Homelessness has been an issue in Bozeman and the surrounding area for many years. Before Family Promise was founded in 2005 there had never been a shelter program addressing homelessness in the Gallatin Valley. Surveys had been completed; concerns were raised, but the simple solution to homelessness continued to be a bus ticket out of town. Bozeman was known throughout the state as “shipping its homeless away.”
The Gallatin Valley Interfaith Agency (GVIA) decided there had been inaction too long and decided to do something about homelessness. Shelly Wickstrom, then pastor at Christ the King Lutheran Church, said a community she lived in previously had an interfaith hospitality program where homeless families reside in churches, volunteers provide meals, and professionals provide case management to help families regain their independence. The model had been proven effective and there was a national program that would provide technical assistance to get the program up and running.
A team of interested persons formed a committee and in 2005 became the founding board of Family Promise of Gallatin Valley. The founding board consisted of Roxanne Klingensmith, President (Deacon at St. James Episcopal Church); Shelly Wickstrom, Vice President (Pastor at Christ the King Lutheran Church); Sally Loble, Treasurer (Retired Accountant); Brett Fagan, Secretary (Gallatin Community Clinic social worker); Cindy Pipinich (Licensed Counselor and Minister at Hope Lutheran Church); Mike Brown (Nonprofit Management/Bozeman United Methodist Church) and Jerry Meek (Marketing Professional).
On January 5, 2005 an agreement was signed between Family Promise (national) and Family Promise of Gallatin Valley, Inc. Sally Loble completed all the forms for tax exempt status and the IRS granted Family Promise of Gallatin Valley its 501 (c) (3) nonprofit status in a record five days on October 27, 2005! Roxanne Klingensmith began the donations needed by withdrawing $25,000 from her own retirement account. All other founding board members gave generously of their finances, time, and talents. Jerry Meek developed the logo, brochures, and all Family Promise written materials. The national office continued to provide technical assistance in recruiting congregations, fundraising expertise, and all development matters.
In December 2005 the position of Executive Director was advertised, and on January 30, 2006 Gloria Edwards began work as the first Executive Director. Donna Watson Lawson, SE Regional Administer for Family Promise national, conducted two days of training for the new Executive Director. Coordinators from each of the eight beginning congregations received training from Ms. Lawson, as well as additional training for all board members. The eight beginning congregations were St. James Episcopal Church, Christ the King Lutheran Church, Hope Lutheran Church, Bozeman United Methodist Church, Belgrade Community Church, First Lutheran Church, Mt. Ellis Academy, Seventh Day Adventist Church, Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints, and Pilgrim Congregational Church.a
St. James Episcopal Church donated the Canterbury House on South Tracy as the first Family Day Center for a period of two years. Ray Ross from St. James was elected to the board and served as the liaison and facility manager. Volunteers from the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Bozeman painted the facility. Ray Ross and Gloria Edwards made repairs and furnished the house to prepare it for homeless guests. The first family was accepted into Family Promise on March 10, 2006.
Mike Brown served as the Van Driver from March 2006 until shortly before his death in July, 2006. Larry King was hired in April 2006 as the Sunday Coordinator (10 hours per week) to move families, beds, and all belongings from church to church. As a Seventh Day Adventist, Larry worshiped on Saturday and was available to work every Sunday. As of October 2014 Larry King is still working every Sunday. In 2007, Linda Wagner, a volunteer from the Bozeman United Methodist Church, gifted Family Promise with a brand new 2007 Haulmark trailer to haul roll-away beds and families’ possessions.
During the first two years the director wrote grants and hired a Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA) to assist with the program. On October 26, 2007 the first full-time Family Case Manager was hired. In 2009 a VISTA was recruited to serve as a volunteer director. Bridget Pitman was so successful in this position that in 2010 the position became a regular full-time employee position.
Meanwhile, Family Promise of Gallatin Valley continued to serve approximately 15 homeless families per year with an 80% success rate of families securing employment, quality child care and permanent housing. Family Promise staff and board worked diligently to inform more and more people about homelessness in the Gallatin Valley area. In 2007 the Montana Commission on Community Service awarded Family Promise of Gallatin Valley the Governor’s Award for Civic Engagement for a non-profit agency. In 2008 the first local continuum of care was founded when over 25 agencies came together to address homelessness. Gloria Edwards took a leadership role and served as the Coordinator of the Greater Gallatin Homeless Action Coalition for the first two years.
The program quickly outgrew the Canterbury facility at 209 South Tracy. A capital campaign was created by the board to purchase a new facility, but due to the recession in 2008 the campaign was put on hold. The lease was extended by St. James Episcopal Church until November 30, 2009. Ray Ross and Gloria Edwards refused to give up and enlisted the help of Taunya Fagan, a realtor and wife of Brett Fagan, founding board member. A house with 5 bedrooms was located at 429 East Story Street that was suitable to meet the demands of the program. It had a two bedroom basement apartment that could hopefully be used as a transitional apartment once the organization was fiscally stable. Ray Ross contacted an acquaintance, Tim Barnard, and asked Tim to consider a large donation. Gloria Edwards, Ray Ross and Tim and Mary Barnard met at 429 East Story and toured the house. Gloria Edwards pointed out what each room would be used for (3 offices, nap room, play room) and when Tim and Mary saw the garage; they asked if we would be storing the van there. Gloria Edwards replied that Family Promise could save $62 a month by using it for furniture storage for our families rather than paying Sentry Storage. Tim and Mary said “Sold!” and then came back to 209 South Tracy to meet our families. 429 East Story was purchased for $340,000 ($215,000 from Tim and Mary Barnard) in June 2009, a full five months before the lease expired on the Canterbury House. In 2010 Family Promise received an anonymous donation of $250,000 and the Tim and Mary Barnard Family Day Center was paid in full. In 2011 the basement apartment was designated transitional living, and a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between HAVEN, the local domestic violence program, and Family Promise to share the facility at 6 month intervals for graduates from either shelter program.
In 2013 Family Promise of Gallatin Valley became the second affiliate in the nation to start a PetSmart Promise program. $35,000 was received from PetSmart to build a pet kennel area so that no homeless family had to give up their dog to enter shelter. Family Promise of Gallatin Valley is the first shelter program in the state of Montana where pets and families can stay together.