Crucial grant keeps Bigfork after-school program going

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Bigfork ACES recently got a boost with a $30,000 grant from the Laura Grace Barrett Living Arts Foundation Fund, which will make an impact in securing the future of the after-school program after a longtime federal grant was not renewed in June.

The non-renewal of the federal grant left the nonprofit figuring out how to recoup the roughly $75,000 needed to continue operating without impacts to programming and staffing. Bigfork ACES Executive Director Cathy Hay didn’t lose hope. The Bigfork ACES board had the foresight to set aside money that would get them through this year and Hay went to work on securing other donations and grant opportunities.

“The community of Bigfork always comes together. This is an incentive to move us forward along with other private donations to secure what we do,” Hay said.

The mission of the Laura Grace Barrett Living Arts Foundation Fund is to support projects that create opportunities in the arts, culture, entertainment and education in Bigfork and the surrounding area.

Hay said the new grant is an affirmation that after-school programming focused on serving low-income families is essential in communities. Currently, Bigfork ACES has a roster of between 95 and 100 kindergarten through eighth-graders and 75 percent of them are from low-income families.

The funding will help secure the future of the after-school program. The Bigfork ACES board has decided to put a majority of the foundation grant into a capital building fund for the future.

“The board of directors and I have been talking about establishing a permanent location,” Hay said.

Bigfork ACES currently rents a building at 801 Grand Dr., and the basement of the adjacent building that also houses the Bigfork Playhouse Children’s Theatre. The locations are in close proximity to Bigfork schools.

In the immediate future, funding will be used to strengthen the after-school arts program and purchase materials in honor of Laura Grace Barrett, who was a Bigfork resident and started the Collage Gallery of Fine Art in 2014 with her husband.

“The board of directors and myself would like to thank Laura Barrett and her family for the generous donation to ACES. I have known Laura for the past 35-plus years and have loved her and her giving, artistic spirit. We have decided to honor Laura’s memory by naming our art room at ACES the Laura Barrett Art Room,” Hay said.

Bigfork ACES is also gearing up to expand its offerings by introducing 4-H and Girl Scouts in January, according to Hays. Additionally, a mentoring program is in the works to pair Bigfork High School students with ACES youth.

While there is enough funding to cover costs this year, Bigfork ACES had to think about next year. Although the hope was not to charge fees, the difficult decision was made to implement a $30 registration fee across the board to produce income. If a child doesn’t meet the free- and reduced-income threshold, which is based on a family’s income, then the program costs $90 a month during the school year.

However, Hay said, “our motto is we’re never going to turn a child if they can’t pay for something.”

For more information visit www.acesafterschool.com, call 837-3414 or email bigforkaces@gmail.com.

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com.

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