Tumbleweed Runaway Program

Originally printed in the pages of Simply Family Magazine’s October 2017 issue. Never miss an issue, check out SFM’s digital editions, here

by Katie Backer

I recently read a book to my daughter about a young teen who was thrown out of her house one night without a thing to her name. It was winter, and the girl was close to freezing before she was found wandering the streets. I remember my daughter saying, "That poor girl. Why isn't anyone helping her?" Fortunately, the story took a happy upturn and on we went with our fairy tale. Isn't it interesting how we can empathize with stories, yet so often we forget that those tales are some of our own community members’ realities?

 The teen years can be tough, full of social and academic stresses and challenges. Many kids struggle with educational/peer pressures compounded by a lack of food and shelter. The basic human needs can be gone in a blink of an eye. Sometimes, a child must flee from an abusive relative or guardian; or families lose their home or sole provider and are suddenly facing hunger and homelessness. Many local teens spend time living in their cars, couch surfing, or staying with a friend or relative for an extended period. On more than one occasion while teaching High School History, I encountered students who felt they didn't have anyone to turn to or anywhere to go. Fortunately for the Billings community, we have Tumbleweed Runaway Program. A non-profit organization (founded in 1976) devoted to helping end youth homelessness. Whenever a student is in need, a Tumbleweed Crisis Counselor can be contacted to help get them whatever they need (i.e., food, toiletries, laundry services, and a safe place to stay).

According to Kari Boiter, Tumbleweed’s Development Director, “Tumbleweed serves at-risk and vulnerable youth ages 10-24 from Billings and surrounding areas. Our four primary services include an overnight drop-in center and related daytime programming for youth, two transitional living homes, a program designed specifically to serve young victims of human trafficking, along with our crisis prevention and intervention teams." These teams provide short-term individual, family, and group counseling, as well as conflict resolution and support for parents.

Their services have significantly improved many young peoples' situations, including those in the following success stories. (Names have been changed for privacy.)

After an ongoing series of blowouts at home, Julia started running away. Concerned that she was becoming more and more vulnerable to street issues like drugs and violence, her parents turned to Tumbleweed for help. Initially, Julia stayed in an emergency bed while things cooled down. In the meantime, she received crisis counseling, which provided a foundation for successful family mediation, opening the door to better communication for all. The critical support they received, coupled with a much-needed break from constant arguing, allowed Julia and her parents to reconcile.

Halfway through his junior year, Ben was removed from his home due to drug abuse and neglect. After being shuffled from family member to family member, Ben asked Tumbleweed for help. With the aid of their Transitional Living Program, Ben remained in school and is looking forward to graduation day. He now works part-time at a locally owned restaurant to save money for his future.

Consider volunteering or donating to Tumbleweed if you are interested in helping local teens. "The vibe at Tumbleweed is anything but business as usual," says Kari. "We provide so much more than a safe-haven. Tumbleweed's supporters are truly joining a movement to end youth homelessness." Please contact Kari at 259-2558 or kari.boiter@tumbleweedprogram.org to get involved! Our teens deserve it!


Currently, Tumbleweed needs volunteers to help with meal preparation and routine cleaning tasks. Hygiene, school supplies, and food drives are also a great way to get involved.


Tumbleweed's Drop-In Center is operated solely through the generosity of community partners. A one-time gift of $250 provides three square meals to 30 youth. A year-end gift of $500 provides unlimited monthly bus passes to 20 youth. A monthly contribution of $80 keeps the lights on for the entire month of December. 

about the author...Katie Jones Backer is a former History teacher with a passion for travel, history, writing, music, and helping others. She is happiest though when spending time with her husband, daughter, and two adorable Pomeranians!