When someone drops the line, “It takes a village,” they are generally referring to their own little universe and the people directly inside of it. In reality, this idea goes far beyond both that of our own bubble and the task of raising children. It is also every time we look outside of ourselves and into our community and find ways to support others. When we extend pieces of ourselves, through time, money, or other resources, we are putting those oft-quoted words into action.
It is not challenging to find areas that are in need of a little (or a lot) of tender loving care in our community. There are copious ways that individuals, and families alike, can give back to their communities – to be the village that will see, and offer to help, those who need a hand up through their challenges. No matter what your call to help looks like, you matter. The following organizations that we are highlighting have shared with us a variety of ways that we can get involved and be the village for the children and youth of our community. (Check out the box for a broader perspective of opportunities).
First, a reality check. In the state of Montana, there are almost 4,000 children in foster care. That number includes the nearly 1,000 children in foster care, here in Yellowstone County. We know that while the need for foster parents is great, it’s not in everybody’s wheelhouse, or maybe it’s not the right season of one’s life. Which brings us full circle to some of the other ways that we can give back.
What they’re all about: Operating among a system filled with complexities, Child Bridge is all about filling the gap and connecting foster and adoptive families to the services available. They also aim to build awareness regarding the need for families to care for children. Child Bridge works with families who are either preparing to or are already fostering, or have already adopted to help provide them the tools to effectively care for these precious children.
How can you get involved? Child Bridge recognizes that Foster/Adoptive Parenting is definitely a calling, and that not all families are called upon to provide a home for a child. So what can someone, who doesn’t fall under the foster/adoptive umbrella, do to contribute to Child Bridge? · Become a monthly donor · Connect with a foster/adoptive family and help out with meals, housework, respite, mentor a child · Volunteer to serve kids and families at the Child Bridge monthly groups by setting up/tearing down, meals, or childcare help.
CASA of Yellowstone County
1201 Grand Avenue, Suite 5 | www.yellowstonecasa.org | 259.1233
What they’re all about: CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocates, are volunteers from the community – ordinary people appointed by a judge to be the voice for a child in foster care. CASA’s Development Director, Ben McKee, shares that this reliance on the generosity of volunteers is what makes CASA special, but also presents its own unique challenges. With 900 children in foster care in Yellowstone County, there are only enough CASAs to serve about 290 of them, explains McKee. It has been shown that having a CASA can have an incredible impact on a child’s life, as these children spend an average of 8 months less time in foster care compared to those without. They are less likely to re-enter foster care later on, tend to do better in school (behaviorally and academically), and children with a CASA receive more court-ordered services while in the foster care system.
How can you get involved? In order to be a CASA, you must be able to commit to roughly 5-15 hours each month working on your case. This includes visiting the child/ren at least once every month in the foster home or at school, writing a monthly report that is distributed to other professionals on the case, and the ongoing process of gathering information to make recommendations on behalf of the child. You are the one constant for the child, staying on the case until it’s closed in court (on average 18-24 months). You are expected to embody CASA’s six core values of being Bold, Collaborative, Culturally Aware, Engaged, Professional, and Transparent.
So, how do you get started? First step: Attend one of the Information Sessions, held at CASA’s office twice monthly. These are short, 30-45 minute meetings that discuss the role and time commitment of a CASA, and give people an opportunity to ask questions. Find the schedule for these sessions on CASA’s website and Facebook page. There is no requirement to commit at these sessions, but if you decide you want to move forward, the next steps involve the application process, which includes an interview and background checks. If accepted, you’ll join the next round of training (offered both in the mornings and evenings), which is an 8-week course with one three-hour class every week. After training, you are sworn in by a District Court Judge and can then choose your first case.
The 600 children waiting for a CASA to represent them are relying on people in the Billings area to step up and make that commitment!
505 North 24th Street | www.tumbleweedprogram.org | 259.2558 | 1.888.816.4702 (24-hour crisis line)
What they’re all about: Tumbleweed provides safety, assistance, and hope to our community’s vulnerable and homeless youth via five separate programs: Drop-In Center, Transitional Living Program, Domestic Victims of Human Trafficking Program, Chafee Foster Care Independence Program, and the Crisis Intervention and Homelessness Prevention Program. Serving over 700 youth per year, these Trauma-Informed, Positive Youth Development programs focus on reducing vulnerabilities in a strengths-based system that aims to meet youth where they are to help them develop an individualized plan built to help them reach their potential, explains Tumbleweed’s executive director, Erika Willis.
Willis shares that though people might not SEE vulnerable and homeless youth, it doesn’t mean this is a nonexistent problem in our community. She adds, “Youth who experience homelessness or are at imminent risk of homelessness are an invisible population. They often do not seek assistance from adults, and tend to spend time entering and exiting the homelessness system. Vulnerable youth and those experiencing homelessness are at very high risk for exploitation and do not always feel safe disclosing their specific personal situation.” It’s important to note that every day a youth experiences instability in housing, their support system, and/or basic needs such as food and hygiene, is “a day that important developmental milestones are missed.” Prevention efforts and interventions offered by Tumbleweed are imperative to long-term success, and help youth stay in school, or re-enter the educational system when ready.
The breakdown: Tumbleweed provides support and direct services to underserved populations, disproportionally represented such as LGBTQ and People of Color. They serve hundreds of youth in the schools, 80+ young victims of human trafficking, 12 youth at a time in the Transitional Living Program, and over 100 youth transitioning from the foster care system. The Drop-In Center serves 10-20 youth per day providing access to basic needs, support, counseling, and respite from the streets. All of these youth are OUR youth.
How can you get involved? Willis explains, “Tumbleweed’s interventions are based on building trust with youth whose trust in adults and systems have been violated many times. The relationships built are the intervention. The majority of Tumbleweed’s budget goes toward compensating staff; without a highly competent team, we would not be doing the work that we do.” Be part of the Tumbleweed team by becoming a sustaining monthly donor, hosting a third-party fundraising event or food drive, or look into volunteering to provide meals, seasonal cleaning, supply organizations… (www.tumbleweedprogram.org/get-involved/volunteer). You can also request a tour via the website.
A community is only as healthy as the youth who live in it. To create a vibrant and healthy community, we must invest in the youth who need the most. –Erika Willis
Big Brothers Big Sisters Yellowstone County
3202 3rd Avenue North, Suite 301 | www.bbbsyc.org | 248.2229
What they’re all about: As you probably know, Big Brothers Big Sisters is exclusively a mentoring program where adult volunteers are matched with children ages 7-15. The goal is to create a platform for positive outcomes for the Littles and a fulfilling volunteering experience for the Bigs. Each Big and Little match is supported by BBBSYC professional staff each month via phone call or in-person check-in. Stefanie Gonzalez, BBBSYC Community Program Specialist, says that “Many of our Bigs feel that once they build their friendship with their Little, they are getting just as much out of it as the kids. They are able to learn from their Little’s life experiences, and have a very rewarding experience that truly plays a role in changing a child’s future, and that of our community.”
There are over 30 children on the wait list for a Big Brother or Sister today, most of them being young boys.
How can you get involved? You might be concerned that you don’t have the time to spare, but the commitment is roughly two hours a week – after school or in the evenings, or even on the weekend.
Getting started: If you’re having doubts that you’re qualified to be a Big, rest assured that you’ll start by filling out an application before making an appointment to interview with the Enrollment Specialist, followed by a layered background and reference check, finally completing online training before getting the ball rolling on making a match.
Perhaps you’re not in a place where becoming a Big is an option, you can certainly get involved financially – via BBBSYC’s various annual fundraisers or other contributions.
Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring is a preventative measure to help our children reach their full potential as opposed to succumbing to potential negative outcomes, which in the long run is paying out for our community in so many ways. –Stefanie Gonzalez
Family Promise of Yellowstone Valley
10 South 26th Street | www.familypromiseyv.org | 294.7432
What they’re all about: Through a variety of programs, Family Promise seeks to help homeless families achieve and sustain independence via a community response to homelessness. With an 86% success rate of their families sustaining housing and employment for a year or longer after leaving the emergency shelter, they’re certainly finding success. Through a partnership with 30 faith organizations, they provide emergency shelter to families in crisis. Individualized case management plans are also developed for families. As families progress through that plan, they are expected to look for employment and save money. The next steps involve helping them find housing – either through Housing Authority or via Family Promise’s own Transitional Living Apartments that help families with poor credit or past evictions. (FYI, they also have a diaper bank that is open to everyone for use).
How can you get involved? Every quarter, those aforementioned faith organizations volunteer for a week by serving meals and providing space. Church-attached, or not, ANYONE can volunteer with Family Promise. Every Tuesday when families are engaged in life skills classes, trusted sitters are needed to care for the children, so that parents can fully be involved in the curriculum. Office Angels are also needed for a few hours on weekends to let families into the Day Center, as well as perform clerical tasks. Family Promise’s new program, Partners in Housing, takes homeless families to homeowners in a 12-16 month process. They are seeking skilled volunteers: trained electricians, plumbers, painters, and handypersons to help in the rehabilitation of these families’ homes.
Our organization empowers families to break the cycle of poverty, and we would not be able to do so without volunteers. –Nathan Graham
Originally printed in the pages of Simply Family Magazine’s November 2018 issue.
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