Berni McDonald’s work as project manager at the Intermountain Providence Home in Kalispell is more than just a job. It’s a way to give back.
As a foster child growing up and later a foster parent, she understands what the children who come through the home are going through.
Since January 2009, about 175 kids have stayed at Intermountain’s Kalispell shelter, a short-term emergency care facility for emotionally disturbed children coming from difficult situations at home.
Currently, children stay at a rented home in Kalispell where space is often insufficient. State regulations require that each child have at least 40 square feet of recreation room outside of their bedroom. McDonald says that space is often pushed to the limit. Not to mention, there is often a shortage of bedrooms as well.
“It’s heartbreaking to turn some kids away,” McDonald said.
But thanks in part to a recently announced $450,000 Community Development Block Grant, Intermountain plans to start construction of a new shelter in Somers sometime next year. According to spokesperson Glenna Wortman-Obie, the new building will be 6,000 to 8,000 square feet and cost nearly $1.6 million.
The Helena-based nonprofit has been around for more than 100 years and provides shelter, education and psychological services to distressed children. Some of the children Intermountain serves have been abused or neglected by their parents.
“They have some emotional healing to do and that’s what we help them do,” Wortman-Obie said.
In 2009, the organization opened a house in Kalispell. McDonald said the Kalispell facility takes in children from Flathead, Lake, Lincoln and Glacier counties. Because of that large coverage area, space can be tight and some children have been turned away in the past. Last week there were five children in the house. Some stay just few a few hours while others are there for months. An average stay is 60 days.
The new facility in Somers will feature more bedrooms and recreation space. It will also have space for staff training, offices and a family visitation room. McDonald said the Kalispell home lacks critical space for family members to visit children.
“Things like (visitation) really help build family connections and we just don’t have that now,” she said.
According to McDonald, Intermountain has wanted to build a permanent facility in the Flathead for years, but the funding to do so was hard to come by. For every day someone stays at the home, the state pays $78 per child. McDonald says that is barely enough to cover supplies and the salary of the eight-person staff.
“What the state pays is very low and so we have to rely on donor dollars and so this grant is a blessing,” she said.
The Community Development Block Grant is provided by the federal government and dispersed by the states. To apply for the grant, an organization must have a community sponsor, which in Intermountain’s case was the Flathead County Commission.
Dave Creamer heads up Intermountain’s fundraising efforts and said the $450,000 grant will be combined with $100,000 the nonprofit has already gathered for the building project.
On Dec. 8, Creamer said Intermountain is hosting its annual Calling All Angles Gala at the Hilton Garden Inn in Kalispell. The fundraiser usually raises almost $150,000 and this year part of that will be going toward the new building.
McDonald said she is excited about the prospects of giving the children at Intermountain a new, safe and secure refuge in Somers.
“I understand what these kids are going through,” she said. “It’s really important that we give them the care and privacy they deserve, because it’s not their fault they are in this situation.”
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