Great Falls Rescue Mission proudly presents their new addition, the Cameron Family Center

Mackenzie George, Editor in Chief

For ten Great Falls families, perhaps the best Christmas present this year will be a living space of their own.

The Cameron Family Center, the newest addition to the Great Falls Rescue Mission, will open on Jan. 6, with space for 34 families. Center director Bill Salonen has been working tirelessly to ensure that the building is prepared for the families’ arrival. Salonen had hoped to have the 10 waiting families moved in by Christmas, but a shipment of beds due to arrive two weeks later caused a delay.

“Initially I was disappointed with that because I was like, ‘Oh, we want to have our families settled for Christmas; we want them to be here.’ Actually, it’s going to be OK,” Salonen said. “It ended up being kind of a blessing in disguise, just because there is so much required in getting us to be operational.”

Even without the beds, the Cameron Family Center is well on its way to being ready for the families. Community members have supplied sheets, quilts, pillowcases, toiletries, and other items. Salonen has been impressed by the volume of generosity.

“Every day there is someone coming in here to say, ‘Here’s diapers; here’s sheets, here’s bath mats,’ whatever, so that’s been really cool just to see,” Salonen explained. “I have really purchased very little. I mean we certainly bought the beds, but I haven’t bought any sheets or towels or pillowcases.”

But there are many ongoing needs. For those looking to donate, Salonen suggests travel-sized shampoos or conditioners, lotions, kitchen trash bags, sandwich baggies, razors, Q-tips, diapers, or dishwashing detergent.

Larger items needed include vacuums, a kidney-shaped table for the children’s play area, two easels, a children’s plastic kitchen set, irons and ironing boards, and mattress pads. The center has 130 bed spaces (twin and full sized).

With a kitchen on both floors, the Cameron Family Center is also looking for kitchen items. Cookie sheets, muffin tins, baking utensils, and dish rags would be welcome.

If students are interested in volunteering, there are several options at the center. The 43,000-square-foot building has no custodian. Staff, residents, and volunteers shoulder the responsibility of cleaning the facility. Students who would like to volunteer to clean would be appreciated.

Students can also serve meals. Salonen cited the Dec. 18 holiday dinner as a special one for residents.

“So a church here in town  — First Alliance Church — they’re putting on the dinner for the adults and all the kids will go over to the church — we’re calling it a ‘Christmas escape,’ they get to get out of the Mission,” Salonen chuckled. “They’ll go do activities and have dinner over at the church while the adults just have some time as adults, which is what will really be kind of fun. And then they’re doing gifts for the adults and Foothills Christian School is doing the gifts for the children.”

An after-school program is also seeking volunteers. Children from five elementary schools are picked up and transported to the Rescue Mission from 3:30 until 5 p.m. each weeknight.

Volunteering is simple. The only requirement, Salonen said, is an orientation session. Held Thursday afternoons of alternating weeks, the program goes through expectations and provides a tour of the Rescue Mission.

“We provide a tour so that people understand the whole purpose and setup of the Mission,” Salonen explained.

Students can call the volunteer coordinator at (406) 761-2653 to sign up for one of these sessions.

A walkthrough of the Cameron Family Center led by  Salonen showcases a well-thought-out building with countless opportunities for families. There is medical care available every day of the week.

There is a childcare area on the ground floor where kids will be able to stay while their parents attend classes. Outside, Salonen said, an adjustable basketball hoop will be installed. The bedrooms on the second floor — enough for 17 families — all open up to a communal playing area (stocked with toys, bookshelves, and games), a setup that Salonen likens to a C’mon Inn. The atmosphere is just as welcoming. And suddenly, the new year seems brighter for 34 families.

To find out how you can help the Cameron Family Center, head to The Rescue Mission’s website,, also provides information on the Mission and how to volunteer.