The Big Sandy Mountaineer -

Heather Pleninger New Executive Director of Big Sandy Activities


December 26, 2018

Starting January 1, 2019 Heather Pleninger will become the fourth Executive Director in the history of Big Sandy Activities. Lorrie Merrill is stepping down from the position to pursue a different opportunity and to give her more time to write. Connie Green was the first Executive Director when she retired after 20 years. Jean Denning took the reigns as the Executive Director in 1995. She was the Executive Director for 11 years, before Lorrie Merrill became the Executive Director in 2006.

Big Sandy Activities, Inc., is a not-for-profit corporation serving adults with developmental disabilities. It was formed in 1975 by Connie Green and incorporated as a not-for-profit entity in August 1976. Volunteer Board of Directors governs the agency. In the fall of 1975 the agency began serving fifteen individuals with developmental disabilities who resided in a nursing home. At that time, there were only two such programs existing in this region, Havre Day Activity Center in Havre and Easter Seals in Great Falls. For the first month of operation the program was run at the nursing home. On December 1, 1975, it was moved to a small house where it was in operation until 1985

In 1985 the agency moved to another rented building where the offices and day program remained until 1995. At that time, another move was made to the present location of the offices and women's adult community home. The site located in the northwest part of Big Sandy and included a pole and metal building that was used for day services. The large house is the woman's home upstairs and the offices in the basement. The agency provided day services at this location until the current day building was built in 2010. These services are individualized for each person served.

In 2005 there was a system wide change in contractual rules. In order to comply with governing definitions of services changes needed to be made to the current day center. Enormous efforts were made with the help of Bear Paw Development, Opportunities Link, CDBG Building funds from the Dept.

of Commerce, and the USDA Rural Development. Due to this effort grants have been awarded to Chouteau County and the Town of Big Sandy for Big Sandy Activities. A total of 1.3 million was raised and a new day center was built in 2010. This was done to protect the contracted services and allow Big Sandy Activities to continue doing business in the town of Big Sandy.

Big Sandy Activities, Inc., also offers residential services, including adult community homes and several levels of supported living. Currently the two adult community homes, which are operated as one financial portion of the state contract, serve 14 individuals. The Women's Home was purchased in 1995 and five women reside there. The Co-Ed Home was built by the agency and completed in January of 1998. Six men and two women with disabilities reside there. These homes are handicapped-accessible and are provided with a high staffing ratio. The agency also provides supported living services for four people who live in rented homes or apartments. Medical services are provided, with nurses on staff to provide the care necessary for diabetes, seizure disorders, and other conditions associated with aging or disability. Support and assistance in all activities of daily living, personal care, health and safety issues, and many leisure/recreational activities are provided through the program. Additional supports and services provided include assistance with financial transactions, shopping, menu planning and preparation, home maintenance, medical appointments and health care, and transportation.

Big Sandy Activities, Inc. currently employs 42 full- and part-time staff and has an annual operating budget of over one million dollars. The agency makes every effort to channel its financial resources directly back into the community and employees have a generous, comprehensive benefits package including life insurance and retirement.

Board members of Big Sandy Activities are Robin Pearson, Larry Myers, Krystyl Kulbeck, Patti Hannum, Jim Dgra, and Paula Amsbaugh. Gloria Godfrey has resigned so they are currently looking for a replacement.

The community of Big Sandy is to be commended for the acceptance and inclusions that it gives to people with disabilities. Big Sandy Activities, Inc., is a not-for-profit corporation serving adults with developmental disabilities.


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