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Area coalition produces ambitious plan to end poverty


A project to attack poverty in 11 north-central Montana counties has moved on to the next stage - waiting to see if its plan to reduce poverty will earn it funding from the Northwest Area Foundation.

"This damn topic of poverty eradication is overwhelming," said Vic Miller, executive director of District IV Human Resources Development Council and a part of the effort. "It's what we do. We make people's lives better."

Cascade County Commissioner Peggy Beltrone, co-chair of the steering committee, said the group's plan - a 124-page report with a 500-page appendix and a 30-minute documentary on poverty in the region - shows the intensity of the concern of the 125 people who worked directly on the report. It is also a testament to the friendships that developed, she said.

"It is an amazing feat when you consider the 31,000 square miles making up this 11-county region. It brought a bunch of strangers together with a passion for the area," she said. "And we produced a big baby with the help of our consultants."

Nearly 50 of the 125 people who participated in the project came to at least part of a five-hour meeting the coalition held in Havre Friday. The meeting was held to update people on the project, and to celebrate the completion of the plan, Beltrone said.

The coalition is asking the Northwest Area Foundation for $13 million over 10 years, and has identified projects that will cost a total of $75 million over the 10 years, Beltrone said. She added that the project will probably end up costing more than that, because some planned projects don't have price tags yet.

The Montana project - called Northcentral Montana Community Ventures - is competing for funding with three other regions, in Idaho, Iowa and North Dakota. The foundation will pick one or two areas for funding on Dec. 15.

The project began about four years ago when people in north-central Montana contacted the Northwest Area Foundation, which was founded by Louis Hill, son of Great Northern Railway founder James J. Hill. The mission of the foundation is to reduce poverty in the eight-state region Great Northern operated in.

The foundation was in the process of creating a new poverty reduction program, and the Montanans said they were interested in the program, Beltrone said.

A year later, the foundation awarded a grant to the north-central Montana group to prepare a plan to reduce poverty, Beltrone said. But two key players, the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation and the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, were not yet part of the discussion, she said.

"The foundation said, 'We want to give you money to plan,' and we said, 'We'll get back to you,'" Beltrone said.

After the reservations were invited to join the coalition, the coalition accepted a $600,000 grant.

The project involves Blaine, Cascade, Chouteau, Glacier, Hill, Judith Basin, Liberty, Phillips, Pondera, Teton and Toole counties and the Blackfeet, Fort Belknap and Rocky Boy reservations.

The coalition's steering committee broke participants into teams to write poverty-reduction plans in seven areas:

providing resources and skills necessary to build and maintain healthy families;


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