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B.E.A.R. program moves into new location

B.E.A.R. staff: Val Aerni, Michele Thompson, Diane Olson, Victoria Green and Mike Delue, Jr., at their new location on West Main Street in Hamilton. Everyone is welcome to attend an open house from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. today. An awards presentation and a slideshow will follow.

Bitterroot Ecological Awareness Resources is a learning program that provides mentorship, strength-based support and outdoor experiences to more than 200 local youth. It now has a new home-base location, and the community is invited to see it during an open house today.

B.E.A.R. Executive Director Diane Olsen said the new location is perfect.

“We are so excited to be in our new B.E.A.R. den,” Olsen said. “The move came about after one of our board members let a supporter know that we were looking for a house with a big yard, and that supporter responded very generously. She purchased a house that not only has a big backyard; it is in an ideal location on West Main Street with river access at the back gate.”

B.E.A.R. began in 1993 and has grown from presenting environmental education topics at schools to a robust outdoor program with camps, summer enrichment, mentoring and child care. The goal is to inspire area youth to connect with their own potential, their community and the landscape through experiential and outdoor adventure programs.

“Kids and families often tell us that they see B.E.A.R.’s mentoring services as “outside the system,” and the home-like environment of the new space is perfect for the atmosphere we’re going for,” Olsen said. “We want them to know they have a safe and fun space with us – the home-like setting helps that. It has a nice, big backyard, and the river can be accessed by walking out the back gate.

“After we moved, you could see that the kids who hang out at B.E.A.R. were comfortable here right away. They feel like it is more theirs, and have an area they’re setting up in the garage as a hang-out space. It has a wood stove, couches and a ping pong table.”

Olsen said setting up the new location happened fast, thanks to supporters who provided furniture, kitchen and office supplies.

“It came together so quickly because of the generosity of individuals and businesses in the community,” Olsen said. “The main thing we’re still working on is a big sign for the front yard.”

B.E.A.R. staff includes: Olson; Program Coordinator Val Aerni; Administrative Assistant Michele Thompson; Project Leader Mike Delue, Jr.; and AmeriCorps/Vista volunteer Victoria Green, who works on fundraising.

Program Coordinator Val Aerni said the new location provides great opportunities.

“We have more flexibility in our new location – it will be just all ours,” Aerni said. “It’s a really cozy, welcoming space that is a great asset for us for creating an environment that youth and peer mentors will want to spend time in. The house is perfect for one-on-one mentoring and great for everyone to use. There will be a group that will use the garage space – that will be a great hang out. We’ll have quick access to the river across the football fields and appreciate the closeness to the Kiwanis River Park.”

Board Chair Neil Massey said he sees the new location as a metaphor about how B.E.A.R. has grown.

“My experience is that I started in the old Westview building (presently Bitterroot College) with just one room,” Massey said. “We didn’t have storage space for our equipment, and supplies were everywhere. Then we moved to the carriage house with a conference room and office space. Now this final move feels like a natural growth out of the program. We have private rooms for mentoring and a kitchen. It shows the progress of our organization, and it will really help us serve youth. We couldn’t have done it without the enormous support we received.”

The B.E.A.R. open house will be held from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. today at 1105 West Main St. in Hamilton. Tours and hors d’oeuvres and will be followed by a dessert. At 7:45 p.m. there will be an awards ceremony to honor youth involved in their program three or more years. At 8 p.m. there will be a slideshow celebration to showcase youth accomplishments for the year.

Olsen said children and families who participate in the programs will be in attendance for the activities following the open house, and the community is also welcome at those events.

“There will be dessert, and we’ll show the slideshow in the backyard just as it’s getting dark,” Olsen said. “Our mentors have put together a fun evening of photos and some games for those who want to participate. We have fantastic mentors and program leaders on staff. They really meet the kids where they are, and when kids are having difficulties they have an unwavering ability to focus on their strengths and see past any challenging behaviors to get at what the kids really want for themselves, which is always something positive deep down. No matter what is going on for a youth, whether they are having some challenges or just want to gain more skills and confidence, they help them reach that potential.”

Olsen said the B.E.A.R. staff is well-trained in suicide prevention, crisis management, youth development, mentoring best practices, group facilitation skills and wilderness first aid.

“Our staff and mentors are great at taking the natural curiosity or rebelliousness that kids often have, and helping them channel that into healthy activities like learning about local farming and activities like skiing, snowboarding, skateboarding, rock climbing, rafting, backing packing, or even just setting up a slack-line out back or going for a walk by the river.”

The awards and slideshow are scheduled to be presented on the lawn of the new B.E.A.R. den. Guests are invited to bring a jacket, warm clothes, blankets and lawn chairs. If it rains, the awards and slideshow will take place at the Bedford Building at City Hall.

Reach reporter Michelle McConnaha at 363-3300 or


Staff Reporter

Reporter at The Ravalli Republic