For the second year in a row, local Harley-Davidson enthusiasts have chosen to spread Christmas cheer to young people in Belgrade whose identities they will never know.
Every year, the Bridger Mountain Harley Owners Group (HOG) chapter holds an auction fund-raiser at its holiday party and donates the proceeds to a local charity, explained Dick Dowdell, the chapter’s director. On Friday, several members of the chapter gathered at Yellowstone Harley Davidson to present a check to Rachel Andrews, the homeless liaison for the Belgrade School District.
“We have a particular affinity for kids to make sure they get a good start in life,” Dowdell said.
Andrews administers the school district’s “PAWS” program, which stands for “Providing, Assisting and Welcoming Students.” The program helps kids who meet the definition of “homeless,” including those not in the physical custody of their parents or guardians, or those living in hotels, cars or campers.
Andrews’ job is to refer families to agencies in the valley that can help meet specific needs, such as housing or hunger, and also to utilize district resources where appropriate to give students the support they need to succeed in school.
Two of those needs – the provision of school supplies and transportation to and from school -- are funded by federal grant dollars through the McKinney-Vento Act. Needs that don’t fall under the act’s stringent guidelines must be funded some other way, Andrews said.
“That’s why this is so important,” Andrews said. “Donations I receive from groups like this are not restricted, so within reason, I can help any student that a teacher, counselor or staff member is concerned about.”
In the past year, Andrews said she used such private donations to help provide temporary housing to a student in crisis and to purchase snow boots for others who needed them.
The HOG chapter’s donation was “unbelievably generous,” and will help meet student needs that might otherwise be difficult to provide, Andrews added.
“We have a lot of generous people in this community,” she said. “I think Montana has a bigger heart than a lot of states.”