Montana State University Billings is a place of teaching and learning. But elements of both often happen outside of the classroom.
One recent case in point involves seemingly incongruous elements: A handful of college students in a communications class; a group project assignment; a local plumbing supply company; and a South Billings church where only air was coming from the hot water faucets.
The MSU Billings students learned how to pull together for a cause and the church learned the power of community.
“At first we thought this was an impossible task,” said Amanda Grubbs, a junior communications and theater major from Billings. “But once you get a certain number of people together and focus on reaching a goal, you can get it done in no time.”
It all started a few weeks ago in a 200-level communications class that deals with group dynamics. As part of the class, the groups were told to find a local need that could be addressed with a collaborative, solutions-oriented process. The group of Grubbs and fellow juniors Steve Joiner, Chase Robertson, Leah Jones and Lisa Sobolewski teamed up and were determined to find something that would be different from efforts already under way in various social service sectors.
After running through some ideas that didn’t gain traction, Jones, who moved to Billings in May with her husband to serve as pastor of the Heritage Christian Center, noted the church has been operating without hot water.
Jones said she was hesitant to even bring up the need because it would appear self-serving. But Grubbs said the group decided working to provide a hot water heater for a congregation of 65 people and a church that serves as a gathering point on that part of town only made sense. It was an easy decision to make, she said, since the group would be able to relate the idea to the class assignment and meet the needs of a specific part of the community.
The church has potluck dinners and the multipurpose room serves as a place for potlucks or other events as well as for two dozen children every week for Sunday School. The problem was, water had to be microwaved in one-gallon increments for five minutes at a time to get any hot water to clean things up.
More recently, the church was hit by vandals and nearly every outside window was broken. Money needed to be directed to get new windows, which made getting a professionally installed water heater – quoted at about $2,000 – was out of the question.
Still, Jones didn’t want to come across as pushing her own agenda.
“Then she missed class one day so that’s when we decided we would do Leah’s project,” Grubbs said, smiling broadly.
That got the ball rolling in late November. One person in the group had some plumbing background and contacted various vendors about parts that would put a new water heater in the church basement. Others in the group worked to find a business to donate a water heating unit.
“The problem was we were approaching Black Friday (the post-Thanksgiving day of sales bonanzas) and nobody wanted to take this on,” Grubbs said.
Then, after a late-November inquiry, Mountain Supply Co., a plumbing wholesale/retail company in Billings, stepped forward. The company donated a 40-gallon valued at $465 to the students. With another $130 in parts from another donor, the water heater was installed this month in a tight space on the western edge of the basement.
Now, as the Joneses plan for this year’s Christmas play, hot water will arrive via the tap and clean-ups will be easy and any extra funds can be channeled into much-needed roof repairs.