Pitching in to make our community a better place

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I want to take this opportunity to recognize some significant events of late.

First, our hearts go out to those impacted by the fire on First Avenue as well as to those whose home and business were damaged by the prior windstorm. The collective response from our first responders was an incredible display of teamwork, coordination and professionalism. The response from the community supporting firefighters and those impacted by the fire was heartwarming and shows why this community is so loved and appreciated. People care for each other and show up big when it counts.

Friday before last, I had the privilege of attending the Bonner General Health Foundation Heart Ball fundraiser with some of the most influential leaders in the county. I was impressed with the degree of philanthropy and commitment to community health that was on display. Bonner General Health exists because of this longstanding commitment from such philanthropists that since 2005 have raised over $650,000 to support equipment upgrades. It also exists because Bonner County taxpayers, have contributed to the modest levy, to the tune of $1.2 million per year, that helps to support the hospital maintenance and operations budget. Although this is a mere 2 percent of the $60 million annual operating cost, without it, our local health services would not be as affordable, or offer the range of services that we enjoy today. Because of this sustained community support, Bonner General has grown to become a regional hub for quality, affordable health care and has become one of the largest employers in Bonner County.

Also noteworthy, the Bonner County Human Rights Task Force is launching a grant program through the Idaho Community Foundation to promote education and action for human rights and relations.

The BCHRTF, like Kootenai County Human Rights Task Force, was originally formed in response to the neo-nazi movement in Hayden Lake in the ’90s. Together they were instrumental in driving the hate group out of the area. Since then it has supported a large number of projects that promote human rights and social equity throughout the county. The task force rallied community support last year to oppose the racist messaging campaign of Scott Rhodes. (Rhodes, now a Montana resident, is the man deemed responsible for the barrage of hate propaganda and robocalls littered across the Bonner County and the country over the last few years). The collective community response was enough to drive him out of Sandpoint.

Through this grant program, the task force again is stepping up in a big way to promote human rights and protect Bonner County from hate and bigotry. The request for proposal is an invitation to any and all non-profits, educational institutions or governmental agencies who care about issues related to: eliminating bullying and barriers to full community participation and inclusion; providing exposure to cultural diversity; and addressing the causes of bigotry or harassment.

Successful applicants can be funded up to $8,000. There is currently $18,000 available for the grant and with your help we can grow that amount. There are already so many great programs happening in our community that are making a real difference in supporting diversity, social equity and inclusion. Some past projects funded by the grant include the Music Conservatory’s El Sistema Program, a Panida-sponsored free film series focused on human rights, Pend Oreille Arts Council’s Living Voices, school performances and programs and the mental health afterhours crisis line.

The task force is working in partnership with Foundation for Human Rights Action and Advocacy to grow the fund through tax deductible contributions. You are all invited to pitch in and contribute to this effort with any amount.

I know we are all impacted by the hate propaganda that has infected our region, especially those who are most vulnerable to messages and acts of hate. Let’s send a clear message and fund this community-wide effort to support the organizations in our region that are making a difference to educate, create a community of acceptance and to rid our community of hate and bigotry.

You can send tax deductible contributions to Foundation for Human Rights Action and Advocacy, PO Box 1463, Sandpoint, 83864. Please specify on your check that your contribution is for the BCHRTF grant. The more money we raise, the greater affect we have in creating a safe community that supports social equity and quality of life for everyone. Information about the grant can be found here: https://bchrtf.org/membership_3.

A community is defined by the character of its people. I feel blessed to live in a community where people help one another and support causes which make our home a better place. I thank all of you that contribute to that cause.

Mayor’s Roundtable continues this Friday the March 1, from 8-9 a.m. at Cedar St. Bistro. Please join me to discuss these issues and more.

Shelby Rognstad is the mayor of Sandpoint. He can be reached at mayor@sandpointidaho.gov.

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