The kids living in the new Bitterroot Youth Home are turning cartwheels, literally.
"We had one of the kids who was doing cartwheels right here (in the living room)," Kay Crowe, Bitterroot Youth Home program manager, said. "And that's amazing because in our old house there is no physical way you could even begin a cartwheel."
While most people dread moving, the move from its previous location in a 1,640-square-foot house on Second Street in Hamilton to a 6,875-square-foot home near Hamilton High School has been sweet for everyone involved with the Bitterroot Youth Home (BYH), Crowe said.
"This has been a lot of fun," Crowe said. "The kids are so happy not to feel squished any more."
Laura Henning, development coordinator for BYH, said after moving in last month the organization is simply better able to serve its mission to offer a welcoming and safe place for kids in need. Henning said the new facility, 4,250 square feet of which were renovated by Pigman Builders, makes a huge difference.
BYH, which has served nearly 400 kids since it opened in 2002, has always been licensed to house eight kids, though the old facility could only feasibly hold seven.
That is no longer a problem.
One month into the settling-in period the kids and staff alike have found the massive expansion in space to be a bit mind blowing, Henning said.
Sure, there have been cartwheels, but it really starts with the kids' personal rooms. Where the old facility had bedrooms that were typically shared rooms, including three boys sharing one room, the new building allows the kids to spread out some.
The boys each have their own room, with a shared bath area, and though the girls have a pair of shared bedrooms, each of these has its own bathroom and plenty of closet space.
The dining room and kitchen also mark a vast difference between the old and the new.
Where the old dining table had to compete with the stove door and passage into an adjacent hallway, at the new group home there is plenty of space to have a dining table big enough to sit the entire house and attendant staff down for a meal.
The kitchen has all the normal comforts of home, as well as a commercial grade refrigerator in the pantry where enough food can be kept on hand for a week's meals. Crowe said the old kitchen required creative food storage, including putting canned goods into a crawl space.
Then there's the living room area, which features two sitting areas featuring comfortable couches and chairs.
"It is a lot better than any of the places I've been," said Micah Brown, a 17-year-old youth home resident who is originally from Havre and moved into BYH two weeks ago. "And I've been to the other house and this is much better than that. I don't know how all of them could have kept their sanity in that other house."
Henning said the community, including the home's advisory board deserves a lot of credit for making the new building a reality.
Henning and the rest of the BYH family officially welcomed the community to the new facility, hosting an open-house on Thursday.
Starting with a $350,000 budget provided by the state and some grant money, BYH bought the new building out of foreclosure and then took the house which had sat unfinished for a couple of years and redesigned the layout so it would function well as a group home, Henning said.
"Ran (Pigman) really helped us make this design come together," Henning said, pointing to where an interior stairwell that divided the living area had been removed and where windows had been added to allow better supervision of the interior spaces.
But there is more yet to do, with two phases of work still pending, Henning said. The next portion of work that really needs addressing is an exterior refinishing and landscaping, though BYH will have to raise funds for that.
Then, eventually, they will finish out more than 2,000 square feet in the basement, which will then house rooms for the girls - each will have their own room - and administrative and meeting spaces.
"That's a long way off," Crowe said, estimating that it might take two years or so to begin to raise the money needed for that project. "That's going to be an expensive undertaking."
Henning said an upcoming fundraising campaign will begin to address that goal, though it will also simply be about helping BYH keep its head above water - the group home operates on a $325,000 annual budget but typically comes up $80,000-$100,000 short after tallying its expenses versus the allowances that are paid out by the state.
"We don't want people to think, ‘OK, they're in (the new house) so they don't need anything,'" Henning said. "There's still a long way to go.... And that (shortfall) is what we really rely on the community to help out with."
Still, she said there has been no fall off in community support through all this.
"It's been amazing," Henning said. "Even with the economy being the way it is. It's a testament to this community and how they are willing to step in and help those who need help."
Crowe said she couldn't agree more.
"They really care about their kids," she said. "And these are some really great kids."
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Reporter Sepp Jannotta can be reached at 363-3300 or email@example.com.