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Pick the winner: Missoula Federal selects seven nonprofits for grant challenge

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Representatives from seven local nonprofits prepare to lobby voters to support them in the Missoula Federal Credit Union’s bid to award $60,000 on its 60th birthday. (Photo by Martin Kidston)

By Martin Kidston/MISSOULA CURRENT

To celebrate its 60th birthday, the Missoula Federal Credit Union is giving away $20,000 to three nonprofits for a total of $60,000. The challenge is, the organization’s board of directors has selected seven local nonprofits, and it’s asking voters to eliminate four of them.

That’s no easy task given the finalists and the role they play within Missoula, from feeding hungry children to protecting open space.

“A grant of $20,000 is not a small thing to any of the organizations that we’ve chosen, and it can be transformative to a nonprofit,” MFCU board member Leslie Halligan said Tuesday. “The three grants we hope will provide a large impact to a number of nonprofits in our community, and help address a range of fundamental needs.”

The selected nonprofits include Garden City Harvest, Flagship, Court Appointed Special Advocates, the Missoula Food Bank, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Five Valleys Land Trust and the Zootown Community Arts Center.

While any one of the seven are worthy of community funding, the Missoula Federal Credit Union’s 50,000 members have been tasked with selecting the three winners. Voting opened Tuesday and the winners will be announced at Caras Park on June 14.

“We take our not-for-profit corporate structure very seriously here at Missoula Federal Credit Union,” said MFCU board member Clinton Summers. “These are member resources and we want to get our members engaged in the process of giving.”

For Danette Rector, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Missoula, the funding would allow the organization to pair another 25 local children with an adult mentor. For Jean Zosel at Garden City Harvest, the funding would go far in employing local teenagers at one of the organization’s farms.

Each nonprofit expressed its own need.

“It costs roughly $1,000 to train a (Court Appointed Special Advocate) for each year, and each volunteer can usually support one to two abused or neglected children in our community,” said Jeri Delys, executive director of CASA. “This grant equates to about 45 to 50 children who will have a CASA. Currently, there’s about 80 children awaiting a CASA in our community.”

Whitney Schwab, the philanthropy director at Five Valleys Land Trust, said the grant would help build trails and ensure public access to a new open-space acquisition up Pattee Canyon. At the Flagship Program, director Nick Roberts said the funding would enable his nonprofit to expand its enrichment program at eight local schools.

Kia Liszak, executive director of the Zootown Community Art Center, said her nonprofit is growing rapidly and has reached a critical phase, during which it will look to purchase its building on Missoula’s northside.

As for the Missoula Food Bank, executive director Arron Brock said the grant would feed 115 additional children living in food-insecure households.

“We do a kid’s EmPower Pack that sends kids home with food over the weekend,” said Brock. “These are kids identified by an adult in the school system. We’re serving about 515 kids every Friday afternoon, but we know the need is greater.”