By Renae Counter, Explorebigsky.com Editorial Assistant

BIG SKY – Grant money from the Big Sky LIFT program is still being distributed to employees who were laid off after the Club at Spanish Peaks declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy last October.

Richard Saunders said the grant his family received last fall helped relieve their financial burden. Saunders worked for at the Club at Spanish Peaks for five years in upper management and came close to foreclosure after being laid off.

“[The grant money] has given us breathing room and a little more time together as a family,” Saunders said.

Saunders, who has since found another job, could not be more grateful and thankful for the LIFT program.

“The LIFT program is a wonderful, beneficial program. I can’t say enough good things about it. It’s a program for the community, to keep the community together,” Saunders said.

Kristin Dowd received an individual grant in March. Since then she, too, has found another job but is thankful for the LIFT money.

“It paid my rent for the most part of the last three months. It really saved me while I was in between jobs,” Dowd said.

According to Dowd, information about the grant money took a while to circulate to those laid off but quickly spread by word of mouth after the first grants were issued.

“The program was quick to help those most in need. Overall, they did a good job handling the situation the best they could,” Dowd said.

Peter Owens, another grant recipient, was also grateful for the grant money, which he said helped pay the bills before he could find another job. In addition to receiving the LIFT funds, Owens also said the Club at Spanish Peaks was very helpful after the closure, allowing employees to keep benefits like health insurance for as long as possible.

“In terms of losing a job it wasn’t that bad. The grant was amazing and [Spanish Peaks] fulfilled their promise of benefits and gave a timely notice before it ran out. You couldn’t ask for much more,” he said.

To date, 47 people have applied and have been accepted for a total of $68,550 in grants. So far, all applicants have received support.

Grants are still being given out in the sums of $1,000 for individuals and $2,500 for families.

Some past applicants are finding additional need for future awards, said Nicole Rush of the Montana Community Foundation, the nonprofit group which organized the LIFT effort. Currently the grant money is still being held for new applicants, but there is opportunity to reapply for those who are really struggling, said John Haas, one of the officials coordinating the effort.

The Big Sky LIFT program has been following up with grant recipients to ensure they’re putting their lives back together, Haas said.

Furthermore, Spanish Peaks will not reopen for the summer season due to the slow movement of sales proceedings. Summer employees out of a job are welcome to apply for grant money.

“We will give out grants until the money runs out. It’s the people who are in need who I really want to make sure we help out,” Haas said.

All money donated to the effort has come from Spanish Peaks members to help support employees of Spanish Peaks.

To apply, contact John at john@spmembers.org, or go to mtcf.org.