BILLINGS — Former Montana First Assistant U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme jumped jobs this week and now focuses on keeping troubled kids out of jail.

The Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch Foundation at 2050 Overland Ave., has hired Alme as its executive vice president and general counsel. His job will be to help raise money to serve up to 600 troubled boys and girls around Montana, including 125 residents living at the 400-acre ranch along 72nd Street West.

Alme, who has served on the foundation’s board of directors for almost two years, said he started his new job this week.

He said he’s trying to do what he can “to help disadvantaged kids to prevent them from becoming part of the criminal justice system.”

Foundation President and Chief Executive Jim Soft said he plans on gradually retiring over the next two years as Alme takes over.

“When you talk about people’s money, that’s pretty intimate,” Soft said. “I’ll probably continue to work with my clients.”

The foundation is one of the largest charitable trust managers in Montana, managing about $62 million in endowments, annuities and trusts. The foundation provides tax and charitable planning for people who may later donate part or all of their estates to help the ranch. Estate planning is so complex, one of the first things Alme moved into his office was a dozen books on tax law and financial planning.

Alme graduated from high school in Miles City, earned a law degree at Harvard Law School and specialized in charitable giving at the Crowley Law Firm in Billings. The attorney also is a certified public accountant and served as director of the Montana Revenue Department under former Gov. Judy Martz.

“We were looking for a rare combination of public and private experience and a passion for our mission statement and Kurt was one of those rare persons,” Soft said.

Alme and Soft also played key roles in passing and implementing the 1997 Montana law encouraging charitable giving, which caused a dramatic increase in the number of charitable remainder trusts. A remainder trust means the charity gets what money is left after the donor dies.

Alme and his wife, Sandra, who also is a Harvard Law School graduate, have worked as volunteers for several charitable boards in Billings.

The foundation employs eight people full time and has been independent of the ranch since 1987. The ranch is one of Yellowstone County’s largest employers with 350 to 400 employees.

This isn’t the easiest time to raise money. U.S. charitable giving fell by as much as to 5.7 percent last year compared to 2008, according to the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College.

“There are a lot of families out there in fear of where the economy is going,” Soft said.

 

Despite those dour statistics, Soft has set ambitious goals for the next 10 years: boosting the foundation’s endowment from paying for 10 percent to 15 percent of the ranch’s operating expenses to covering half of the operating expenses.

“We want to offer more services for kids who are there now and eventually try to provide for more troubled kids,” Alme said.

The ranch, which formed in 1957, also operates a foster program in Billings, offers counseling to students at area schools and in their homes, runs a group home in Lewistown and a large therapeutic program for foster parents in Livingston.

In 53 years, the ranch has grown a single building where butter was parceled out to two dozen buildings serving 125 residents and another 60 to 70 kids who are bused in during the day to the two schools on campus. The Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch also runs a therapeutic equestrian program that uses horses to help troubled youth.

The tax cuts passed during the term of former President George W. Bush will likely expire by the end of this year and that’s an opportunity, Alme said.

“As the tax rates continue to rise for people who want to give to the ranch or any charity, they can also save themselves money in the long term,” he said. “People can really make an impact for years to come.”

Alme has had an exciting summer. In addition to his job switch, the self-described “poor golfer” hit a hole-in-one during a May charity event and drove home the prize, a 2010 Subaru Impreza.

Contact Jan Falstad at jfalstad@billingsgazette.com or 657-1306.

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