (Irv) Horowitz was another professor who really inspired me to go on and get my Ph.D.,” Sapp said.
Finishing his studies at the California School of Professional Psychology, he did clinical work at hospitals and youth programs while developing a long-term plan to someday open a school for boys.
After he moved to Idaho, the transition from plan to reality picked up speed when a local rancher got wind of Sapp’s dreams.
“He is a local cowboy who gave us a trail ride to the top of the mountain and eventually said he’d sell me a portion of his ranch, 220 acres, if I wanted to start the school on his property,” said Sapp. “‘Make one payment a year,’ he said. He convinced me I could do it.”
“I was living in a 100-year-old shack with no insulation, a wood stove for heat, BBQ to cook on and no bathroom,” he said. “I was starting to look like Grizzly Adams.”
After Sapp exhausted his savings on the effort, family members and another clinical psychologist who believed in his plan became partners in the school.
It opened in 2006 in a portable building with 10 students. Today the award-winning, certified school for boys aged 10-14 has reached its capacity of 40 students.
The 60 full-time staff members include therapists, teachers and activity specialists housed in a large, lodge-like residences with classrooms, counseling offices and outdoor riding arena.
Unlike isolated wilderness schools, Cherry Gulch is near civilization, only 30 miles north of Boise. The school encourages family participation in the boys’ care through parenting workshops, frequent phone calls and visits home or to the school, where parents can stay with their son in a covered wagon. Each year the school holds alumni reunions for former students to reconnect.
“We are ultimately trying to give away the program by teaching the parents what is working well for their son here and how to implement that back at home,” he said.
Recently Sapp and his wife, Christina, became the parents of twin girls, Faith and Hope.
“I thought I would like sons, but now I am thinking it might be a blessing to have girls at home and boys at work,” he said.
“Cherry Gulch was my vision but I definitely could not have done it without the team of people that have been helping me. They have been able to put their fingerprints all over the school and program and ultimately made it a lot better than I could have made it without them.
“We are trying to create a place that will do long-term good and spend our lives building something greater than ourselves that will continue to do positive things for students and families well after we’re gone.”
- By Ann Kinkley