LIFT program offers grants to laid off employees

By Taylor Anderson
Big Sky Weekly Assistant Editor

In wake of the Spanish Peaks’ closure, about 60 former members have banded together to support the employees who were laid off without notice when the owners closed club doors and filed for bankruptcy last month.

Spanish Peaks sent out a letter in October to members and employees stating that the club would close due to a troubled economy and massive amounts of debt. Spanish Peaks filed for chapter 7 bankruptcy in a Delaware court days later, leaving employees to fend for themselves and members at the mercy of the court system.

Former members quickly created a representative group known as the Spanish Peaks Ad-Hoc Members Group Steering Committee, to understand court proceedings as parts of the club are sold to pay off a long list of debtors.

“Another way to describe it is we’re a funnel. All the members are sending us what they see as important issues, and we’re presenting our info to the bankruptcy trustee,” said a member of the committee who wanted to remain anonymous.

The group has paired with Montana Community Foundation, a Helena based group focused on philanthropy, to provide assistance in the form of grants for released employees who are struggling in the months leading into the winter.

The Big Sky LIFT program first got its start in 2009, after the Yellowstone Club, another private club in Big Sky, closed and fired employees. Loren Bough and his wife Jill organized the program alongside Montana Community Foundation.

Big Sky LIFT in 2009 collected $275,000 in donations from the Big Sky community and Yellowstone Club members, according to Nicole Rush of the MCF.

“It granted about $260,000 to individuals and families [in] 2009,” and 2010 Rush said.

Rush estimated the funds from 2009 benefitted 275 people in Big Sky.

The fund ended in 2010, and the surplus from 2009 stayed in a bank account until this year.

Alongside John Haas, Loren Bough and Marcus Dash, some big names have come forward to assist in the aftermath of the Spanish Peaks’ closure.

Warren Miller, the former ski filmmaker and Yellowstone Club member, mailed a handwritten letter to another Yellowstone Club member detailing his interest in helping. Miller’s letter contained a check for the fund.

“I know this is not a lot of [money] in the big scheme of things, but it is the worst time of the year for anything like this to have happened. Never is a good time,” Miller wrote in the letter.

“We have both been there in our lives as we scrambled for security while raising families and scrambling seven days a week to develop a career.”

The money will benefit former employees, who won’t be named for privacy reasons, like one, whose wife is due in labor in weeks. Another worker is caring for a baby and neither her nor her husband is currently employed.

Members of the ad-hoc have sent out letters asking for former members’ support as well.

“The biggest thing that was underway right now is that we have Big Sky LIFT,” Haas said. “That’s the great thing, raising a bunch of money for employees in a needy position.”

Today, as in 2009, funding is open to everyone in the community, including businesses. The MCF put up a grant application for former employees on its website, and Haas has been working to help employees as well.

Haas tells members looking for grant money to go to www.mtcf.org/lift.html, or to contact him and he will help with the application process.

“Big Sky LIFT is wonderful, and it’s the right thing to do,” Haas said.

email Taylor Anderson taylor@theoutlawpartners.com or follow him on Twitter @TaylorWAnderson