We can hardly pick up the IR, tune in to the evening news or scan our smartphone without noticing another news feed on surges of refugees streaming across Europe. These are people displaced by war in the Middle East, terrorism and acts of state terror. Any tangible, direct connection with Helena? Perhaps not.
However, we do have people who suffer, who are in need. One contingent of these is a certain population of young people in our school district. Economic forces beyond their control may deprive them of the ability to focus. Some of these students feel displaced: they are not with all of their family members in their own homes. And sometimes, like many of the refugees, they don’t have adequate clothing to stay warm. Their shoes may be falling apart. Or simply not adequate for winter in Helena.
It is these students that my organization, Angel Fund, exists to help. I’m Bob Adams, longtime board member, now board chair, of AF. For many years, I taught at Helena High; also at HMS, and briefly, at Capital. The need is there, throughout our school district. For more than 25 years, Angel Fund, with the support of our Helena community, has stepped up to provide assistance. Yes, my disclaimer is that I’m involved with AF! Here’s how it all began, and here’s what we do:
In the late 1980s at Helena Middle School, counselor Marcia Wall noticed that some kids didn’t have the nominal fees charged to attend certain class field trips, so they couldn’t participate with their classmates. Some could not afford gym shoes. Then she saw that those and other students had inadequate clothes for basic warmth going to and from school. Marcia met the needs she saw, personally. From those beginnings our nonprofit was born. Marcia is still directing the operation. We have grown. We now distribute more than $100,000 in benefits each year, far beyond more modest beginnings.
Throughout the K–12 grades in Helena School District No. 1 we offer those students who have specific economic needs a hand up. Clothing, shoes, backpacks (for books), school supplies. There are also scholarships for academically promising and financially needy students to attend Montana colleges or universities.
We supply these services to students who meet our economic criteria and who seek the assistance. Our service providers, teachers in each school, volunteer their time to be sure that students who want our help and who qualify get it. The numbers each year are surprising, perhaps, if you haven’t spent time in the district lately. About 825 is the number. It edges up each year. Only about 10 will receive a $1,000 scholarship, but more than 800 receive clothing and related material assistance.
Angel Fund also sponsors Stuff the Bus, a late-summer project that rounds up a school bus full of school supplies to be distributed to kids in need throughout the district. We cosponsor Running for Montana’s Future with the state attorney general’s office and the Helena Police Department.
We have partnered with local businesses over the years to provide the material assistance we supply our K-12 kids. Other businesses have sponsored us in fundraising events each year, boosting the assets available for clothing and related student support. We are an agency operating under United Way, as well as standing alone as our own nonprofit tax-deductible entity. Most of our support comes from individual gifts, with assistance from some grant receipts as well.
The process of actually getting students matched up with the items they need is carefully supervised and efficiently managed by our volunteer teachers, “angels in the schools.” Each fall there is a time period when students select approved items from local participating merchants and the volunteer teacher-coordinators check those items and make payment to the stores involved. It gets hectic for a few weeks, but it gets done!
We believe in the concept of “pay it forward.” That is, those whom we help today will remember, and later in their lives, when they are able, they, too, will help others in need. This is not a concept lending itself to statistical analysis. But I can tell you that we receive “thank you” notes and personal comments regularly from students and their parents. Those volunteer teacher “angels” receive plenty of hugs, and share some tears. It is heart-warming feedback. It keeps us in the game!
We hope that you, too, will want to be in the action with Angel Fund. You can contact us with questions or a contribution by visiting our website, www.angelfundhelena.org, or through our mailing address or phone number: P.O. Box 7436, Helena, MT 59604 and 406-368-2406. In this season, we invite you to join us at our annual fundraiser Nov. 30th at On Broadway, 106 E. 6th Ave., from 5:30-9:30 pm. featuring dinner with friends, silent auction option and good times, with all proceeds going to Angel Fund.
Paying it forward feels good. And it does good. Thanks for your support of Angel Fund! “… Changing the world, one child at a time …”