In the community of Big Sky, Mont., tourism flourishes. It’s known for its skiing, mountain bike and hiking trails and its proximity to Yellowstone National Park.
And it’s also an expensive place to live for locals, with an average cost of living 21 percent higher than the national average. Which is why members of American Legion Post 99 in Big Sky have created a program to both honor and assist local teachers.
Last November, the post debuted a program that provides a monthly $300 gift and a thank-you card and frame over the course of the 10-month school year for a staff member of the Big Sky School District. And when a local business learned of Post 99’s program, it offered to match the monthly gift, allowing the post to provide $300 to two staff members each month.
“Our problem in Big Sky is the cost of living. You can’t buy a house here,” Post 99 Adjutant Jack Hudspeth said. “Our teachers are getting paid next to nothing. I guess it’s that I’m retired and can come up with these ideas … but I said, ‘Hey, why don’t we give some money to the teachers.’ I brought it to the attention (of the post) … and we decided to do it within a week. And it seems to have put a smile on everybody’s face.”
When the program started, Post 99 Fundraising Coordinator Sara Sipe said the program is part of the post’s effort in the past decade to do more for those around it. “Our post has worked very hard in the last eight or so years to increase our coffers, increase membership and do more outreach in our community, not only for veterans, but for all of our community members,” she said. “I think it’s safe to say that most people can appreciate that teachers are underpaid in all communities. We live in one of the most beautiful and amazing places in the world. But at the end of the day, we are a resort community. So, it is incredibly expensive to live here. So, the (post) looked at where are the needs and what can we do.”
After the first name was drawn in November, Sipe put out a Facebook post encouraging any local businesses or individuals interested in partnering in the program to contact the post. Within days, Big Sky Build offered to provide a monthly matching gift, allowing the post to expand to two monthly drawings.
“We were very, very fortunate to get an immediate response from a local business,” Sipe said. “We were then able to do a second gift of $300 for December. Going forward, they’re pulling two names to receive the $300 gift per month.”
The program comes on the heels of Post 99’s quarterly donations of $1,000 each to two community members whose names are pulled randomly from the Big Sky Community Food Bank’s rent assistance program. The program originally was established in 2022 to provide one $1,000 grant quarterly, but Sons of The American Legion Squadron 99 member Anderson Wallace, a local business owner, offered to match the post’s quarterly $1,000 donation with one of his own.
Post 99 also provides funding to send youth to Boys State and Girls State, sponsors an Oratorical contest with cash prizes, and provides financial assistance to local students to make a school-sponsored trip to Washington, D.C.
“We do fairly well on our bingo,” Hudspeth said. “We’re always looking for something else to do. We’re just looking for ways to help our community.”