When you cross to the South Side of Billings, MT, you’ll notice signs welcoming you to the “Bright Side of the Tracks.” Yet this has not been the neighborhoods’ brand for long. Historically seen as the “wrong side of the tracks,” the South Side of Billings has been known more for its low homeownership, overrun schools, and high poverty rates than for its coffee shops and community. Slowly, this is changing, at least in part through the faithful presence and thoughtful work of organizations like Community Leadership and Development, Inc. (CLDI).
Creating Opportunities for Transformation
Since 1981, CLDI has invested in Billings’ oldest neighborhoods through programs and projects that seek to rebuild and restore the community. “We are working for the common good by restoring lives, rebuilding families, and re-neighboring communities,” says Eric Basye, executive director.
CLDI recognizes some of the unique challenges that face South Billings, such as:
- 30% of households are extremely low-income
- 45% of residents ages 18-24 do not have a high school diploma or GED
- 36% of residents own their home, as compared to 70% in Billings Proper
- 47% of residents live in low-income housing
The stories behind these statistics are varied, and so are CLDI’s solutions. They seek to address root causes and offer holistic transformation through programs around affordable housing, youth engagement, community development, a recovery house for women and children, leadership and job training, and discipleship.
“CLDI loves to create opportunities in a community where they don’t exist,” says Lisa Reinschmidt, director of development at CLDI.
These opportunities can look like…
- offering affordable housing to those whom others have turned away because of a poor record
- inviting teenagers to play games on an afternoon that might otherwise lead to trouble
- offering a bed to a single mom working to be reunited with her children
- inviting interns to move into South Side neighborhoods and develop relationships with community members
- hosting weddings at the CLDI headquarters, then putting the funds back into the South Side community
- turning a broken-down gas station into a beautiful coffee shop where at-risk youth and women are employed
Often, it looks like stories of transformation and second chances, as it was for Louise and Lisa.
Stories of Transformation
“My name is Louise McCalister and I thank them for giving me a second chance.”
Louise came to Billings in 2009, struggling with addiction and struggling to find hope. “I came here broken, in despair,” she says. “I didn’t know where to go.” But then she “ran into some wonderful people,” and everything changed after that.
“I was an addict,” she says, “I don’t claim it today.”
Louise is now reunited with her grandchildren and sees it as a second chance. “My grandkids is my life,” she says. “I get a second chance to be a mother, but a different kind of mother.”
CLDI offered Louise a chance to recover and find healing in a community where she was not only welcomed but loved. “I didn’t know nothing about a second chance,” she says, “but they seen a second chance in me.”
Lisa experienced something similar when she moved into the Hannah House, CLDI’s transitional home for women in recovery that seeks to provide a supportive environment where women can heal.
“Before I moved into the Hannah House I was in a pretty dark place,” says Lisa. “I knew God was there, you know. I turned my back on him. I lost my way. And this house helps me build a relationship with him.”
For women like Lisa and Louise who have battled addictions and desire to break free, the Hannah House offers a stable and loving environment in which to heal. CLDI knows that healing from trauma takes time, so they require a minimum commitment of six months. Within these months, women attend weekly Bible studies and house activities, build healthy relationships, learn life skills and financial management, obtain employment, and engage in a holistic relapse prevention program.
“I can’t even put into words how grateful and thankful I am,” says Lisa. “The Hannah House to me is the best support system I’ve ever had.”
Because People Matter
“The work that CLDI does,” says Kaylee Thompson, internship director at CLDI, “if I were to think of why that matters, it’s because people matter.”
CLDI’s work is rooted in the belief that every individual is made in the image of God, according to Kaylee. “This means that no matter what they’ve been through, no matter the hardships that they face, no matter the behavioral issues they might present with, their life is significant, of worth, value, and purpose, and they matter distinctly. Not only to God, but to us as well,” says Kaylee.
For the CLDI staff, it is the power of the gospel encountering the incredible people of South Billings that will transform this neighborhood from the “wrong side of the tracks” to the “Bright Side of the Tracks,” one second chance at a time.
The Murdock Trust is grateful to have supported the important work of CLDI through nearly a dozen capacity-building grants since 1996. These grants have contributed to funding for low-income housing projects, new staff, facility renovations, internship programs, and recently a new housing facility for low-income seniors.
May the work of CLDI flourish as you empower the people of South Billings, until it becomes a place known more for its community than its poverty, and more for its beauty than its brokenness. Thank you for the work you do, CLDI!