Lunch boxes stuffed with huckleberries to the start of a new school year, and especially to all the students, parents, teachers and support staff who are navigating newly remodeled buildings thanks to the bonds passed by Missoula County Public Schools district voters in 2015. The “Smart Schools 2020” project has completed renovations at nearly every school in the district, with some schools still working on finishing touches as classes began this week.

A surprise package of chokecherries to the Sigma Alpha corporation that owns a fraternity house on Gerald Avenue that will be closed for the school year. The dozen-or-so fraternity members who had signed leases to live at the house were “blindsided” by the unexpected news, given that their chapter remains in good standing and maintains relatively strong membership, and left scrambling to make other housing arrangements. A letter from the SAE Financial & Housing Corp. explained that the decision to close the house was “made purely for financial reasons.”

Huckleberry finger paintings to the Blackfeet Head Start program, which recently learned it has landed a federal grant for $3.9 million — money that will help keep its preschool programs open to more than 400 children in the Blackfeet Reservation area for the next five years. Head Start and Early Head Start not only help prepare young children from low-income families for successful educational careers, they also help parents practice skills that set the entire family up for a more successful future.

A "welcome" basket of chokecherries to the relatively high number of empty rooms on the University of Montana campus. Despite the ongoing housing crunch in Missoula, UM Housing reported that it had received fewer than 1,500 applications for its more than 1,800 spaces, representing about 82% capacity. While it’s important to note that the numbers are still in flux, the current situation meant an entire floor of 36 rooms in Knowles Hall, for instance, sat empty at the start of the school year.

A big wreath of congratulatory huckleberries to Lonie Hutchison, who is retiring at the age of 71 after more than 30 years of working to improve the health and safety of Missoula County residents. Not only has Hutchison received at least five statewide awards for helping to drive down the rate of impaired driving and number of fatal crashes, she has also witnessed marked improvement in other key measures — such as the rise in seat belt use. Missoulians owe her a debt of gratitude for her decades of service, and for being a strong voice in helping to evolve local attitudes about safe driving practices.

A round of huckleberries to Andy Troutwine of Andy’s Shop, his friend Mike Seitz and A Carousel for Missoula employee Colt Davidson for stepping up to fix the carousel after a broken part forced it to close last month. Parts for carousels can be very expensive to replace and tricky to install, but thanks to these three and the support of a generous community, the carousel is now back up and running, and open to riders of all ages from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day of the week.

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