Long the darling of Bozeman's philanthropic-happy community, Eagle Mount continues to trip the light fantastic, and now its inspirational glow is attracting national attention.
Established in the fall of 1983 by General Robert C. Mathis and his wife Greta, Eagle Mount’s initial therapeutic programs were once limited to nordic and alpine skiing for folks of all ages and disabilities. A waiting list quickly formed, and today the organization offers ice-skating, skiing, swimming, horseback riding, and golfing as well as seasonal summer oncology camps for children with cancer. But although this nonprofit has long been popular locally, a recent visit from Al Roker and NBC’s TODAY show tipped the scales on Eagle Mount’s reach.
The exposure was a welcome surprise to executive director Mary Peterson. “Actually, we haven’t really taken any steps to try to be more prominent nationally," she explains. Rather, they just focus on doing good work right here in southwest Montana. "We’ve been here for 28 years, doing what we do—offering life-affirming recreation opportunities for people with disabilities and children with cancer, so that ‘they may mount up with wings as Eagles’.”
Eagle Mount recently participated in the Pepsi Refresh Project, which awards grants to qualifying organizations. Although Eagle Mount ultimately did not win the grant, it was able to ramp up its social-networking presence through Twitter and Facebook, thus becoming even more connected to participants, volunteers, and sponsors.
But the real boost came in early June, when NBC chose to feature Eagle Mount in its “Lend a Hand” program (thanks to a mention from Paradise Valley residents Tom and Meredith Brokaw). Eagle Mount was one of just five charities across the entire nation that NBC chose for their positive impacts in their respective communities.
Roker and the NBC crew arrived in Bozeman in late June, equipped with truckloads of helmets, skis, boots, sleeping bags, and other donations. Murdoch’s Ranch & Home Supply was also a large contributor, providing hay, fencing panels, and gates for the equestrian programs.
All in all, the donations totaled $1.2 million, and several big-ticket items were graciously given to aid Eagle Mount’s efforts. Eagle Mount also received a grant from the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust as well as other generous donations, enabling it to buy nine acres of land adjacent to its campus and build a much-needed storage facility on the property. Four solar power dishes donated by the Infinia Corporation now help provide about half the facility's energy needs—no small feat in the winter months because the therapy pool is a constant 89 degrees year round.
Mary Peterson attributes this newfound attention to the Bozeman community. “The Mathises dreamed of a place where people with disabilities can enjoy all the recreation opportunities that Montana has to offer, and that able-bodied people sometimes take for granted," she notes. "That’s a pretty compelling vision, but Eagle Mount would not have succeeded just anywhere. I think part of the wisdom of General and Mrs. Mathis was not only in having a clear vision, but also in knowing that it would take a very, very special community to make it work.”
That very special community, of course, is the people of southwest Montana. And for almost three decades, she adds, “This community has stepped up to help people with disabilities and children with cancer. So, I would have to say that the key to our success is all the wonderful people who give of themselves to help transform the lives of those with special needs.”
For more information about Eagle Mount, visit eaglemount.org or call 586-1781. To see the TODAY clip, visit http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/37817545/ns/today.