JOBS for AMERICA'S GRADUATES

Bridger, Montana and the Inaugural Scout Service Day

Bridger, Montana is a very small town in the scope of things but the 205 students attending Bridger Public Schools are a mighty force. When they take on a service project, the benefit is not only to those living in the Bridger community but also to those over 40 miles away in Billings, Montana.

The Jobs for Montana’s Graduates (JMG) program requires it’s participants to come up with and participate in service learning, which translates into community service projects. Each JMG program serves those in need in their own community.  In Bridger the JMG program was one of many groups who participated in the first Scout Service Day. The Bridger mascot is the Scout.

For three hours, students in grades K-12 were outside their classrooms doing everything from providing food for classmates in need, to sewing blankets.  They also collected stuffed animals that police and sheriff’s deputies provide to children who have been involved in a car accident or are victims of a domestic dispute. Yet another project was coming up with non-skid socks for the residents of a Billings nursing home.  The Beartooth Humane Alliance a town away in Red Lodge were the recipients of 154 braided dog toys.

On Friday, students “paid it forward” by delivering flowers and other treats to one another. The proceeds from this Valentine’s Day activity went in part to feed hungry students in Bridger. The students raised more than $400 for the Bridger Food Bank through the Valentine's Day sales.

The inaugural Scout Service Day was “chaotic and wonderful,” said Vicki Kaufman, who teaches family and consumer science at Bridger High School and helped organize the day of service. “We had a lot of community members who also helped. It was just amazing.”

Kayla Cummings, the President of the Jobs for Montana Graduates chapter in Bridger, spent her service day making socks and writing valentines to seniors to military members. The high school senior said she plans to become an elementary teacher “because I like to be an influence on people, just like we were on Wednesday.”

Kaufman said she saw younger students’ eyes “get big as they worked with the older students. It was neat to see high school kids sit down and work with little kids.”

Some efforts from the day of service benefited Cole’s Pantry, a local food pantry named for a Bridger second-grader, Cole Pelican, who was killed in a 2009 horse accident. Each weekend Bridger students sew bags from T-shirts and send food home to students and their families. Each week they serve 36 of their fellow students in 14 families. To preserve the students’ anonymity, the school secretary is the only person who knows the recipients identities. She discreetly places the bags into the students’ backpacks prior to their release on Friday afternoon.

“There’s not a penny of school or government money spent” on the weekly food bags, Kaufman said. “It is kids taking care of kids.”

The Pelican family started Cole’s Western Wishes, a foundation, after his death and granted Bridger Public Schools $10,000 to share Cole’s Pantry around the state. Kaufman said Bridger schools are using part of the money to help launch outreach programs in Shepherd, Montana and at West Elementary School in Laurel, Montana, and are now working in Colstrip, Montana and Glasgow, Montana to start the programs in their schools.

Bridger Police Chief Mike Buechler, who coaches the boy’s basketball team at Bridger High School, said the police department was grateful for students’ donation of stuffed animals and blankets. “We were getting kind of low on that stuff,” he said, adding that they bring comfort to children experiencing an emergency. “We just put the word out, and Ms. Kaufman jumps on it.”

In a world that may sometimes seem uncertain, Jobs for Montana’s Graduates is holding strong to the basic principles in life and helping those who live in their community.

Article and photo credited to the Billings Gazette