Project for Bitterroot kids hopes to raise $90,000

A mission to raise $90,000 for a Bitterroot Youth Home received a kick-start with a $10,000 pledge from an anonymous donor.

The donor has pledged to match any individual's donation up to $10,000 to create the youth home, said Geoff Birnbaum, executive director of the Missoula Youth Homes. But those pledges have to be in by June 20 for the pledge to work, he cautioned.

The gift is the first major one of the campaign.

The Bitterroot Youth Home will have eight beds to provide shelter for youths who have suffered from abuse, neglect, abandonment, emotional issues, substance abuse problems or family crises and been removed from their homes.

Birnbaum and the Missoula Youth Homes, which was created in 1971, offer shelter for youths from the Missoula and Kalispell areas. The Montana Juvenile Justice and Juvenile Mental Health Commission have given approval to shelter programs that treat youths in the community instead of moving them through the juvenile justice system.

The Missoula Youth Homes is involved because, according to Birnbaum, "we are trying to meld what we know about providing service with what the community knows about it. In 30 years … (we've learned) it works best when it's woven into a community's fabric."

The advisory board for the Bitterroot Youth Homes will have final say on the project so decisions are tailored for the community's needs, Birnbaum said.

"The deal we've made with them is that, any time they want to emancipate and go by themselves, they can," he added. "This isn't a business; it's a mission."

The Bitterroot advisory board has received a $70,000 grant from the Montana Board of Crime Control to pay for staff training, business equipment and the program director's salary.

Right now, with the Missoula homes full, Bitterroot-area children who need shelter are sent to shelters more than 100 miles from home, as far away as in Anaconda and Kalispell, for example.

"That's a long way (between the child and its family) to address a crisis in a family," Birnbaum said.

The board needs the $90,000 of operational money for a down payment on a home, furniture, remodeling costs and a van to take the kids to school and appointments. The $10,000 and its matching money will go into that fund.

"This (the $10,000) is just what we needed," said George Corn, the board chairman. "This makes this dream more a reality. We answer this challenge and we are well on our way to meeting the pressing needs some of our area young people face. It will be great when we can help them."

Reporter Donna Syvertson can be reached at 523-5361 or at dsyvertson@missoulian.com.

How to help

Contributions to the Bitterroot Youth Homes can be sent to the First Interstate Bank, P.O. Box 2100, Hamilton, MT 59840. To donate furniture, toys or clothing for youths in the new home, call Gary or Pam Nelson at 363-1131. For more information, call Corn at the District Attorney's office, 375-6222 or at 363-1163.

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