Nichole Heyer recently was taken by surprise when the Northwest Montana Association of Realtors showed up and donated $10,000 to the nonprofit HEART program in Kalispell.
The program encompasses the HEART Locker, HEART Markets, and most recently, the Locker Learning Center, which provide students impacted by homelessness with access to clothing, undergarments, shoes, hygiene products, food, snacks and school supplies, free of charge. A monetary fund also aids students or families with emergency or immediate needs.
Heyer oversees the HEART program and serves as Kalispell and Evergreen school district’s homeless liaison.
The check couldn’t have come at a better time, Heyer said, with the recent opening of the Locker Learning Center, a drop-in program where high school students can use computers, access the internet, study, create and hang out.
“The night before [the donation], I was sitting in the teen center thinking to myself, what have I done? I made it to where I have a monthly expense, not much, just enough to buy supplies and healthy snacks, maybe $600 a month to completely run this thing,” Heyer said.
The HEART program, located at 514 E. Washington St. in Kalispell, is remodeled space that previously was used for storage by Kalispell Public Schools. It features five computers, a young adult library and an area to create art or make crafts. Computers and internet access outside of school hours was a priority for the program based on student feedback.
Erica Wirtala, public affairs director for Northwest Montana Association of Realtors, said the association’s 900 members raise money throughout the year for its charitable foundation. She said the foundation has focused on giving to organizations that aid youth, homelessness or hunger. The HEART program encompassed all three.
There are roughly 350 youth who fall under the definition of homelessness and “lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.”