Nov 14

How do you cope? Learning healthier ways at Intermountain

In a recent chapel time, our children were given the opportunity to “pay if forward” by helping create the video below. You see, part of the lesson was about thanksgiving and generosity, and that generosity is NOT just about sharing money. It’s about being the type of people who share compassion and the wisdom that has been gained through difficulty. The children were encouraged to know that they could help other children handle their big feelings in healthy ways by sharing what they had learned at Intermountain. Trauma-affected children come to Intermountain and learn skills that help them become more resilient and healthier individuals. They are comforted by healthy relationships, and can therefore comfort others. This concept of “paying it forward” is an old one, at least as old as these words from scripture:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. – 2 Cor. 1:3-6

So, as we enter this holiday season–a season that often brings up overwhelming emotions–how do you cope? If you’d like some ideas of how you can cope in healthy ways, watch the video our children put together and let us know what works for you! And then… pass it on!



Oct 29

Stories from chapel: Masks, Halloween, and hiding our true feelings

People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”

–1 Samuel 16:7

Every October, I have an excellent opportunity to talk with the kids in chapel about the masks we wear and how God sees through it all and sees who we are underneath the façade. The lesson usually goes something like this…

“One night every year in America, people encourage each other to put on masks and costumes and go around looking for candy by knocking on doors! Do you know what this night is called? Right…

On one side, the mask reads: (fake) happy, perfect, excited. On the other: suicidal, sad, mad, hurt

On one side, the mask reads: (fake) happy, perfect, excited. On the other: suicidal, sad, mad, hurt


These costumes and masks are a lot of fun. Maybe a little mischief gets thrown in… something gets ‘egged’ or a house is adorned with toilet paper. But, for the most part, these ‘tricks’ are accepted as part of the tradition associated with October 31st every year.

Now, take those same behaviors and those same masks and costumes and try wearing them around town a month later, you will receive a VERY different reaction. In fact, some people have gotten in trouble this fall for wearing clown costumes and trying to scare people. It usually ends up badly for everyone when a mask is worn at a time that is not appropriate. Here are some examples…

Besides Halloween, there are many reasons people wear masks:

  • So they can ‘get away with’ doing something they wouldn’t normally do
  • To hide who they really are
  • To be a part of the crowd… if everyone else is wearing a mask
  • For protection… from the cold, from germs, and other things

Okay… now that your imagination is engaged, it is time to switch gears a bit. Think about your heart rather than your face! How do we put ‘masks’ on our hearts? I am convinced that we wear masks on our hearts for the same reasons we wear masks on our faces!

What can start out as something we wear for protection, or to blend in with others, or to hide who we really are… well, those masks can become so comfortable that we never want to take them off.”

Then, we break from our discussion and the children take some time to draw out the masks that they see themselves wearing. One girl really used this lesson as an opportunity to open up and share some of what was going on for her beneath the surface. Her picture is used above… notice how one side of the mask shows her outward appearance: excited, perfect, and (fake) happy. But, amazingly, she trusted us to see what was going on just below the surface: feeling hurt, mad, sad, and suicidal.

Part of the work we do in chapel every week is to address the truths of God and God’s Word and how they can give our children the courage to step out from behind the masks and into who God says they are: wonderful, amazing, and capable children of God—with the right to be loved and to love in appropriate and affirming ways. Thankfully, this young lady was in a place where she could get the support she needed to handle the big feelings she had underneath her mask. She was able to hear clearly that God sees past the mask and sees our hearts. He knows our fear, our hurt, our sadness, our shame…



Oct 18

Intermountain Moment: Helping the trauma-affected child succeed at play, with Kathleen Slack, M.S.

Play time can be hard for any child, but is especially difficult for trauma-affected children. Children that have been affected by early childhood trauma and severe stress are often given any number of labels to describe the symptoms of that trauma or adverse childhood experience: PTSD, ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder), ADD/ADHD (Attention Deficit Disorder or Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder), and even RAD (Reactive-Attachment Disorder). Whether caused by early childhood trauma, adversity, or a physical and/or mental health issue, a child with special emotional needs struggles with playtime, especially that with peers.

Kathleen Slack, our K-3 Special Education Teacher at Intermountain’s Residential Campus in Helena, Montana, has a wealth of experience in helping special needs children work through the relational minefield that is playtime, recess, or unstructured play. Any church or faith-based organization that wishes to reach out to adoption and foster parents should consider these tips when helping children with emotional special needs in their community. Play can be a wonderful tool for building self-confidence and relational aptitude in little ones, so we want to set up everyone in our fellowship for success! Here’s what Kathleen suggests, both from the video clip above and from our conversations:

  • Let the child know what to expect. “Free time” might sound wonderful to us as adults, but the concept of unstructured free play can be paralyzing for the child that is afraid to misstep, has difficulty initiating conversation, or struggles with conflict. Until the child is comfortable making their own choices around play, suggesting two or three options gives the child the freedom within boundaries that will develop trust and security.
  • Let the child know where you will be and what they can expect from you. Sometimes what we take for granted as a given–“I will keep you safe and allow you to have fun.”–is very reassuring for a child from a trauma-history to hear. What are the physical boundaries (“We’ll be in this room, or in this fenced area, or on this playground equipment…”)? How long will play last and how will they know when it’s time to wrap it up? (“We have 10 minutes to swing or play in the sand-box, and I’ll let you know when there are two minutes left, and I’ll ring the bell when it’s time to line up to go back inside“). As the adult, you provide safety and security for the child. They need to “borrow” your sense of confidence to face the challenge of play and negotiating the expectations of peers. Keep your eyes open and your ears attuned to their play, so if they look to you to see if something is “safe” you can reassure them.
  • Consistency is very important. The anxious child can be made a little less anxious if she or he knows that the same routine is followed for recess, free play time, or game time in whatever setting they find themselves in. Visual schedules and charts for classrooms are helpful in this regard, as are routines for lining up or quieting down for transitions.

This list is by no means exhaustive, and I would encourage you to speak to the primary caregivers for the children in your community that might need a little help around playtime when they are participating in church or children’s/youth activities. They will be the experts in what can calm or sooth their anxious children, and you will honor them with your humility and willingness to learn from them!



Oct 15

FREE Advent Object Lessons for 2018 (Year C)!

Once again, I would like to make available to you and your church free Advent children’s object lessons! While written primarily for a Children’s Sermon format, these object lessons could be used in a Sunday school setting, youth group, or even as sermon illustrations! None of the lessons are dependent on Change for Children (CFC) CFC-logoparticipation, because we would like them to simply be a gift to you. If you choose to dovetail CFC into these lessons, it’s as simple as contacting us and requesting our prayer cards or setting a goal of numbers of cans returned by Christmas!

Click here for: Object Lessons for Change for Children- Advent 2018

In over twenty years in children and youth ministry, the object lessons I have used for children’s sermon times have been a very effective way of communicating the truth of God’s Word.  Many of the adults in the congregation would tell me they preferred my children’s sermons to my “regular” sermons!  Jesus taught in object lessons and word pictures, too, so it should be no surprise to us that this method is highly effective—surely Jesus knew what he was doing and set an example for us to follow!

I hope this resource blesses you, saves you time in preparation, and makes your workload a little lighter. It is my hope that our relationship will truly be a partnership of mutual benefit. As Intermountain’s Chaplain, I want to be a resource to you and an encouragement in your work with children and families. The children’s sermons can be found on the “Resource” page, as well as examples from previous years, should those object lessons fit better with what you are planning.

So, enjoy these lessons, and let me know what you think. I’d love to hear from you and build a stronger relationship between the chaplain’s ministry at Intermountain and the good work you are doing in your church and community.



Chaplain Chris Haughee

Sep 13

Finding healing after trauma: Elizabeth Smart (courtesy of Goalcast)

One of the most common questions I get from the trauma-affected children I serve is, “Why did God allow [insert really awful, tragic experience] to happen to me?” I imagine it’s a question that most pastors, ministers, chaplains, and those Christians who share their faith with others face. It’s fundamentally a relational question, not a theological one… and that’s important to remember. The question is seeking the reason why a God who is Love could allow something that is experienced as anything BUT loving. (see 1 John 4:7-8)

I found that the best thing I can do is to recognize the profound hurt and struggle that lies within all of us who have ever wrestled with that question, “Why?”

We see how Paul dealt with the unresolved struggles in his own life when he states:


I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7b-10)

I can recognize now after many years of processing, reflection, and prayer, that God was able to express a strength through my weaknesses and build a stronger character within me through some of the traumatic experiences I went through. I would think that many reading this could also see where God has built a certain strength or resolve within an area of hurt, woundedness, or pain. This is not simply the worldly wisdom expressed in the popular saying, “what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger,” but a wisdom that comes through suffering and an insight gained into what really matters to you that rarely comes from a life of ease.

There is a phenomenon referred to as “Post-Traumatic Growth Syndrome.” First studied in the 1990s, psychologists have been attempting to define what it is about the difficult process of recovery from a traumatic event that challenges a person’s core beliefs that can leave a person more resilient, and sometimes even thankful for the “gift” they have received in seeing the world more clearly after their traumatic experience. To evaluate the extent to which someone has achieved this kind of growth after trauma, psychologists often use various self-reporting surveys and scales. One such survey is called the Post-Traumatic Growth Inventory (PGTI) and was developed by Tedeschi and Calhoun, which they first reported on in the Journal of Traumatic Stress (1996 Jul; 9(3):455-71). They sought to measure positive responses in five key areas that they believed would show post-traumatic growth:

  • Appreciation of life
  • Relationships with others
  • New possibilities in life
  • Personal strength
  • Spiritual change or renewal

I believe that you can likely perceive how going through a life-threatening, traumatic experience, and coming out the “other side” might impact each of these areas. Pain, such as that experienced by Paul (referenced in the Bible passage earlier), has a way of focusing our thoughts and actions on what is truly important and lasting. Elizabeth Smart, the “girl who was kidnapped” in the YouTube video embedded in this post, found victory in realizing those that had terrorized her “no longer had any power over her” and that she could go on an live a happy life. Furthermore, she could take her trauma and use it as a catalyst to be an advocate for others.

The role a church or fellowship can play in helping those in the midst of their own pain and traumatic experience is to hold out hope for them that they, too, can experience a sense of growth as God redeems even their suffering. The beauty of the Christian story is that we are all part of a much larger narrative, and we can walk with one another through the most difficult struggles and provide companionship that makes the journey a little easier to endure.

Sep 09

Intermountain Moment: The secure base of relationship, why it’s essential!

Relationships are of vital importance to our experience as human beings in community with one another. A secure, loving and supportive relationship is the foundation on which we branch out and explore our world… not just as small children, but even as adults! Think of those times when by situation or circumstance you felt compelled to venture out and try something new. I am guessing that those of us that were fortunate enough to have secure, loving and supportive relationships handled that stressful time better because we knew that “our people” had our backs, no matter what!

Stability in childhood relationships sets a young person off of a pathway to success. Similarly, when there are emotional and relational deficits that must be overcome, a child can struggle.

Intermountain’s CEO, Jim Fitzgerald, describes his own stable childhood this way:

This is the difference.

     I have never once walked alone, never.

     From my first day, at my core,

     I knew that if I’m taken,

     If I’m hurt, or lose my way, or disappear,

          my people will come find me.

     Nothing can stop them.

      Knowing that has been immeasurable,

        the trans-generational inoculation against fear, shame, and doubt.


As Steff explains in the Intermountain Moment video above, YOU can be part of the secure relational base that a child needs. You can be that wherever and whenever God calls you… in the neighborhood, in church, in school, as a professional or a volunteer. Once you know the difference you can make, only one question remains: how will I make a difference?

You make a difference with your love, support and prayer for the ministry and mission of Intermountain. You make a difference when you partner with us to bring healing and advocacy to your church and community through trainings and a shared vision that the way things are is not the way things always have to be! Together, we can break the cycle of generational trauma. Contact me or reach out to Intermountain to find out what is possible.

Aug 26

“Soul Train” brings two Israeli students to Helena’s Residential Campus

Earlier this month, the students in our Residential program in Helena benefitted from the opportunity to meet two wonderful young women from Israel who came to Montana as part of the “Soul Train” program, which is supported by Bnei Akiva. Bnei Akiva is a youth movement, which inspires and empowers young Jews all over the world with a sense of commitment to the Jewish people, the Land of Israel and the Torah. A piece of their work, then, was to focus on connecting with the Jewish children on campus and in Helena, but they were also gracious enough to teach some cultural studies and share with all the children some dance, games, and pictures from Israel. All of this was made possible by the hard work in coordinating the activities and transportation by Intermountain’s Jewish Mentor, Jim Nallick.

Sarah Zalta and Ayala Kowalsky are both from Efrat, Israel, and are stayed in Montana for two weeks–one week in Helena and one in Bozeman. Sarah is a 3rd year student at a school for the arts, and Ayala is a make-up artist and dances in a dance company. Their artistry were on display in their work with the children, as they did some fantastic face painting (among other fun activities)!


Ayala (left) and Sarah (right) sharing with the children during a “get to know you” game that involved Mike-and-Ike candies!

I asked Sarah and Ayala to share a little bit about themselves and their experience in Montana and with Intermountain. Here is what they had to say:

Chris: Sarah and Ayala, we are grateful for the Soul train program making it possible for you to come and visit us and share your talents and love for Israel. What do you see as your purpose here and what do you hope to achieve in interacting with our children?

Sarah: I hope to make positive connections between Israelis and the kids from Montana and Intermountain. Also, I want to give the Jewish kids an opportunity to learn about their own identity, to connect with their Jewish roots and learn about their history.

Ayala: I see an importance of exposing the Israeli and Jewish culture around the world, especially when the media shows so many things that aren’t true!

Chris: What have been your impressions of Montana so far?

Ayala: Lots of open space, I love it! Kind of a relaxed vibe, nothing seems too rushed or stressful. Beautiful hills and views.

Sarah: I loved being in Montana, the people are very welcoming and positive. There is a very relaxed and peaceful atmosphere and it was very enjoyable (incredible view!).

Chris: What have been your impressions of Intermountain? What have you enjoyed about your interactions with our students and staff?

Jewish Mentor, Jim Nallick, and guests from Israel, Sarah and Ayala

Jewish Mentor, Jim Nallick, and guests from Israel, Sarah and Ayala

Sarah: I got a great impression of Intermountain! During my studies last year, I volunteered in a program called “Ahuzat Sarah,” which is very similar to Intermountain… just an Israeli version. The children [at Intermountain] are given the opportunity to learn and to develop themselves in the best way possible. Especially the detailed follow up on every child is so important and is really happening here. The staff pays their full attention to the children and truly cares about them. Also, the respect given to different cultures is fantastic.

Ayala: I really like that the classes aren’t too big, and it seems like each student gets a lot of attention. The teachers and supervisors have been amazing and it’s beautiful to see their connections with the students.

Chris: Anything else jump out to you about your time here at Intermountain?

Sarah: I was really amazed by the respect that is given to the Jewish kids even though there are only very few of them–and the understanding that each child is a whole world and deserves the greatest opportunities.

Ayala: I loved meeting and letting to know the students. It was exciting to hear from both staff and students that they learned new things about Israel!

Chris: Well, we are so appreciative of the passion, skill, and energy you have shard with our students and staff. Thank you so much for coming to bless our children!

Ayala: Thanks for letting us share this experience!

Sarah: Thank you for the warm hospitality in this great place and for the collaboration! Hope you guys will come visit! All the best… blessings!

a thank you note from one of our children to Sarah and Ayala

a thank you note from one of our children to Sarah and Ayala

Aug 17

Preparing for the School Year by Marvin Williams, MA, Intermountain Director of Education

NOTE: This is reposted from Intermountain’s main website and professional blog. For more resources and helpful articles visit HERE.

When a child begins a transition back to school from a long summer break most parents can find this to be a difficult time. But for parents of a child with a disability the experience brings even greater stressors. There are three key phrases to remember to help make for a positive transition back to school: plan ahead, be realistic, maintain a positive attitude.

Before school starts, do your best to plan ahead. A health checkup may be a good idea. Checking in with your physician to ensure your child’s hearing, vision and medications are within the normal ranges is important. Appointments during the summer months can alleviate the stress of having to take a child out of school during the year. Disruptions to a child’s structure and routine can attribute to a child’s dysregulation.

Review all of the information you have received from the school, such as the child’s teacher, room number and school supply requirements. Mark your calendar, make a note of important dates. Make copies of your child’s health, medical needs and emergency information for reference as you will need this to provide to the school. Shop for school clothing and supplies early as possible. If possible take your child with you so they feel like they have some input and control.


Summer routines often look different than school routines, so it is critical to re-establish the bedtime and mealtime procedures. Preparing your child for this change at least a week in advance will help maintain the child’s mental and emotional state. Turn off or reduce TV and electronic time as this will ease your child into the learning process and school routine.

Take advantage of the school open house or make an appointment to visit the school with your child so that you both have an opportunity to meet the teachers, locate the classroom, locker, lunchroom, gymnasium, etc. Meeting the staff will support the child and help relieve your own anxiety. Get to know your child’s teacher(s). Find out how they like to communicate with parents. Establish a system for consistent communication which can be person to- person, phone or email. Familiarize yourself with the other school professionals such as the special education teacher, school psychologist, counselor, social worker and (CSCT) team.

Once school begins, it is critical to continue your attentiveness to the small things as they matter to children. It helps to clear your schedule in order to be free to help your child acclimate to the school routine. Get in the habit of making their lunches the night before and involve your child, if possible. Assure your child is dressed and groomed appropriately so that they don’t draw attention to themselves. Set alarm clocks and leave plenty of extra time to ensure plenty of time to complete their morning routine.

Reducing anxiety for your child is vital to their school success. Show you care about education and share your enthusiasm for learning. Model optimism and confidence for your child. Send notes in their lunches.

At the end of day, take time to review with your child how the day went and try to react with supportive language. Help your child deal with and resolve “typical” school problems. Natural consequences are those that occur naturally every day due to our choices so help your child understand this concept. If you have questions, contact the school for clarification but do this outside the presence of your child. Again you want to model hopefulness for your child. As a parent part of your responsibility is to monitor their social interactions. This is difficult but most schools have an established process that can help with this.

If your child is on an Individual Education Plan (IEP) then meeting with the special education team is an important step in relationship and trust building with the school staff. Come prepared to share your comments and concerns about your child. Teaching strategies, instructional approaches and interventions that have been successful in the past are helpful as well as sharing their likes and dislikes and treatment needs. If you have relevant information and or documents that could be helpful, be sure to bring a copy to the meeting. It is important to remember that accommodations are supports designed to give a student with a disability an equal opportunity to participate and benefit from school. They are intended to reduce or even eliminate the effect of a student’s disability and NOT to reduce learning expectations.

Ask questions when you don’t understand or have concerns regarding your child’s education and be open to the school staff suggestions regarding your child’s learning needs, challenges and accommodations.

Most of all, remember that being present shows the child you care about their education and in turn the child feels cared about.

Marvin Williams, MA, has been the Director of Education at Intermountain for 7 years. He holds a Master of Art in Education from Montana State–Billings and a BA from Eastern Montana College. Marvin has extended experience as an educator for children with special needs and served as the Special Education Director in the Helena School District previous to coming to Intermountain School.

Aug 12

Banners beautify Van Orsdel Commons and chapel

We are grateful for the tangible ways that the support from our faith-based supporters and churches can be seen in our new chapel space in Van Orsdel Commons. One of the more obvious examples of this support came in the form of the beautiful banners that came from all around Montana and now adorn the rafters in the main gathering space. We recently received the following note from Trudi Schmidt, Intermountain Board of Directors member, on behalf of the children of her church:

“This banner was made by elementary age children who attend New Hope Lutheran Church, Great Falls, Montana. The children made the banner during the school year of 2017-2018. Pastor Tammy Bull asked them if they would like to donate their banner to Intermountain and they thought that was a great idea. Presented to Intermountain June 1, 2018.”

The banner has a whimsical and colorful depiction of God’s creation story, complete with fish, elephants, and smiling flowers! I am thankful for the connection our children sense when they see the handiwork of children from the churches that support the ministry. It is an encouragement to them (and to me!) to feel their love, support, and prayers.

This beautiful banner from the children of New Hope Lutheran Church (Great Falls, MT) now hangs proudly in Van Orsdel Commons and chapel

This beautiful banner from the children of New Hope Lutheran Church (Great Falls, MT) now hangs proudly in Van Orsdel Commons and chapel

Jul 28

Van Orsdel UMC (Havre) Youth provide an AWESOME Day Camp VBS for campus!

This week, Intermountain hosted twenty youth and adult volunteers from Van Orsdel United Methodist Church. The group had visited last November, while the Van Orsdel Commons and chapel was still in construction, and I invited them back to do VBS… and they said YES!

The group came and shared a modified version of the VBS curriculum by Group called “Shipwrecked,” complete with games, music, special art projects and engaging Bible lessons. I purchased t-shirts for the kids that carried a major theme for the week, that Jesus rescues… so the shirts read, “My Lifeguard Walks on Water!”

The shirt reads, "My Lifeguard Walks On Water: VBS Day Camp 2018"

The shirt reads, “My Lifeguard Walks On Water: VBS Day Camp 2018″

In addition to the VBS Day Camp, other helpers made themselves useful around campus. Under the leadership and direction of Tina Thomas, the group took one afternoon to help revitalize the chapel garden space. I was able to obtain a Thrivent Action Grant that provided funds for the raised beds, ground cover and mulch!

Throughout the week, there were plenty of opportunities to learn about how to do ministry with a group of children who have significant trauma-related issues. For instance, one of the “KidVid” videos that Group Publishing prepared focused on the story of an African child that had been abandoned. I had to explain that if we showed that video, it would be too difficult for a number of our children whose trauma-stories are too similar to that depicted on the video. As youth leader Tina Thomas reflected, “I think we had a lot of good information from you [Chaplain Chris] about things to avoid and things that would work well. I appreciated being able to take time with the VOUMC kids to give them alternative suggestions [to aspects of the curriculum that might re-traumatize]!”

The youth and their leaders had a wonderful time with the children and staff of Intermountain. Here are a few of their comments at the end of the week:

  • “The best thing was having the opportunity to meet the kids… the hardest thing will be leaving them.” –Stanley
  • “I would tell any church considering volunteering at Intermountain that if you get the opportunity to come and spend time or help these kids in any way, you definitely should… it was a really fun and amazing time.” –Ivy
  • “The hardest thing was that one of the Intermountain kids had a break down, but the adults in our group handled it and are so great with all the kids… I really liked just being able to meet and interact with the kids; it was a great experience.” –Christina
  • “I really enjoyed my time and getting to know some the kids.” –Charles
  • “I liked how the Intermountain kids had VERY good manners. They would always say please and thank you and were very polite!” –Lizzi
  • “The best thing that happened at Intermountain happened on the first day of camp. After we had been to all the stations, all the kids came to me and asked, ‘Are you going to be here tomorrow?’ It made me happy to know the kids were eager to see us again.” –Molly

Every year between late July and the second week of August, we invite a guest group from one of our many ministry partners to come to campus and host our VBS Day Camp program. Perhaps your church or youth group would like to consider bringing the program in 2019? If so, it’s never too early to let me know!

Here are a few pictures from the week:


The group added prayers to the inside of the raised beds


Getting the Imagination Station set up!


setting up on Monday


writing prayers for the children and for Intermountain’s ministry


Group photo at the beginning of Day Camp


putting mulch down around the raspberries


A full team effort!

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