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Grantee spotlight: Butte 4-C’s

Brad Tyer

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When our board members set the strategic direction at Headwaters Foundation in 2018, they realized that to effect lasting change we needed to address the issues that keep western Montana’s children and families from being healthy. In Montana, these issues appear as sub standard housing, food insecurity, inconsistent childcare and lack of access to education to name a few. As a foundation we work upstream to address these issues by focusing on root causes. We’ve found many excellent partners to help move this work forward. None are more capable and connected to community than Butte 4-C’s.

Sometimes it helps to have a buddy to turn to. That’s a lesson that Brenda Hergott has learned time and again as executive director of Butte 4-C’s, a 44-year-old nonprofit childcare resource and referral organization that serves children, families, and early-childhood professionals in six southwest Montana counties. 

“We have a lot of children who have high ACE scores, Adverse Childhood Experience scores, so they’ve had trauma in their life, and they may currently be having trauma in their life, and as a result there are some challenging behaviors,” Hergott says. Helping kids regulate those behaviors is where the buddies come in.

They’re called “Feeling Buddies,” and they come in sets of eight small dolls, each wearing a facial expression that correlates to an emotion: angry, scared, sad, frustrated, anxious, disappointed, and calm. The dolls “give children a visual of what your face looks like when you’re experiencing those emotions, and it also gives them a name to use, so that when they’re feeling scared, then they’re able to verbalize that that’s what the feeling is.” Each kit comes with three music CDs of emotion-navigating songs and a children’s book called “Helping my Feeling Buddies” that walks kids through the process of helping the doll — and themselves — to work through the emotion and become comfortable with the feeling.

It’s a helpful tool in early-childhood classrooms, Hergott says, where teachers may have responsibility for 12 to 15 preschoolers, a few of whom may be experiencing especially tough situations.

“It’s just nice for the whole classroom, for all those children to understand what the Feeling Buddies are, and to know that whenever they are in this place, and feeling whatever the emotion is, that they can take a break and go get their Feeling Buddy, look at the book, and talk to the teacher.”

It’s also a continuation of “Conscious Discipline” — a brain-based social-emotional learning program that “helps to build resilience in children and families, and also in early-childhood professionals” — which Butte 4-C’s has employed for years. But at $225 for a Feeling Buddies kit, it’s been beyond the reach of Butte 4-C’s budget, and the budgets of many of the organizations that Butte 4-C’s supports. That’s where a $5,000 GO! Grant from the Headwaters Foundation came in, allowing Hergott to purchase 10 of the kits and offer them along with Feeling Buddy trainings, scheduled from January through March, to 10 childcare providers from Deer Lodge, Anaconda, Dillon, Sheridan, Twin Bridges, Ennis, and Butte.

Without the grant, Hergott says, “We wouldn’t have been able to do that. Providers couldn’t have done it, and our organization couldn’t have afforded to purchase 10 kits at over $2,000, because it’s not a business where you’re making a lot of money. So it’s a blessing, definitely.”

With the remaining half of the GO! Grant money, Butte 4-C’s is bolstering its longstanding support of the adult half of the family dynamic: parents. Hergott was able to send family development specialist Tonya Crooker, one of the organization’s 20 staffers, to a national training in Greenwich, Connecticut, for a program called “Nurturing Parenting Skills” that’s aimed at supporting parents in a supervised visitation setting.

“The really nice thing about this program,” Hergott says, “is that Tonya has the ability to meet with the parents before supervised visits, and/or after the supervised visits, to talk about what she observed and customize some of those parenting modules to meet the parents’ needs. And then, when they have their next visit the following week, it’s the parents’ opportunity to do some implementation. All of that gets documented and goes to the family’s CPS worker. But most importantly, it’s improving the parents’ skills as a parent, their communication, their interactions, which is all just really key for them to have the children reunified and come back to the home.”

It all helps further what Hergott describes as a holistic approach to childhood health.

“We’re looking at, of course, medical. We’re looking at mental health. We’re looking at family culture, and culture in childcare facilities. So we’re kind of looking at a child’s overall experience. And by providing this training to the people who care for young children, and providing the Feeling Buddies and the books and CDs for them to be able to use with the children, it’s giving the children tools to help manage their emotions and to help them be better prepared to handle tough situations. It all goes into just looking at the whole child and their overall well-being.”

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