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Liz Montgomery: ‘Family is everything’

| August 18, 2020 12:28 PM

Liz Montgomery: ‘Family is everything’

By DEVIN WEEKS

Staff Writer

Meet Liz Montgomery, a lifelong North Idaho resident, mother, sister, grandmother, friend, survivor and devoted member of the Coeur d’Alene community. She loves to garden, read, travel, boat and spend time with her family and friends.Generation: I really do not describe myself with any of the typical labels. I feel like a lot of the time, the labels are used to reinforce negative stereotypes about a certain group of people. Nonetheless, my age puts in the Gen X category.

Career and community involvement:

I graduated from the University of Idaho in 2000 with an elementary school teaching degree. My first teaching position was in Avery, where I taught fourth-through-eighth grade. In 2003, I began teaching preschool at the Early Childhood Learning Center in Plummer. In 2010, I was hired as a program coordinator for Trinity Group Homes, a group home for adults with severe and persistent mental illness. In 2012, I began the extremely rewarding work of home visiting with Mountain States Early Head Start. I absolutely loved this work as I met with families who were expecting babies and with children under age 3. Also in 2012, I founded the Inland Northwest SIDS Foundation (INWSIDS) and began educating families on the importance of safe infant sleep and providing support to others who have had the same devastating experience I had when my son Mason died. Mason died in 2002 when he rolled into the back of a couch he was napping on and suffocated. His death is the reason why INWSIDS was started. In 2002, we did not know about safe infant sleep. In fact, the safe sleep recommendations were not even created until 2012. I have made it my life mission to educate and train parents, grandparents, caregivers, first-responders and medical professionals on safe sleep so no one will experience the pain and heartbreak my family and friends continue to suffer. The initial support INWSIDS received from our community was nothing short of amazing, and in 2017 I was able to begin working for INWSIDS full time. In 2019, INWSIDS and Northwest Infant Survival and SIDS Alliance decided to merge to better serve the Northwest with safe infant sleep education and support for those who have suffered a pregnancy, infant or child loss. In 2020, Safe Start, Infant and Child Health and safety was born as we felt the need to move to a name that encompasses everything that INWSIDS had become. Safe Start now provides the Northwest with education on safe infant sleep and child passenger safety and will soon be providing first aid and CPR training as well.

Next to my family, my community is especially important to me. Community is what brings everyone together for the better. I truly believe for a community to be successful and whole, everyone must work together by bringing their treasures and talents to the table. I have always been incredibly involved in my community. I was at one time the president of the North Idaho Homeless Coalition, a member of the Spokane Homeless Coalition, a board member of Trinity Group Homes and a board member of the Hayden Chamber of Commerce. I currently serve on the board of Heritage Health and am the secretary for Post Falls Rotary. I also serve on Panhandle Health’s Nurse Family Partnership Community Advisory Board and am an active member of Impact Club CDA. Over the last few years I have received the Coeur d’Alene Soroptomists Woman of Distinction Award, Idaho Business Journal Idaho Woman of the Year nominee, Spokesman Review “Changemaker” and in May, I was awarded the 2020 United Way of North Idaho Non-Profit Professional of the Year.

Parental status:

I have a 24-year-old daughter, Holly, a 5-year old grandson, Roman, a 16-year-old stepson Cadeyn and my son Mason, who will always be 5 months old. I am also a very proud aunt to Emma Leigh, Isadora, Lillian and Delaney!

1. How are things going with your nonprofit, and when/why did you rebrand from the INW SIDS Foundation to Safe Start?

In 2018, we began merger discussions with a very similar nonprofit, actually the nonprofit that provided me support after my son’s death, about how we could avoid duplicating services, decrease overall costs and more effectively serve the Northwest. In 2019 INWSIDS and Northwest Infant Survival and SIDS Alliance (NISSA) officially merged and became NISSA. NISSA has an absolutely amazing history and has been supporting families in the Northwest since 1961, so we decided to operate as NISSA and have individual programs that focus on the different services that we provide.

Safe Start is our education and training program that serves the Northwest with safe infant sleep and car seat safety education and training. We also are able to provide safe sleep environments, car seats and other resources to families who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford a safe crib or car seat. Education is paramount to our injury reduction mission, so resources are always distributed with the necessary education to keep kids safe. We felt the rebrand was important because we had grown so much and nor provided so many more services that just infant sleep education and bereavement services.

2. What have you been doing to get through the pandemic and still be available for the families you support?

So much of what we do is based on face-to-face interactions and building relationships with caregivers, parents, grandparents and medical professionals. Our Safe Sleep 101 class pre-COVID generally consisted of an hour-and-a-half class with anywhere from 14 to 30 people in our office in Midtown Coeur d’Alene, and our car seat checks were 45 minutes of one-on-one time spent with one of our certified car seat techs working side by side in the tight confines of cars. Obviously, we had to adjust the way we deliver our education as we have always felt that since we are in the health and safety arena we need to be adhering to best practice, whether it’s the information taught in class or the health and safety protocols we used to ensure the safety of myself, our staff and the community we serve.

We moved all our classes to Zoom at the end of March and we’ve been very pleased with our outreach. Pre-COVID, we would only have families from Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls, Hayden and surrounding areas attend. Now it’s not uncommon for families to join us from Lewiston, Boise, Washington and even the East Coast. Online classes have given us the ability to reach many more families!

Our car seat program director, since it’s so much more hands-on and in close quarters, has developed protocols and procedures that will allow us to resume in-person car seat checks, safely minimizing the amount of danger to our staff, volunteers and community members we come in contact with. We currently offer car seat checks via Zoom and hope to return to in-person checks this fall. It is all dependent upon our ability to keep our volunteers, staff and the families we serve safe.

Going forward, we will definitely have more of an online presence with our education classes and training. While it’s been challenging, I believe that we are learning how to better reach families by eliminating barriers such as transportation and child care. I am very excited for the future of Safe Start’s educational programs! If anyone would like to take our Safe Sleep 101 class, register at no cost: www.safestartnw.org

3. What would you like people to know about the Night under the Stars, taking place Aug. 19, and can we still buy a ticket?

I would like everyone to know NISSA is primarily self funded. We receive a grant from the state of Idaho for some car seat related expenses, but in the grand scheme of things, this year it will be less than 2% of our total budget. This means that we essentially receive no federal or state funding, so we must raise 98% of our budget to keep the door open and do what we do. Night Under the Stars is how we do that. Night Under the Stars began in 2016 when we decided to put on a fundraiser and see if anybody would show up. They did! And it really became a huge hit, an exclusive event everyone looks forward to each year. Our premier event has been sold out every single year and just seems to get better and better each year.

We absolutely could not put on this event without our amazingly generous community. From our sponsors to our incredible business community to our unfailing loyal supporters and our fantastic group of volunteers, the night wouldn’t be possible without the contributions from everyone involved. I’d like to highlight just a few! Elk Point is our venue sponsor, they have been since we started; Brent and Ginny have been amazing to us and we are so thankful to them; Bankcda has been our naming sponsor from day one and has always stepped up any time we need anything.; Next Gen Electric, Lancaster Market, R & J Landscaping and First Interstate Bank have also played critical roles in this year’s event.

We do still have a few tickets available. We have cut down the number of guests that we are able to accommodate this year in order to ensure there is space available for appropriate physical distancing measures. This year’s event is going to be paramount! We have an open beer and wine bar, plated and served barbecue dinner, small silent auction and incredible live auction and live music from Luke Yates, all courtesy of our amazing community! It is going to be a fantastic evening! Visit www.safestartnw.org for tickets!

4. What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?

I am proud to be of Polish and Swedish descent. My Polish grandmother taught me how to make pasties (meat hand pies) and my Swedish grandmother taught me how to make a Swedish tea ring. In turn, I have taught my daughter and nieces the recipes too. Without fail, every year, I bake pasties in the spring and fall and a beautiful Swedish tea ring for Christmas morning breakfast. Passing on tradition is what continues to tie our family together.

5. When life gets hard, what gets you through?

Family. Family is everything to me. I am so lucky to live within one hour of both of my siblings, my daughter and her family and my parents. We get together at least once a week and make it a priority to take care of one another.

My parents, John and Barb, who never let me take the easy way out, who always told me I could be whatever I wanted no matter the obstacles and who encourage me to always work hard, finish what I start and family is always first!

My talented, accomplished sister Andrea, who I know I can count on for anything and everything, including an impromptu martini the at Oval Office, and my brother Cody I can always count on for a good laugh and encouragement, and of course my beautiful nieces who make me so very proud in all that they do!

Holly, my lovely daughter, is a thoughtful, caring and loving person. I’m proud to be a mother and of course grandmother to Roman.

Brian, my life partner, is there for me when I finish talking with parents whose child has just died, listens to me sob after getting off the phone with the Kootenai County Coroner for the third time in a month, travels the country with me to train hospitals on safe sleep, designs my presentations, asks the tough questions and is there for me when I need it the most.

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Devin Weeks, reporter 208-664-8176 x 1111

www.cdapress.com. https://twitter.com/DevinCDAPress