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Inaugural Masquerade Ball to benefit affordable, quality child care in Big Sky

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Children at the Morningstar Learning Center. COURTESY OF MORNINGSTAR LEARNING CENTER


Mariel Butan, executive director of Morningstar Learning Center, said she hopes the school’s fund- and awareness-raising event will be “a beautiful, colorful explosion of joy.”

Butan coined that phrase while describing the often “mind-blowing” art created by MLC students, which will be auctioned off during the inaugural Big Sky Masquerade Ball on March 9.

MLC has been planning the event for months. Butan wants to welcome guests from all over Big Sky, not just Morningstar parents. She says Morningstar is a pillar of the community as child care impacts everyone. The event has two goals: to raise money, and to raise awareness about the widespread impact of child care.

“There have been fundraisers for Morningstar in the past, but nothing quite like this,” Butan explained. “I think it’s really imporant at this moment in time to raise awareness and visibility of the issue.”

Hosted by Montage Big Sky, tickets are on sale and include two drinks, dinner and exceptional desserts; Butan expressed her great excitement for the cuisine in an interview with EBS. The event has a “cocktail-chic” dress code—mostly dresses and suits, but open to creativity and color—and Morningstar will provide masquerade masks. Photographer Chris Kamman will provide keepsakes in the “classiest, coolest photo booth” Butan said she’s ever seen.

The adult-oriented evening will be emceed by DJ and auctioneer Missy O’Malley and includes an auction with prizes like early ski access to the tram guided by Big Sky Resort Ski Patrol, skis and bindings from Yellowstone Club, an intro flight with Summit Aviation and a ride along with the Big Sky Fire Department. The ball will also feature a “paddle-raise” fundraising effort; Butan suggested guests determine a designated driver and a designated bidder.

Young artists at MLC have been putting colors on canvas to prepare for their art auction.  

“That’s why people should come to the event—don’t disappoint the children,” she said. “The children are working very hard on their art project. They’re very excited.”

The MLC building is seen during a January snowstorm. PHOTO BY JACK REANEY

Butan said that whether community members realize it or not, their lifestyle in Big Sky is made possible by families who have children at Morningstar. Any business, restaurant, club or resort will, at some point, employ someone who relies on Morningstar.

“What I’m asking the community of Big Sky to do is not make me choose between price-gouging families and paying poverty wages to my teachers,” Butan said. Morningstar is dedicated to quality of care and affordability to families, she added.

Community funding and awareness can help solve a difficult equation by rewarding and retaining happy, talented teachers. Nearing two years at Morningstar, Butan has dealt with teacher turnover despite Morningstar’s high wages, largely due to the challenges of working in Big Sky and the demanding nature of child care work.

“I think especially in a small community like Big Sky that has been experiencing growing pains… I think it’s really important for people to know that something that helps define the soul of a community is whether or not families can live here, and [whether] children can have a wonderful childhood experience here.”

She added that Morningstar needs to expand to fully meet family needs in the community.

“That’s not going to be possible without more people being aware of some of the challenges that we’re facing, and then supporting us to overcome them.”

A slam dunk return-on-investment

Butan cited an aggregate study by the First Five Years Fund, an early childhood advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.

“A lack of affordable reliable childcare takes a major toll on the economy as working families across the country lose more than $8.3 billion in wages annually due to inadequate child care access,” Butan read.

“Studies show investments in high quality early childhood education can generate up to $7.30 per dollar invested. Access to stable, high-quality child care also helps parents improve their labor productivity by increasing work hours, missing fewer workdays and pursuing further education.”

Children at Morningstar Learning Center. COURTESY OF MORNING STAR LEARNING CENTER

Other outcomes include a 46% reduction in incarceration rate, 33% reduction in arrests for violent crime, and 26% reduction in likelihood of requiring government assistance.

She added that the most critical time to invest in a child’s education is their early years. The best way to close reading and math gaps in K-12 is to prevent those gaps in the first place, Butan reasoned.

Beyond the economic side, she described “the heartstring reasons” to invest in child care.

“This is their first introduction to life to learning. And having a good experience with that is one of the most impactful things you can do to ensure a child’s success, period.”

“I’ve always worked in education,” Butan said. “I’ve always worked in nonprofits. And I’ve always heard [that] child care is so expensive. But in the last two years, what I’ve seen not just in Big Sky, but across [Gallatin] county, across the state [and the] country, has really been eye opening to me, and has made me want to tell anyone who will listen… what a slam dunk it is to invest in child care.”

Between economics and heartstrings, Butan hopes the Masquerade Ball can shed light on the importance of quality, affordable child care to anyone looking for a fun night out in Big Sky.

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