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North-central Montana gets anti-poverty grant

An 11-county region - including Hill, Blaine, Liberty and Chouteau counties - will receive $12 million to fund a plan to reduce poverty.

The Northwest Area Foundation announced today it is awarding the grant to the North Central Montana Community Ventures Coalition.

"We think there is a high probability that, if they are able to execute the plan the way it is developed, it could have a substantial impact on poverty in the area," Karl Stauber, president of the foundation, said today. "We think that if you are successful, you have much to teach the rest of the country."

Cascade County Commissioner Peggy Beltrone, co-chair of the coalition's steering committee, said the coalition has already received some funding, including a $16,000 grant from the U.S. Board of Crime Control and money from local banking, medical and agricultural businesses, and has already started a few of the hundreds of projects included in the plan.

She said she is not completely sure what the process for transferring the foundation grant to the coalition will be. Members of the coalition will meet with members of the foundation next week, and will travel to St. Paul, Minn., for a two-day meeting about the grant in January.

"I'm sure we'll learn a lot more then," she said.

Stauber said the actual transfer of funds probably will not start until mechanisms are set up by March.

Four groups applied for the funding, including a group in Idaho, one in North Dakota and one in Iowa. The Montana group created a 124-page report with a 500-page appendix and a 30-minute documentary on poverty in the region to detail its plan of action.

The Idaho project also was selected for funding, and will receive $11 million.

Stauber said all four proposals were excellent, but that the Montana report met the six criteria set up in the grant requirements very well.

"It was an excellent proposal and plan," he said.

Vic Miller, director of District IV Human Resources Development Council, said today he is happy the grant came through.

"I'm obviously very excited and I'm very happy," he said. "It's been a great struggle the last couple years, and to have it come about is a good thing."

Miller said that he hopes the organizations and individuals that worked ogether to get the money continue to cooperate.

"Now that we have this kind of money, let's hope we can really make a difference. I hope the spirit of what we've done the last couple years carries on and that we don't get into a money grab," he said.

The project began four years ago when people in north-central Montana first heard that the foundation, founded by Louis Hill, son of Great Northern Railway founder James J. Hill, planned to distribute poverty-reduction grants.

"We're elated," said Paul Tuss, executive director of Bear Paw Development Corp. "You can't work on a project the magnitude of this one without being incredibly excited that out of 40 communities originally considered for this program, we were one of two communities selected."

The 40 regions were narrowed down to four before the final selection was made.

"We really look forward to working with everybody in north-central Montana in this 11-county region on what is clearly one of the most pervasive problems we face, and that's poverty," Tuss added.

Over the four years, 125 people worked on the project in seven different areas:

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

developing available and affordable educational opportunities at all educational levels;

building a healthy regional economy;

strengthening and promoting the spirituality and unique cultural aspects of the region;

improving the physical, mental, spiritual, emotional and cultural health of people living in poverty in the region;

ensuring that safe and affordable housing and home ownership is available;

and ensuring that transportation is available for low-income people.

The area includes 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 has identified projects with a total cost of about $75 million, with other projects included that do not have costs estimated yet. Members of the coalition said the money from the foundation will be leveraged to obtain money from other sources to obtain the rest of the necessary money.

Members of the coalition had said they would continue to work on the plan even if the Northwest Foundation didn't award them the grant.


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