I am blessed to have been raised in Billings and educated in School District 2. My parents owned The Happy Diner restaurant. Both worked outside of our home, so throughout grade school and much of junior high, I spent my days after school at The Happy Diner. Growing up, I learned from the employees and regular customers the value of community. As Charles Swindoll once said, “Every day of our lives we make deposits into the memory banks of our children.”

A community is much more than buildings and roads. In a community, we invest in each other and all that makes life better for all of us. A living, breathing community invests in the present and future well-being of its citizens.

We have much to be proud of in Billings. We have leaders who have invested wisely in our trail system, our environmentally friendly buildings like our public library, our affordable housing, our landfill, our roads, our medical facilities, our downtown, and so much more.

However, they seem to have lost sight of the most important asset to the well-being of the future of our community: our children.

There is a critical need for our city leaders to be focused on the safety and well-being of our children. Record numbers of children are suffering in our community:

  • 621 children enrolled in School District 2 during the 2016 – 2017 school year were identified as homeless.
  • 9 schools within School District 2 qualify for all the students to receive a free lunch, but only 2 schools have been participating.
  • More than 900 children are in our foster care system.
  • According to the FBI, human trafficking is so significant in Billings that the potential exists for opening a case a day. Among the most vulnerable populations to traffickers are kids in foster care, homeless or runaway youth, and kids who are hungry for food, attention, or love.

As the founder of Operation: Billings Child, I lead a community program that provides needed items and gifts for homeless youth enrolled in School District 2; as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer, I am a voice for foster children in our court system; as a co-founder of the Yellowstone County Area Human Trafficking Task Force, I help lead a community effort to fight human trafficking. In that role, I work with more than 300 citizens who represent 80+ NGOs, local businesses, faith-based organizations, and government agencies including city, county, state, and federal law enforcement agencies and prosecutors.

With a master’s degree in business administration, I understand the value of sound investments.

As a City Council member dedicated to the well-being of our children, I will work hard to invest in the safety, health, education, and cultural opportunities for our children.

Billings is our home. Its future is our children. With your support and working together, let’s make the future bright for them, so it will be happy and prosperous for us all.

Penny Ronning is a candidate for the Ward 4 seat in the Sept. 12 Billings Primary Election.