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Out in the open with family issues

Drug Courts
August 06, 2012 12:00 am • Gazette Staff
Families benefit from drug treatment court
The first time District Judge Ingrid Gustafson saw Katy Irmen, the expectant mother was homeless, jobless, addicted to drugs and convicted of felony drug possession.

Last week, Irmen appeared again in Gustafson’s courtroom, as she has almost every Thursday for more than a year. But now the slender, 25-year-old mom is clean and sober. She is caring for her 1-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son. They have safe housing in Interfaith Hospitality Network’s transitional apartments. Irmen arranged reliable day care for her children while she works full time. Neat, poised and self-assured, Irmen’s appearance gives no hint of the struggles she waged over the past 14 months.

The 13th Judicial District Drug Court primarily has participants who are addicted to methamphetamine and prescription painkillers, said court coordinator Shelley Thomson. And most of them have children.

“We’ve got one client starting her first year of college, and two others applying for higher education,” Thomson said. “With the help of our partnering treatment agency (Rimrock Foundation), we’ve managed to keep a majority of our clients clean and sober, with few relapses. None of our clients have been arrested or charged with any new criminal offenses while in our court. We’ve partnered with many community agencies, and have developed a steering committee made up of community members, agency heads and leaders in law enforcement and criminal justice.”

No violent or sex offenders are admitted to the program, which usually runs near its maximum of 20 participants, said Juli Pierce, who represents the Yellowstone County Attorney’s Office on the drug court team.

One significant measure of the program’s success is the babies. Irmen’s daughter was born drug free. Nine babies, all drug-free and in the care of their parents, have been born to drug court participants in the program’s first 15 months, Gustafson said.

A baby started crying as Gustafson called the court to order. The judge called each participant by first name and asked: “How was your week?”

This week was a rare session when all participants made progress and none failed to follow treatment plans. Each was rewarded with a round of applause led by the judge.

The last two participants received the highest judicial praise. They had successfully completed more than a year of drug court to become graduates.

“It saved my life,” Irmen said as she accepted the judge’s congratulations.

“I put a lot of work and effort into my program,” Irmen said outside the courtroom. What kept her going when it got tough?

“My kids,” she said.

The program has succeeded as Gustafson hoped, but there is much more work to do.

“I wish we could expand our court,” she said. “At law and motion almost every case involves drugs and alcohol.”

The people in treatment court have been through the court system repeatedly with multiple felony offenses. They’ve been convicted, jailed, and still they kept abusing drugs.

The 13th Judicial District Drug Court shows that vicious cycle can be stopped. Instead of the community paying to imprison these folks, they become self-supporting taxpayers.

However, there are costs for treatment, supervision, frequent drug testing and other resources to put hard-core addicts on a path to recovery.

Like the 13th Judicial District Drug Court, most treatment courts in Montana started with time-limited federal grants that have allowed the state to reap the treatment court benefits with minimal state funds invested. The 2009 and 2011 Legislatures appropriated the same modest amount of funding to be split between dozens of treatment courts statewide. The 2013 Legislature would be wise to continue that investment at a level that allows successful programs to keep reducing recidivism.

If you go

The fourth annual jubilee held by King of Glory Lutheran Church will benefit the 13th Judicial District Drug Court and Young Families Early Head Start.

Two events are planned. First, at 1 p.m. on Sept. 30 a golf scramble starts at Eagle Rock Golf Course.

On Oct. 13, the jubilee celebration at the church, 4125 Grand Ave., will feature food, entertainment and a silent auction. Doors open at 6 p.m.

For golf registration or more information on either event, call the church at 652-1690, drug court coordinator Shelley Thomson at 839-3511 or Young Families Early Head Start at 259-2007.

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Child Well Being
September 02, 2011 8:30 am • Guest column by THALE DILLON
Earlier this month, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released its 2011 Kids Count Data Book, the leading report on the status and well-being of children in the U.S.

This year’s Data Book focuses on the aftermath of the recession and reports an increase of 18 percent in the national child poverty rate between 2000 and 2009 (from 17 percent to 20 percent). This increase indicates 2.5 million additional American children lived below the federal poverty line in 2009 compared with 2000, a fact that effectively wipes out the economic and social gains of the 1990s. The report’s data show that these improvements were stalling even before the economic downturn began.

With its focus on how states have fared since the recession, the 2011 Data Book introduces two new indicators to its lineup: unemployment and foreclosure, issues that are also addressed in this year’s slogan, “America’s Children, America’s Challenge: Promoting Opportunity for the Next Generation.” Home foreclosure for a family means the loss of a permanent home. Homeownership is associated with improved cognitive development in school-age children, as well as increased graduation rates. Until the housing market meltdown, homeownership was one of the most reliable ways for lower-income families to build assets.

In 2010, 11 percent of American children had at least one unemployed parent, and 4 percent lived in a household that had entered foreclosure since 2007. Against that backdrop, Montana has weathered the recession comparatively well: 8 percent of Montana children have at least one unemployed parent, and only 2 percent have been affected by foreclosure since 2007.

Overall, Montana is ranked 33rd among the 50 states in terms of child well-being. The rankings, which are published annually by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, are computed based on 10 indicators, which also include infant mortality, child poverty and idle youth, in addition to the unemployment and foreclosure data already mentioned.

To achieve the ranking of 33rd, Montana has exhibited values for the various indicators that are sometimes above and sometimes below national averages. Of those that are below the national average, a few in particular stand out.

Idle Youth: In 2009, 9 percent of Montana teens age 16-19 were not in school and were not high school graduates (46 other states were doing better). Eleven percent were not attending school and not working (39 other states were doing better).

Child and Teen Death Rates: While the death rates for both age groups were significantly lower in 2007 than in 2000, these rates are still very high in Montana. It’s ranked 45th, with only five other states doing worse.

However, there are four areas where Montana performs equal to or better than the national average.

Infant Mortality Rate: Despite facing a slight increase between 2000 and 2008, Montana’s infant mortality rate was still better than 34 other states.

Babies Born at Low Birthweight: There has been an increase in the percent of babies born at low birthweight in Montana between 2000 and 2008, but the state’s rates were still lower than the national average. Only 17 other states had lower rates.

Single-Parent Families: While the portion of Montana children living in single-parent families went from one-quarter in 2000 to almost one-third in 2009, we still have proportionally more two-parent families in Montana than in 31 other states.

Teen Birth Rate: Montana’s teen birth rate ranks 25th among the 50 states, at 41 births per 1,000 females ages 15-19. This rate is equal to the national average, but it is up 11 percent since 2000.

Montana has slipped in the national rankings of child well-being, from 21st in 2000 to 34th in 2003 and 2004, to 33rd in 2011. While rankings are not accurate measures of one state’s performance over time, they indicate which states are near the top, and which states are near the bottom. Over the course of 12 years, Montana’s overall child well-being went from the middle to closer to the bottom.

By comparison, all our immediate neighbors rank higher than us: North Dakota is ranked 10th, South Dakota is 21st, Idaho is ranked 22nd, and Wyoming is 28th. For perspective, Mississippi has been ranked 50th every year since 2000, while New Hampshire has been ranked first for 11 of the last 12 years. It would appear that we have some things to learn, if not from New Hampshire, then at least from North Dakota.

Thale Dillon is director of Montana Kids Count.

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October 31, 2012 12:10 am • Gazette Staff
The 10,000 Yellowstone County residents who won’t be old enough to vote for more than a decade deserve attention now.

On Monday, the Best Beginnings Council, a coalition of 22 Yellowstone County agencies, released an analysis of 2010 U.S. Census data that shows that many of our youngest residents have the least resources. This study was funded by a federal grant to RiverStone Health, which contracted with United Way of Yellowstone County to bring local stakeholders together.

Among 147,972 residents of Yellowstone County, 10,122 were under age 5 in 2010. Half of all families in Yellowstone County had annual incomes above $60,337. However, half of all workers earned less than $26,349.

The portion of families living in poverty was greatest for those with the youngest children:

— 8.4 percent of families lived in poverty.

— 15.5 percent of families with children under age 18 lived in poverty level.

— 28.9 percent of families with children under age 5 lived in poverty.

In 2012, the federal poverty level is annual income of less than $15,130 for a family of two or less than $23,050 for a family of four.

The Best Beginnings neighborhood analysis reveals pockets of family poverty in our county: Virtually all North Park families with children under age 5 lived in poverty. Likewise, 64 percent of south Billings families with children under 5 lived in poverty. However, there were families living in poverty throughout the county, according to Census data.

In 2010, 12,214 Yellowstone County parents with children under age 6 were in the workforce. In most of those families, all parents were working.

The neighborhood analysis is only part of the data that Best Beginnings has compiled in preparation for creating a strategic plan to address children’s needs. For example, other data indicate that low-income families are much more likely to forgo preventive health care or to get a prescription filled because of cost.

We applaud the Best Beginnings Council, led by Billings Clinic, School District 2, District 7 HRDC, Dr. Karen Kietzman, Family Support Network, Head Start, Parent and Child Reading Assistance, RiverStone Health, STEP Inc., Center for Children and Families, Family Tree Center, United Way of Yellowstone County, YMCA, YWCA and Young Families Early Head Start.

Early childhood is an economic issue as well. When economists at the Minneapolis Federal Reserve studied long-term results of quality early childhood programs, they demonstrated that the return on investment in quality early childhood services was $4 to $17 for every $1 invested. Children who attended quality preschools were better prepared for kindergarten, more likely to graduate from high school, less likely to be arrested, more likely to have higher earnings as adults and less likely to use public assistance.

Early childhood is a critical time of life — for the individual and for our democratic society. It’s important to get our youngest citizens off to a good start.

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Our Staff
June 11, 2013 12:00 am • By MEGAN HOFFMAN For The Gazette
Dannielle Farmer honored as foster care mentor
Billings teen Dannielle Farmer — who spent nine years in the foster care system —is representing Montana in the 2013 FosterClub All-Star Program. Butte teen Lora Murphy also was selected for the program.

The FosterClub All-Star Program gives young adults who spent time in the foster care system a chance to travel around the state and country to promote the foster system and to serve as role models to those who are now in the foster system.

Farmer, 18, spent nine years in the foster care systems in Texas and Montana. Murphy, 18, spent 11 years in the foster care system in Montana.

The FosterClub All-Star Program selects 20 young adults, ages 18 to 24, from around the country to take part in a seven-week summer internship beginning with a two week orientation in leadership and public-speaking in Seaside, Ore.

Participants have a choice of two different sessions, one that runs May through July and the other that runs July through August.

After the first two weeks, participants spend time traveling the country and attending workshops, lectures and conferences to share their stories and raise awareness.

When the seven-week session is over, the All-Stars return to their home state and spend the next nine to 10 months attending events in their state and around the country as their schedule allows.

Farmer has already been promoting the foster care system in Montana by encouraging and helping foster kids to apply for financial assistance for college, and applying for Student Assistance Foundation’s (SAF) “A Step Ahead” College Prep Camp Career and Readiness Life Summit in Helena.

Farmer attended the camp last year and is returning to speak about the foster care system the first day and then stay the rest of the week as a counselor.

“Dannielle is such an advocate for the foster youth,” camp director Rhonda Safford said. “She is a real go-getter, and has done a lot of volunteering around the state for the foster system already. This will be a great opportunity for her to advance the leadership skills she already has.”

Farmer is attening the first session of the All-Star Program in Oregon, but will be back in Montana at the end of the month for the Helena camp, and then will be back in Billings in the fall to attend college.

“I want to advocate for foster youth and help them,” Farmer said. “I want to promote the foster care system and help others gain knowledge and get rid of some of the bad stereotypes about the system. It means a lot to me to be able to represent Montana.”

Farmer volunteers at The Center for Children and Families in Billings.

She plays a mentoring role at the facility, helping kids ages 16 to 21 with schoolwork, cooking skills and other basic life-skills. She also participates in monthly community service projects in conjunction with the center.

At the end of the seven-week session, each All-Star has a blog that they keep on the FosterClub website, http://www.fosterclub.com where the public can keep up with what each All-Star is going through, the events they are attending and how they are promoting the foster system.

Farmer said she is excited about this opportunity and is ready to make her impact on the system.

“I had a good experience in the foster care system. I really want to help the kids that are in the system now.”

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April 07, 2013 12:00 am
Becky Bey was nationally selected to attend 2013 WASLI
Becky Bey, director of programs and agency relations at The Center for Children and Families, has been selected as one of 18 nationwide participants for the 2013 WASLI (Women’s Addiction Leadership Institute). WASLI is one of several initiatives supported by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Substance Abuse Treatment to strengthen the capacity to serve women with substance use and co-occurring disorders. Bey will spend one year with her colleagues in intense leadership training throughout the country. The goal of WASLI is to build leaders who advocate for, develop, and spearhead initiatives which provide for the needs of women with substance abuse disorders, their families and their communities. Bey can be reached at beckyb@forfamilies.org or at 294-5090.

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March 03, 2013 12:00 am
Elizabeth Jiggins, psychometrist at The Center for Children and Families, recently completed her certification from the Board of Certified Psychometrists in Nashville, Tenn. Certified Specialist in Psychometry credential is the gold-standard in psychometry. The BCP is the only organization offering certification for psychometrists and is the largest psychometrist certification program in the world. Jiggins is the only certified psychometrist in the state of Montana. A psychometrist is a professional who administers and scores psychological and neuropsychological tests under the supervision of a licensed psychologist or neuropsychologist. Jiggins may be reached at 294-5090 or elizabethj@forfamilies.org.

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Better Yourself – It Matters
April 08, 2013 12:00 am
Community must ensure that graduation matters
Over the next several weeks, Billings residents will hear a lot about their K-8 public schools. They should know that the high schools also are getting community attention.

Graduation Matters Billings, a project launched as part of a statewide effort to reduce dropouts and boost graduation rates, has been working diligently.

Using detailed dropout data compiled by Billings Public Schools, Graduation Matters members, including United Way staff and the Education Foundation for Billings Public Schools, identified issues that the data show relate to dropping out. They devised questions to talk to community members about those issues. Since last fall, a host of organizations and volunteers has conducted 43 listening sessions involving more than 300 students, dropouts, parents and educators.

Among the questions asked were:

– If there was one thing you could do to improve attendance, what would you do?

– If there was one thing you could do to make sure every student passes core classes, what would it be?

Surprisingly, one response common to all listening session groups was concern about large class size, according to Kristin Lundgren of United Way.

Struggling students

“Students who are struggling said they won’t raise their hands if the class is too big,” Lundgren said, noting that teachers expressed frustration at the difficulty of helping all who need help in a large class. Students who are doing well said struggling students need smaller classes.

“Another common theme was lack of alternative pathways,” Lundgren said. “Kids who hate math get more math. They fail and have to take it again.”

Billings has some good alternative programs, but they serve relatively few students in a very large district. The Transitions program at Lincoln Center works great for students who weren’t succeeding in the regular high schools, but there’s always a waiting list. Credit recovery programs can help students get back on track, but first they have to fail the class.

Self-paced learning

Students who are thriving as well as those who had dropped out wanted to learn at their own pace, Lundgren said. They didn’t want to be left behind by the rest of the class; they didn’t want to be held back when they had mastered the subject.

The analysis of the listening session data is under way and Lundgren plans to have a report for the Graduation Matters steering committee in May.

We commend the organizations that facilitated listening sessions: Education Foundation, United Way, Head Start, Youth Court Services, Montana State University Billings, Rocky Mountain College, Yellowstone AIDS Project, Boys and Girls Club, Big Brothers Big Sisters and Center for Children and Families.

Billings Public School educators also volunteered with the project. Importantly, Superintendent Terry Bouck has participated in Graduation Matters meetings since coming to Billings last summer.

Another Graduation Matters founding member is the Billings Chamber of Commerce, which has launched new efforts to involve the community in improving our public schools. Billings developer Steve Corning and banker Lyle Knight joined forces to push for quality education. The Yes for Kids volunteers are taking K-8 levies information door to door.

The energy of these community efforts must be sustained. We look forward to seeing community groups work together for the best interests of our 16,000 K-12 students. Dropouts are a community issue, not only a school issue. Community involvement is crucial to ensure that graduation matters to all our students.

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JANUARY 04, 2014 7:55 PM • BY SUSAN OLP
Couple battles through addiction in treatment court to their wedding day
Shannon Pronto and Roy St. Dennis reached another milestone Saturday on their long journey to sobriety and wholeness. The Billings couple got married. In a room at the downtown Billings Center forChildren and Families, filled with about 50 people, the pair recited their vows to each other. U.S. District Judge Susan Watters presided over the ceremony.

Watters, until she was sworn in as a federal district judge in December, served as a state district judge and oversaw the Family Drug Treatment Court. That’s where she met Pronto and St. Dennis, who are now about three months from finishing the program.

“They’ve come so far since they’ve been in the family drug court and done so well and we’re so very proud of them,” Watters said before the ceremony. “And we’re just really happy now that they’ve made the commitment to get married and be a family with their kids.”

The couple has done so much of their work at the downtown center, the couple asked if they could hold the wedding there. The staff agreed, then offered to decorate the rooms for the ceremony and reception and bake cupcakes.

Montague’s Jewelry donated rings, pictures were provided by Paul Bellinger Photography and flowers were donated by Gainan’s.

On Saturday, St. Dennis looked on, smiling, as Pronto walked down the aisle with her father, Leonard Pronto. Pronto’s attendant, Susanne Moore, came after her, with Michael, the couple’s son, and Savannah Little Son, Pronto’s daughter.

After the pair spoke their vows and exchanged rings, St. Dennis knelt down and told 8-year-old Savannah how much their relationship means to him and special he feels when she calls him daddy.

He promised his new daughter that he would always be there for her, and even play Barbies with her, which prompted a big smile from her. And then he placed a ring on her finger. The guests broke into applause. Then, after Watters pronounced St. Dennis and Pronto “man and wife,” they exchanged a brief kiss.

Pronto, 29, and St. Dennis, 43, met in June 2011. Both were clean and sober at the time after previous drug addictions, but that changed after about three or four months, Pronto said before the ceremony.

The couple got back into methamphetamine. When son Michael was born to the pair about 18 months later, the infant tested positive for the drug and state child protection workers removed him from their custody.

Savannah, who was living with Pronto’s mother, also was taken away. And by then, St. Dennis was in jail on a variety of charges, including drugs.

For Pronto, who became Shannon St. Dennis on Saturday, that was a turning point. Savannah’s biological father is an alcoholic, Pronto said, and he left his daughter.
“And I thought how awful is that going to be that I do the same thing that he did,” Pronto said, tears falling as she spoke. “So one day at a visit with her, I just promised that she was going to come home … and I promised her that I would stop.”

St. Dennis, who grew up in a dysfunctional family did drugs most of his life. He’s also been in and out of jail and prison for a variety of crimes, including slamming into another driver in 2006 while drunk and causing her multiple injuries.

In jail, he found a faith in God. And after more time went by time, he finally got to the point where he knew he had to turn his life around.

“Enough was enough,” St. Dennis said on Saturday. “Just the pain of hurting others and myself was too unbearable to keep doing it.”

Pronto and St. Dennis entered the program on Oct. 4, 2012. Participants work with a team of professionals, including Dr. Brenda Roche, a member of the drug court team and director of clinical and evaluation services at the Center for Children and Families.

“They’ve gone through all kinds of levels of treatment, a significant amount of drug testing and they’ve done very well,” Roche said.

What Pronto and St. Dennis started drug court, Roche said, they didn’t know whether they wanted to stay together. But they got into therapy and worked on their communication skills and they did the hard work to solidify their relationship.

“They’re really role models for other participants they go to treatment with,” Roche said. “And their children are doing amazing.”

In the course of their treatment, the couple received custody of Savannah and Michael, now 16 months. Then because of how well Pronto was doing, her treatment team wrote a letter recommending she be allowed to return to work in day care, and the request was granted. St. Dennis works for MasterLube and serves as a peer mentor at the center to others who are working on their recoveries. He hopes to go to college, possibly as early as next summer, to earn a degree as an addictions counselor.

Along the way in his recovery, St. Dennis realized he didn’t want to do things halfway anymore, in his recovery, his parenting or his relationship with Pronto. That led him to propose. She remembers that moment this way: “I think it was in one of our last two times of couples counseling. He said ‘Everything is great, but there’s one thing missing. Will you marry me?’ ” Pronto said.

On Saturday, as a friend was applying her makeup, Pronto said she was scared, excited and happy.

“But I knew I wouldn’t do it with anybody else,” she said. “He’s a wonderful man.” Asked what he loves about his new wife, St. Dennis said she helped him through very difficult times. She builds him up and “she’s a true partner.”

“What’s so special about her?” he asked. “Her smile. Her eyes. It was meant to be.”

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Crime
March 19, 2013 9:25 pm • By Carmen Irish
Violent and property crimes have increased in 2012
Violent and property crime in Billings have increased for the second year in a row, according to the Billings Police Department’s 2012 annual report, which was released Tuesday.

There were 418 violent crimes in 2012. Violent crimes include murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults. The number in 2011 was 387.

“When we look at socioeconomic issues, population increase, combined with resurgence in drug problems, we see a logical correlation with the increase of crime,” Billings Police Chief Rich St. John said.

There were 930 drug violations, compared with 869 in 2011. St. John said the department has seen, in particular, a resurgence of methamphetamine.

Last year, there were three murders in Billings, consistent with 2011, and 259 aggravated assaults, 34 fewer than in 2011. Fourteen of those were committed using firearms, said Becky Shay, the department’s crime analyst.

The number of rapes went from 48 in 2011 to 69 in 2012.

St. John said the expanded services provided in 2012 by the Center for Children and Families, a youth and family advocacy center, may be reflective of the increase of reported rape cases.

“Regardless, the exact nature of the offense is unacceptable, and we need to look at this and determine proactive measures,” St. John said.

The number of robberies more than doubled from 43 in 2011 to 87 in 2012.

St. John said 10 of those are believed to have been committed by Simon Elliot Jacobson, the man accused of kidnapping and murdering Dejuan Laster. Jacobson faces 10 counts of robbery in the Billings area dating to April 2012.

“We have few actors committing multiple crimes,” he said.

Property crimes — burglary, larceny, vehicle theft and arson — increased by 224 incidents to 5,485 in 2012, about a 4.3 percent increase from 2011. There were 857 burglaries, 4,155 larceny incidents and 453 vehicle thefts.

St. John attributed much of that rise again to Billings’ growing population and a nationwide economic recession.

“We are becoming a big city with big-city issues,” he said.

There were 73,289 calls for service last year compared with 60,890 in 2011, a 16 percent increase. St. John said the significant increase is because of changes the department made last year in how it classifies its service calls. Taking the changes in to consideration, he said a four percent increase of calls is more representative of incidents that required police action.

“Equipment upgrades, reclassification of calls and better accounting will give us more accurate numbers for better use of our resources in the future,” St. John said.

Of those calls, 2,959 were traffic-related calls, compared with 1,974 in 2011.

According to the report, 2,082 traffic-related calls into dispatch were reported as possible driving under the influence, of which 166 were accident-related.

St. John said one of the most common causes of major traffic accidents is drunken driving. In 2012, 645 DUI arrests were made, 59 more than 2011.

The number of complaints issued against officers, a task handled by the Office of Professional Standards, decreased by 25 to 132 last year. Of those, 77 were initiated and investigated by the BPD itself, according to the report. St. John said there was also a decrease in 2011.

Eight complaints filed by the BPD were Class I complaints, which involve more serious allegations, such as excessive use of force.

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Our partner – Self Help Law
June 10, 2013 12:00 am
More than one out of every five cases filed in Montana District Courts involves family law – divorces, child custody and other matters. More than 60 percent of those cases involve one or more litigants acting without lawyers.

Family law cases can be very emotional and time consuming, especially when litigants are representing themselves. When the judge has to take time to instruct parties who don’t know what to file or how to proceed, the entire justice system slows down. Other cases wait. And when people go to court without competent representation, they risk losing legal claims because they don’t know the law.

Most lawyerless litigants cannot afford to retain counsel. But in some Montana communities there simply aren’t enough family law attorneys to handle all the cases.

The CourtHelp Program was established several years ago to lessen the burden on pro se litigants and on the court system.

The 2013 Legislature continued the CourtHelp Program, funding part-time staff at Self-Help Law Centers in Billings, Bozeman, Missoula and Kalispell. These centers rely on six VISTA workers, other volunteers and interns for most of their staff hours. The Montana Supreme Court’s CourtHelp Program also includes one statewide pro bono coordinator, Patty Fain of Billings.

Fain works statewide on recruiting attorneys, coordinating training and mentoring and supporting volunteer attorneys who provide free legal services to those in greatest need with the least financial resources.

“The greatest need for volunteer services is in the family law arena,” Fain said.

The Self Help Law Centers can provide forms, phone numbers and information about court processes, but they cannot give legal advice.

The Self Help Law Centers are a small part of the answer for pro se litigants, said Gary Connelley, a Billings attorney who was among the advocates for starting the centers.

“Giving somebody a fistful of forms is not access to the courts, it’s access to forms,” said Connelley, the full-time pro bono attorney at Crowley Fleck.

Connelley, Fain, local District Court judges and other attorneys are striving for a more comprehensive way to address the wave of unrepresented litigants. For example, the Yellowstone Area Bar Association’s Family Law Project is conducting a one-year pilot where local attorneys volunteer for brief consultations with litigants before their court hearing.

“Most family law matters settle when attorneys are involved,” Connelley said. “But when nobody’s available to push for mediation, it doesn’t happen. In pro se, they go to trial. The judge might order mediation, but they don’t have access to mediation.”

Limited task representation

A recent change in Montana Supreme Court rules allowing “limited task representation” has increased the willingness of some attorneys to do pro bono work because they can limit their time, rather than committing to long-term representation.

Total funding for the CourtHelp program statewide is $325,000 a year, slightly below what the Judicial Branch requested. But importantly, lawmakers continued the program.

They also called for an interim study of options for improving the process of family law cases.

Senate Joint Resolution 22 notes that Montana District Courts received a record high 50,000 new cases in 2012. The increased caseload, with so many being family law cases and most of those involving pro se litigants has the “effect of overwhelming the bench and depriving litigants of the prompt, careful consideration they deserve,” SJ22 says.

The resolution also notes that “the win-lose adversarial court system often escalates family conflict instead of working to find solutions.”

Alternate dispute resolution

The resolution, sponsored by Sen. Larry Jent, a Bozeman attorney, calls for a study of “alternate dispute resolution methods” used in other states.

The study has been assigned to the Law and Justice Interim Committee. The 12 committee members include Billings Reps. Sarah Laszloffy, Dennis Lenz, Margie MacDonald and Sen. Robyn Driscoll.

The explosion of self-represented litigants is a growing problem deserving of the committee’s attention. If changes in law will increase access to the courts and justice for all, the 2015 Legislature should enact changes.

To learn more

Self Help Law Center, 3021 Third Ave. N., is open 9-noon and 1-4 Monday through Thursday, but closed Friday. The center’s door is located off North 31st Street near the northwest corner of the building housing the Center for Children and Families. The phone number is 869-3531. Services are free of charge and available to all.

To learn more about limited task representation in Montana, go to the link with this Gazette opinion at billingsgazette.com.

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Collaboration & Communication
November 27, 2012 12:00 am
When Yellowstone County legislators gathered Monday to get information from constituents, they heard a plea for more information from state government.

The legislative fiscal analyst, whose job is to analyze the governor’s budget, has been refused access to information at the Department of Public Health and Human Services, said Sen. Jeff Essmann, R-Billings.

“For some reason, the governor cut off access to DPHHS for the fiscal analyst,” said Essmann, who recently was elected Senate president. “The No. 1 problem they are having right now is an information blackout.”

Several local and regional human service nonprofit organizations were represented at the Billings forum to make presentations to the lawmakers. Essmann asked them to contact DPHHS about making information available to the budget analysts.

Essmann told The Gazette that he learned of this problem last week while in Helena for meetings.

This is disappointing news. Upon the Nov. 15 release of Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s budget proposal, Legislative Fiscal Analyst Amy Carlson and her staff had just six weeks to review it and produce documents to help lawmakers understand the proposals. There is no time to waste before the Legislature convenes Jan. 7.

Schweitzer’s budget will be modified by the new governor, Steve Bullock, and the Legislature will add and subtract appropriations before a final budget is approved next spring. However, the Schweitzer budget is a starting point for discussion about how to operate state government for the next two years. Montanans, particularly lawmakers, need as much solid information about it as possible as soon as possible.

DPHHS is the state’s largest department. Its services touch the lives of virtually all Montanans through public health. But most of its spending assists extremely vulnerable residents — adults and children with serious illnesses or disabilities, impoverished families and seniors.

This isn’t the first time that poor communications between the department and legislators has caused problems. For example, in the 2011 Legislature, lack of clear communication resulted in some lawmakers alleging that the department has withheld information on Medicaid cost projections.

We call on the governor and DPHHS Director Anna Whiting Sorrell to cooperate with the legislative fiscal analyst to ensure that lawmakers have accurate and timely information for the important decisions they soon must make on behalf of the people of Montana.

Meanwhile, eight local lawmakers heard from representatives of the Yellowstone County Family Drug Treatment Court, Yellowstone Boys and Girls Ranch, Center for Children and Families, Big Sky Senior Services and the Area Agency on Aging. Each presented valuable data and background for policymakers. The next Yellowstone County legislative forum will be at 7 a.m. Dec. 3 at Montana State University Billings on Broadway.

We thank the lawmakers who attended Monday: Essmann, Robyn Driscoll, Roger Webb, Elsie Arntzen, Margie MacDonald, Doug Kary, Mary McNally, Cary Smith, Kelly McCarthy and Don Jones.

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The Governor visits The Center


Children’s Advocacy Center
April 11, 2013 12:10 am
Prosecuting crimes against children requires special skills and techniques that will gather evidence without causing further harm to the young victims.

Yellowtone County now has a team of nine people, specially trained, working together for children’s justice. The Yellowstone Valley Children’s Advocacy Center Multidisciplinary Team celebrated its commitment to children with leaders of the cooperating local and state agencies signing a memorandum of understanding. The signing event Tuesday demonstrated how all these agencies are putting a priority on children.

All Yellowstone County law enforcement departments are part of the team along with the state Child and Family Services Division and the Children’s Justice Center in the Attorney General’s Office. The Billings Clinic has provided crucial medical staff support. The Center for Children and Families has provided a home for the Advocacy Center at 3021 Third Ave. N.

The driving force in forming this team is County Attorney Scott Twito, who started working on the project when he took office 26 months ago. With an annual budget of $75,000, the team and Advocacy Center aren’t big expenses. However, some money is required for operation and for start-up equipment for the interview room and observation room. Twito has provided funding through his office and grant money has been obtained from the Montana Attorney General’s Office.

Members of the team interview child victims of sexual and physical abuse and gather medical evidence. So far, 48 forensic interviews have been conducted by the team since last summer. Only recently, the Child Advocacy Center has been set up for team members to use for interviews. The interview room is designed to be child-friendly. A separate observation room allows other team members to watch the interview and provide questions or suggestions to the officer conducting the interview. With this method, one interview replaces multiple questionings. The child only has to tell what happened once.

The Multidisciplinary Team is: coordinator Lynelle Amen, Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Detective Kevin Cunningham, Billings Police Sgt. Casey Hafner, Laurel Police Detective Jason Wells, Child and Family Services supervisor Roxanne Roller, Deputy Yellowstone County Attorney Ann Marie McKittrick, county attorney victim-witness coordinator Gretchen Schillinger, Bree Anderson, a licensed professional counselor with the Center for Children and Families; and Cheryl Bradley, a pediatric R.N. with Billings Clinic.

This team is taking on tough, ugly crimes that many people don’t want to admit happen in our community. We salute the team and commend the leaders of their organizations for supporting justice for children.

Child abuse legislation

Meanwhile in Helena, Montana lawmakers need to support bills that will help ensure that adults who commit crimes against children are held accountable. One such simple, straightforward proposal is House Bill 74, which would require the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services to promptly report certain serious cases of child abuse to local law enforcement or the attorney general. Most of the time, this happens anyway. However, the law doesn’t specifically require DPHHS to make timely reports, and occasionally a report of crime against a child has not been relayed to law enforcement.

A Yellowstone County case involving sexual abuse of a child brought this gap in the law to light. The abuse was reported to the sheriff’s office by the mother a year after she had reported it to DPHHS.

HB74 passed the House with bipartisan support in January, and finally was voted out of Senate Judiciary Committee April 4 with support from Shannon Augare, Anders Blewett, Scott Boulanger, John Brenden, Robyn Driscoll, Larry Jent and Cliff Larsen.

We call on the full Senate to support HB74 and vote to ensure that no criminal cases get lost between child protection and law enforcement.

To learn more

To arrange a presentation on the Yellowstone Valley Children’s Advocacy Center for your group, contact Lynelle Amen at 406-850-8161 or lynellea@forfamilies.org.

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Our Building
April 09, 2013 7:01 pm • By Carmen Irish
Working to unite agencies to help abused children
State and community agencies dedicated to helping children who are victims of abuse gathered Tuesday afternoon for the grand opening of a children’s advocacy center.

The Yellowstone Valley Children’s Advocacy Center, at 3021 Third Ave. N. in the Center for Children and Families building, emphasizes the coordination of investigation and intervention services by bringing together professionals and agencies as a team to help victims of child abuse.

“The community agencies and professionals work together to reduce the trauma child victims of abuse experience by providing a sensitive, safe and child-friendly environment,” said Lynelle Amen, CAC’s coordinator.

The center is a product of a coalition of The Center for Children and Families, the Yellowstone County Attorney’s Office, the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office, the Billings and Laurel police departments, the Child and Family Services Division and Billings Clinic.

Montana Attorney General Tim Fox said the Center’s model has been used for decades across the country and has proven successful.

“You can’t overestimate the impact the Children’s Advocacy Center will have on children and families as well as the community,” Fox said. “It’s a hard thing to quantify, but the difference these professionals make is nothing short of amazing.”

Fox said child abuse is a community problem that requires community solutions. “And we can’t do this important work without a safe place,” he said.

“The center creates a ripple effect with early intervention.”

When abuse occurs, CAP coordinates a community response to bring healing, hope and justice to children and their families, Amen said.

The center provides a neutral facility — separate from state agencies involved in the intervention process — and is designed to create a sense of safety for victims.

The space was designed to help streamline the victim’s interview process with a forensic interview room that is equipped with hidden cameras that feed to a separate room where prosecutors and law enforcement personnel can observe.

“Children prior to advocacy centers would have to tell their story multiple times — to the doctor, Children and Family Services workers, law enforcement,” Amen said. “Now they only have to tell it once, which is less traumatic for them. It also serves as a more efficient way of gathering the evidence.”

providing a sensitive, safe and child-friendly environment for abused children
The center has performed 48 forensic interviews since July and has served about 40 families.

“With the resources under one roof, children will not have to go far to get the resources they need,” Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito said.

Mayor Tom Hanel emphasized that children are a community’s most valuable asset.

“There is nothing more valuable than our children,” Hanel said. “They are the future, and we must be their advocates.”

Sheriff Mike Linder said the center serves as a valuable resource for law enforcement.

“These services make things safer and more efficient for law agencies to work together to be the best advocates we can for children,” Linder said.

Fox encouraged those gathered Tuesday to push the Legislature to pass bills bolstering the center’s work.

“We have to double our efforts day in and day out to make sure the laws fit,” Fox said. “We have to let our Legislature know what’s working and what isn’t.”

One bill, House Bill 74, would mandate that the Department of Family Services immediately notifies law enforcement of suspected crimes against children.

Senate Bill 198 would increase the maximum penalty for criminals who assault children younger than 3 years old.

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April 06, 2013 12:42 pm
The Yellowstone Valley Children’s Advocacy Center will be having a grand opening at 3 p.m. on Tuesday at 3021 Third Ave. N.

A presentation will begin at 3:30 and will include state and local dignitaries. Food and refreshments will be served.

The Yellowstone Valley Children’s Advocacy Program is a coalition of The Center for Children and Families, Yellowstone County Attorney’s Office, Billings Police Department, Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office, Laurel Police Department, Child and Family Services Division and Billings Clinic.

The Yellowstone Valley Children’s Advocacy Program is dedicated to protecting, nurturing and serving children who are victims of abuse.

The Center for Children and Families, a nonprofit organization, is dedicated to providing permanency, safety and well-being for children and families in our community.

The center offers services including family engagement and mental-health treatment, the Children’s Advocacy Center and Chafee Youth Program for kids aging out of foster care.

In the upcoming year the center plans to add full family foster care and a crisis nursery.

For more information about The Center for Children and Families go to www.forfamilies.org.

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Volunteers
June 10, 2013 12:00 am • By Susan Olp
Youths gave up week for Mystery Mission Trip to volunteer
In the first week of summer vacation, most youngsters are sleep in, relaxing in front of a TV, hanging out with their friends or chatting on their cell phones.

But for a group of 24 youths from two local Lutheran churches, the week of June 2-8 meant a variety of opportunities to help out, in Bozeman and Billings and on the Rocky Boy’s Reservation.

Adding some extra fun to the week, the youth from American Lutheran and King of Glory Lutheran churches didn’t know where they’d be from day to day. The venture was called YOLO: Mystery Mission Trip 2013.

“YOLO” stands for You Only Live Once: Live for Christ. It was the brainchild of the Rev. Jen Quanbeck, associate pastor at King of Glory.

She tried out the idea eight years ago in Minnesota, where she was youth director at a small church. Lacking resources, she couldn’t take a group on a mission trip to Mexico or Central America, so she got creative.

“So I came up with the idea to build a mission trip from scratch and to find local organizations we could partner with,” Quanbeck said.

The idea, she said, was to teach kids they could bless people in their own communities. When she came to King of Glory, she decided to organize a similar trip.

She partnered with the Rev. Elizabeth Sillerud, a pastor at American Lutheran Church. They and three other adults shepherded the two-dozen middle school and high school students on the trip.

Not telling the kids where they will be every day heightened the experience, Quanbeck said.

“They mystery element is really just a fun way to keep things exciting and upbeat so it builds motivation throughout the week,” she said.

In Bozeman, the group volunteered with ROC (Reach Out and Care) Wheels, which builds pediatric wheelchairs for Third World Countries. The nonprofit builds $4,000 wheelchairs for less than $400.

The two churches each bought one wheelchair and Thrivent Financial, a Lutheran organization matched that, buying two more. Then the kids and adults put them together.

“We spent five hours in a garage in Bozeman and followed detailed instructions, where this bolt or washer goes,” Quanbeck said. “The kids went from a pile of pieces to four pediatric wheelchairs.”

She especially enjoyed watching kids who might not like gardening or working with kids light up at the prospect of doing something mechanical.

“My favorite part so far is seeing each day a different young person connect with a project or with an organization and their mission,” she said.

On Tuesday, the group worked at the HUB, learning about the PATH program (Projects for Assistance in Treatment from Homeless), and helped do a little organizing. They transformed a pile of donations into neat stacks of blankets, winter coats and other items clients might need.

They spent Wednesday morning at the Center for Children and Families in downtown Billings cleaning inside and out, and the afternoon at Family Service Inc., cleaning the thrift store.

Then they traveled to Havre and the Rocky Boy’s Reservation on Thursday and spent Friday there, returning on Saturday. They worked with the Rev. Linda Webster, pastor of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, helping in the reservation community.

They were scheduled to eat a meal with one of the drum circles, as well as learn about Native American beading, lending a cross-cultural element to the week.

Timothy Shawhan, 15, a sophomore at Senior High and member of King of Glory, said if he hadn’t gone on the mission trip, he’s probably be sitting at home and doing nothing.

“And I like helping,” he said.

By mid-week, Timothy’s favorite project had been helping resurface a section of the Story Mill Spur Trail, a popular biking and hiking trail in Bozeman. Elsie Rehberg, 15, and Paige Petersen, 14, both liked building the wheelchairs.

“It was good to know we could help people so far away,” Elsie said.

And Paige enjoyed helping to organize the donations in the PATH basement.

“It just felt good because (the clients) have nothing and we got to kind of give them something,” she said.

Elsie, a sophomore at West High, goes to American Lutheran. Paige, a freshman at West, goes to King of Glory.

Paige said the week’s activities encouraged her to revisit some sites, like PATH, to help out as a mentor. Timothy said he’d like to work with PATH and return to ZooMontana, where the group helped with cleaning up the grounds last Monday.

The three had different reactions to a week without electronics, one of the requirements of the trip. Paige said she rarely uses her cell phone so it wasn’t a big deal to her.

“It’s kind of nice to have a real conversation with people and you get to learn a lot more about somebody,” she said.

Elsie said it was a little difficult because she couldn’t call her friends, but she was OK with it. Timothy admitted the first couple of days were tough.

“I can’t just Google something,” he said, laughing. “I actually have to ask around.”

Asked why she’d be willing to give up a week of vacation, Paige had a simple answer.

“I just wanted to help people and I wanted to live by God’s word and meet new people, and this is all that in one,” she said.

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Donors & Supporters
May 21, 2013 8:00 pm • By CHARLES S. JOHNSON Gazette State Bureau
Bullock inaugural ball raises $315,000
HELENA — Gov. Steve Bullock’s Inaugural Ball Committee raised about $315,000 in donations and ticket sales, spent $263,000 on two gala events in February and will donate the $52,000 left over to Montana charities, according to a report released this week.

Melanie Brock, executive director of the ball committee, prepared the report.

She said the committee began work in mid-November, shortly after Bullock was elected governor, to plan for two events. The Inaugural Ball was held Feb. 9 at the Exhibit Hall at the Lewis and Clark County Fairgrounds, preceded by a reception for sponsors. The next day, the Governor’s Children’s Inaugural Ball took place in the same room.

Nearly 3,000 people attended the Saturday night ball. Tickets were $25 apiece.

More than 900 children and their parents attended the children’s ball the next day at no charge. People were asked to donate a nonperishable food item at the door. The effort collected more than 900 pounds of food for the Montana Food Bank Network.

Five bands played during the weekend, and production crews from around the state worked on the project.

A total of $315,400 was raised to pay for the balls, with $275,275 coming from sponsors and $40,125 from ticket sales.

Expenses totaled $262,932, the report said.

It was the first Montana governor’s inaugural ball since the 2005 event honoring Gov. Brian Schweitzer. No ball was held in 2009, after Schweitzer’s re-election, because of the national recession.

Brock said she worked with a committee of volunteers to raise the sponsorship contributions to keep the costs of attending the ball low and to allow for the Children’s Ball to be free for Montana families. The volunteers included Aidan Myhre and Tim Warner, of Helena, and Barbara Skelton, of Billings.

“The fundraising took place completely independent from the governor, the governor’s office and official staff,” Brock said.

Major sponsors included corporations, including a number of energy-related and utility businesses, and individuals.

The largest contribution, of $25,000, came from Phillips 66, Bartlesville, Okla., which has an oil refinery in Billings,

Donating $10,000 each were: Plum Creek Administrative Corp. Inc., Columbia Falls; NorthWestern Energy, Butte; CCA of Tennessee LLC, the Nashville company that owns a private prison in Shelby; PPL Montana LLC, Allentown, Pa.; Washington Corps., Missoula; MHA , formerly the Montana Hospital Association, Helena;

TransCanada, Calgary, Alberta, which is seeking to build the Keystone XL Pipeline; Cloud Peak Energy Resources LLC., Gillette, Wyo., which owns the Spring Creek coal mine near Decker; Deloitte Consulting, Camp Hill, Pa.; Nix, Patterson & Roach LLC, a law firm from Daingerfield, Texas; and MDU Resources, Bismarck, N.D.

Making the largest individual donations were: Fred Kellogg and Amy Smith, Kalispell, $5,000; Thomas Boland, Florence, $2,500; Paul Gatzemeier and Barbara Skelton, Billings, $2,500; Shane and Gina Colton, Billings, $2,500; and Beth Alter Esq., New York, N.Y., $2,500.

Brock said the $52,468 left over will be donated this week to these Montana charities: Montana History Foundation, Montana Food Bank Network for its backpack program, the Holter Museum in Helena for its children’s art program sponsorships, the Ready to Read Program, Montana Special Olympics, the Sister Nation Empowerment Program, Center for Children and Families in Billings, Montana Hope Project, the Joe Mazurek Memorial and Emma’s House in Hamilton.

In 2005, Schweitzer’s Inaugural Ball Committee raised about $365,000 in donations and ticket sales and spent nearly $270,000.

Of the nearly $97,000 left over, Schweitzer donated $50,000 to the state for repairs and maintenance of the governor’s mansion and the governor’s office. The remaining $47,000 went into Schweitzer’s constituency services fund, which paid for his politics-related travel and other costs.

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April 25, 2013 12:15 am • By Zach Benoit
Dentist races for charity
If the satisfaction of finishing nearly 70 miles of running, biking and kayaking in a single race isn’t motivation enough, Dr. Ken Bagby will have plenty of extra incentive to pound out those final few miles at Sunday’s annual Peaks to Prairie Adventure Race.

“There’s so many entities out there that you can donate to,” he said. “When you write a check, it’s a big help, but what I thought is that I’d do something that was more hands-on.”

With that in mind, the local dentist has been training to complete all three legs — running, bicycling and boating — of the 68.3-mile race, which starts near Red Lodge and ends at the Special K Ranch outside Columbus.

He’s asking people to pledge $1 per mile he completes, or simply to donate a flat sum, which will go to benefit one of two nonprofits.

The first is Operation Second Chance, a group that provides trips for military veterans suffering from physical or mental trauma. Bagby is working with the group’s Red Lodge offices to provide airfare for a veteran to Kona, Hawaii, which will be paired with an already-secured local donation for a one-week stay there.

The second nonprofit is The Center for Children and Families, a Billings-based consortium that works to prevent child abuse and promote child and family well-being.

“As I was planning this, I was trying to do something in part that was associated with domestic-violence prevention,” Bagby said. “I was visiting with an attorney who’s on the board for the center and everything just fell into place from there.”

The idea to solo the race, which winds from south of Red Lodge to east of Columbus, sprouted from a difficult 2012 for Bagby that included the passing of both of his parents and knee surgeries that sidelined him.

This year, he decided to check a major item off his personal “bucket list” by finishing the race solo before his 60th birthday.

“It was a rough year, with personal tragedy,” Bagby said. “You think things aren’t going well, and they do calm down. You start to think, ‘Well, that was perspective-building.'”

As he toyed with the idea of entering the race, he also began thinking he’d like to do more than just the race.

“The troubled and injured veterans, they’ve been through so much and need a hand,” he said. “And for the kids, it’s not their fault. I walked away thinking, ‘I’m really going to do this.’ I’m looking at it as, ‘All right, I’ll do it.'”

Even before making a final decision, Bagby began upping his training regimen, which already consisted of as many as 60 miles a week of combined running and biking.

Kendra Baker-Keener, Peaks to Prairie race director, said that of the 437 people signed up by Tuesday for the race, 41 planned to do it alone, something that takes real dedication.

“You have to put a lot of training hours in, a lot of running hours and cycling hours,” she said. “And you’ve got to be getting out on the river and you need to know how to swim.”

She said that she’s not aware of any other participants competing for charity, something Bagby hopes will change with future races.

“That’s really where this kind of got a life,” he said. “It was a little bit of extra motivation for me to finish it outside of pride.”

Info

Dr. Ken Bagby plans to complete all three legs of the Peaks to Prairie Adventure Race on Sunday and is raising money to benefit Operation Second Chance and The Center for Children and Families along the way.

He’s asking people to pledge $1 per mile he finishes or to make a flat donation.

Checks should be made out to either Operation Second Chance or The Center for Children and Families with “Peaks” in the memo line. They can be dropped off at Bagby’s office, 1540 Lake Elmo Drive.

Donations to the nonprofits also may be made by credit and debit card.

For more information, call 252-1078.

If you go

The 35th annual Peaks to Prairie Adventure Race begins Sunday morning.

The 9.3-mile running leg starts south of Red Lodge on Highway 212. It goes to St. Vincent Healthcare Mountain View Clinic, where participants will bike 49 miles along Highway 78 to Itch-Kep-Pe Park, which is the start of the final leg, 10 miles of boating on the Yellowstone River.

The 68.3-mile race ends at the Special K Ranch east of Columbus. A party at the ranch after the race includes music from the Brickhouse Band, food and kids’ activities.

Registration for the race closed Wednesday, but organizers are still looking for volunteers to help during and after the race.

Visit the Peaks to Prairie website for more information.

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September 7, 2013 8:24 pm • By Susan Olp
news_DreamBeds_Designed
On Saturday morning, Billings Artist Tyson Middle bent forward as he sprayed a footboard made from reclaimed wood with a can of whitecolored primer.

The headboard, already painted white, leaned against the outside brick wall of his downtown gallery, Underground Culture Krew. The bed, built by Matt Duray, president of Connect Telephone & Computer Group in Billings, is one of the entries in this year’s Dream Beds for Kids 2013.

As soon as the paint dried, the graffiti artist known as Sonito got to work, using stencils to decorate the headboard and footboard. The third partner in the pre-teen-themed bed, the Billings Roller Derby Dames, would provide the bedding.

In honor of their participation, Middle and Sonito decorated the bed with a roller derby theme. The headboard contained roller skates painted in psychedelic colors and the footboard included the Roller Derby Dames’ logo.

All of the beds have different themes: a basketball bed, a Lego bed, a princess bed, a missionstyle bed, a clubhouse bed, the pre-teen bed and a high-end Nakashima toddler bed. All are put together by teams of businesses, organizations and individuals.

Money from the raffle of the seven beds will go to help fund the work of The Center for Children and Families in Billings. The beds will be displayed in the 2013 Parade of homes Sept. 14-15 and Sept. 21-22.

The center’s mission is to help children live in safe and permanent homes that promote child and family mental health and well-being, said Nikki Schaubel, the center’s director of public relations and development.

The nonprofit runs a variety of programs. One is focused on helping families that have a parent battling chemical dependency. Often, the state’s Child Protective Services is required to step in and remove the children from the home.

“CPS has the option to bring us in to avoid removing the children to foster care,” Schaubel said. “So we can keep the family together and give them the intervention they need to become healthy.”

The family is housed in a group home, 24-hour supervised sober, supportive living, to give them the support needed to move forward. The home presently has 19 families on site, she said. The center also has an intensive outpatient chemical dependency treatment program, a crisis nursery, mental health services, children’s advocacy and a transition program for teens coming out of foster care.

Between 2008 and 2013, the Center for Children and Families kept kids out of foster care 19,646 days, Schaubel said. It served 1,042 individuals with clinical services between January 2011 and May 2013.

“We had 13 drug-free babies born to our clients and alumni since 2008,” she said. “We estimate conservatively that the cost-savings to the community for those babies is $8,250,000.” What warms Schaubel’s heart is the collaboration on the beds that the center hopes will raise $20,000 this year.

“It’s amazing how many people we’ve been able to bring together,” she said. “It’s the only way this can work, and there’s no better cause than helping kids in crisis.” Schaubel and Lauren Asmus, research and development coordinator for the center, approached Middle, who they both know, with the idea of painting one of the beds.

This is the first year he’s been involved. Middle often uses the colors red, black and white in his work. So when he found out that’s the same colors the Roller Derby Dames use in their logo, he figured this was the perfect bed for him to help decorate. He’s also glad to lend a helping hand.

“I’m really proud to be a part of it, and thankful that Lauren and Nikki gave me the opportunity to participate,” he said. “It’s for a good cause and it’s for a good reason.”

Info
All seven of the beds in the Dream Beds for Kids 2013 will be on display in two of this year’s homes featured in the Parade of Homes. Tour hours for the Parade of Homes is Sept. 14 from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sept. 15 from noon-5 p.m.; Sept. 21 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sept. 22 from noon p.m.

Tickets are $5 each or five for $20. They can be purchased where the beds are on display, or at The Center for Children and Families, 3021 Third Ave. N. For information, call Nikki Schaubel at 794-2077.

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September 14, 2013 9:30 pm • By Dustin Klemann

Dream Beds in the news! See 1:05-2:00
Click here to watch the tv news report.

November 02, 2013 12:00 am • Rob Rogers
news_LibraryDonation
Workers from Home Base Renovations have hauled nearly 20 doors and frames out of the old Billings Parmly Library building, saving them for use in the new downtown office space being built by The Center for Children and Families.

The doors are solid and the frames are steel, two features that would make them expensive to buy. By getting them used, the Center for Children and Families will save a considerable amount of money, said Ben Lager with Home Base Renovations.

Home Base is donating a portion of their time and labor to the project.

The library is pleased with the attention. Much of what’s left in the building, after books and equipment are moved to the new building, will be demolished when the old building comes down.

If a group can find a use for something like doors and door frames, so much the better, said Dee Ann Redman, the library’s assistant director.

“We’ve been contacted by a couple of social-service agencies,” she said.

The Center for Children and Families is remodeling its office space at its building on 3rd Avenue North to create rooms with more privacy.

The library doors will be a key component to the new offices, allowing the center to create closed-off spaces where clients can meet in private.

Until the remodeling gets underway, the doors and frames will be stored at The Connect Group.

The Center for Children and Families is a grant-funded operation and a merger of community partners working to ensure the well-being children while strengthening families in crisis.

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December 19, 2013 5:00PM • By Chris Cioffi

GE Capitol donates to The Center for Children and Families

Toys, diapers and household items were piled high under the Christmas tree at the Center for Children and Families on Thursday, donations from Billings GE Capital employees.

The final tally was more than $1,000 worth of toys and other items that will be used at the center, which helps keeps children with their birth parents through counseling, treatment and skills training.

“We had generous employees that gave a lot of fun and needed items,” said Jomarie Bliss, co-leader of the Community Committee that lead the effort at GE Capital.

“We want to be good community citizens,” she said.

This year, GE Capital employees volunteered more than 1,200 hours and gave $70,000 to local charities, businesses and events, she said.

The employees and committee got together and picked out toys with a purpose.

“They are designed to specifically develop a skill,” said Nicole King, children’s services manager at the Center.

The committee set up a tree at GE Capital with ornaments listing toys that the Center needed for new programming.

“When we gave the list to GE, I had our particular kiddos in mind,” King said.

As a nonprofit with limited means, it’s hard to afford the toys that help advance a child’s development, she said.

“We’re incredibly blessed and humbled by their generosity,” King said.

“GE has such a presence in the community, and it’s great to have such amazing support,” said Nikki Schaubel, the center’s public relations and development director.

The toys will be used at the center in the children’s services area, Schaubel said.

“They also brought all kinds of other items we use at our sober house,” she said.”Lots and lots of children will benefit from these toys,” she said. “They’re sturdy and durable so they’ll be around for years.”
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