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Missoula solar company donates panels to Watson Children's Shelter
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Missoula solar company donates panels to Watson Children's Shelter

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A safe haven for abused and neglected children in Missoula will now be able to save money on energy bills thanks to a generous donation from another local company.

Satic Solar this week installed a 30-panel solar system on the roof of one of the two buildings that house Watson Children’s Shelter.

“This is estimated to save us between $200 and $300 a month,” explained Emma Anderson, the executive director of the shelter. “The solar panels should last for at least 20 years and likely more, so we’ll save thousands of dollars and redistribute those funds for more critical areas of care.”

The shelter has been in Missoula for over 50 years and provides emergency shelter and care to children who have been removed from their parents’ care due to child abuse, neglect or other circumstances.

“These are children who have experienced pretty significant trauma,” Anderson said.

One building houses kids age 5-14 and another building houses infants up to age 5.

They care for about 100 kids every year and the average length of stay is about 90 days. Some kids stay as long as two years before they're placed in foster care or a relative’s house. Each kid gets their own bedroom that they decorate however they want, as well as access to direct care staff.

“Our staff are trained to deal with children who have experienced significant trauma in their young life,” Anderson said. “Many kids in our care can have pretty challenging behaviors and we have staff trained to respond in a nurturing and safe manner.”

The shelter has a full-time kitchen manager to provide meals 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“We’re always adapting the menu to help them feel comfortable,” Anderson said.

B.D. Erickson, the president of Satic Solar in Missoula, said the shelter’s mission is near and dear to his heart.

“We selected them because we want to help fellow humans, first of all,” Erickson explained. “A few years ago I had the opportunity to interact with some families who had really been served by Watson. Some of the stories on how a little rascal ends up there make your heart ache.”

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Watson said even adults would have a hard time dealing with some of the situations those kids have to endure.

“Trying to navigate that world at age 7 or 8 would be scary,” he said. “Little kids are vulnerable. They can’t speak up for themselves or take care of themselves. So we just wanted to do something to make a difference.”

Erickson said the panels could provide the facility with electricity for as long as 30 years.

“It’s a system that retails for $40,000,” he said. “It’s a 10-kilowatt-hour, 30-panel, top-of-the-shelf system. This is something we would install for a high net-worth customer. We could have gone cheaper, but if you’re gonna do it, do it right.”

Anderson said the shelter’s largest expense every year is personnel, because they have more staff members than the state requires. The second most-expensive item is building maintenance.

“Our facilities are lovely and we make sure to maintain them well,” she said. “Our energy bills are pretty significant monthly. This gift of solar panels is going to help reduce that monthly cost so we can more directly care for children in our care.”

Many kids they see have never seen a doctor or have had issues neglected, so the shelter connects them with medical care and behavioral health specialists.

For Erickson and his crew, it’s going to be a rewarding project because the kids can learn about solar power at the shelter now.

“We thought it would be a fun, neat thing little kids could see,” he said. “It’s something that could continue even help if financial times got tough for us. It’s something we could do today that would have a lasting impact for 30 years.”

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