Fence raising: Army National Guard unit contributes to Emma’s House project

The picket fence has been built with military precision.

It encloses the yard at Emma’s House, the nonprofit Bitterroot Valley Children’s Advocacy Center.

Last Saturday, the Montana Army National Guard’s military rigs were parked in the field next to Emma’s House, and the 16 men and women soldiers in camouflage uniforms and white helmets were efficiently painting and building the fence.

The official “fence-raising” was the launch of a fundraising campaign – complete with a parade of over 100 bike riders and several speeches commemorating the new picket fence.

The gate has a plaque which reads: “This fence project made possible by Montana Army National Guard, 230th Vertical Engineers.”

Staff Sgt. Kristie Ruttenbur, facility manager at the Hamilton Armory, came up with the idea for a picket fence.

“I’m a civilian citizen in Hamilton when I’m not in uniform,” said Ruttenbur. “I just saw the house and I know what they’ve done and I just thought it would be really cute for them to have a white picket fence. It just goes with the house. I felt that it would set them apart from the neighborhood and just feel cozy.”

The Montana National Guard delivered the muscle and made the job possible.

“They provided the manpower to get it done,” said Val Widmer, director of Emma’s House. “We have all sorts of ideas, but to see them through is tough.”

Ruttenbur said building is one of her unit’s areas of expertise.

“The gears started turning because on my military side I know this is what we do,” said Ruttenbur. “We usually do it for the military, but it is just a great opportunity to do it for the community.”

Created as a safe place for children, Emma’s House provides critical services to abused or neglected children, more than 115 in 2013.

The fence adds to the goal of child safety.

“It has a dual purpose,” said Widmer. “We have kids that are coming back for counseling and we need a safe place for them to play football or enjoy the butterfly garden. And there are some kids that are in foster care, and a lot of times it is hard for kids to not only be separated from their primary caregiver but they also they really miss their pet – their family pet. So this will allow for visits with pets, and we’ll coordinate the foster family and the Department of Family Services to have the family pet here so that kids can visit their pets.”

Widmer said another possibility is a service dog for Emma’s House.

“Emma’s house applied for a service dog and we’re in the long application process with Canines for Independence,” she said.

“If we get a dog, one of the big criteria is that there is a fence – that the dog be contained. So, it was neat how the timing came together. A service dog is very comforting for kids and very in-tuned to kids’ emotions. It will be really neat to have.”

In addition to the fence, the National Guard donated and installed the Montana flag and the U.S. flag on the front of Emma’s House, adding to the Americana look.

In appreciation, Emma’s House placed the National Guard plaque on the gate.

“They are the first plaque – they made the fence possible,” said Widmer.

There are plans for more plaques – the fence is a big part of a fundraising campaign to support child abuse prevention efforts by Emma’s House.

“This is the launch of the Pickets for Prevention campaign,” said Widmer.

With a donation of $50 to purchase a picket, the name the buyer specifies is engraved on a special plaque and installed on a picket.

Business names, donor names, “In memory of” names and names of pets have all been popular choices. The community has “purchased” over 70 of the pickets and there are more than 500 available.

“This will be a great visual reminder to kids and families who visit Emma’s House that we are a community that cares about kids,” said Widmer.

On Saturday at the casual out-the-front-door ceremony, community supporters heard Maureen Porter reading a letter from U.S. Sen. John Walsh, who was scheduled to attend the event when he was lieutenant governor, before being appointed to the Senate. Two years ago, Walsh rode in the Bike Parade with then State Attorney General Steve Bullock.

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