Welcome Home! (To me…)
Welcome back! I’m finally honer from ten days away, and let me tell you, the first night in my own bed was glorious.
Before I go any deeper, however, I have to throw a HUGE thank you to Somer, over at Vedged Out, and Nick, at Happy to be a Table of Two, for covering for me while I was away. You both totally crushed it, and for me to ask for better buds would just be greedy.
“Where was I?” you ask. Well, let me tell you. To start, I spent seven days on the Winnebago Indian reservation, in Nebraska. Every year I spend a week with my church’s youth group doing service through a program called ‘Young Neighbors in Action.’
YNIA is a program that runs nation-wide, getting young people, specifically high school students, to do service at sites that are well run, well prepared for lots of people, and carefully managed. This year was my third trip as a chaperone for my parish’s Young Neighbors trip, and, for some reason I can’t quite fathom, they wanted me to be the “lead chaperone.”
Now, I work pretty hard at being immature, which I think is why the kids like me, but nine sets of parents trusted me to come back with nine children. And not just any nine children, but their nine children, which seems unfair to me. (I mean I don’t have kids, but they’re all pretty much the same, right? I mean, what’s the difference between a “Katie” and a “Heather”? You got a girl, didn’t you?)
Two years ago, I went to Chicago with a large group of young people, (14, I believe) and I was completely changed by the experience. My group served at St. Columbanus parish in one of the largest food pantries in the nation. I cannot say enough good things about Ms. LaVerne Morris, who runs the food pantry. She is kind, strong, intelligent, and so incredible big hearted that I can’t spend the time here to explain.
Last year, I spent a week with another large-ish group (and again, they made me the “lead chaperon” for some reason). We served at The Little Schoolhouse, in Elizabeth, NJ, which I discussed about a year ago here.
This year, the kids chose to do their service in Nebraska, on the Winnebago Indian Reservation.
At first, I think we all expected the tribe to be one of two options. 1. Crushing, inconsolable poverty, or 2. almost traditional Native American lifestyle.
We found neither. The Winnebago tribe of Nebraska (there is another Winnebago tribe that uses their language name, Hoocąk, pronounced Ho-Chunk, in Wisconsin) is one of the most affluent Indian tribes in the United States. Mind you, I use “affluent” here in relative terms. The Winnebago reservation is immediately north of the Omaha reservation, and the Omaha Indians have roughly 70% unemployment, while the Winnebagos only have about 15%.
As we entered the town of Winnebago, on the reservation, all of the kids and I were taken aback at how much it looked like any rural town. There was very little to sperate it out from any other town in Nebraska on the surface.
We pulled into St. Augustine’s Mission, where we would be staying, and I was immediately taken with the church itself.
The church looked like a mission church. I mean, I live on the East Coast. We pretty much have two types of churches here, really old fieldstone, and really new glass and steel. Not much in between.
The programming was all based on Catholic Social Teaching, which, if you’ve never heard of it, and you’re Christian (not just Catholic) you really should take a look. THe work, however, was where we all tried as a group to live the tenets of social justice.
Our group worked with the Winnebago Housing Authority, which provides between 70-80% of the housing on the reservation. The vast majority of it is communally owned, and so when people move out, they often are not thrilled about moving, so homes get. . . neglected. There remains a six month – one year waiting list to get into HA housing though, so once one person moves out, homes have to be cleaned, painted, renovated, and prepared for new tenants. That’s where we came in.
When we arrived at this house, it had a number of holes in the walls, a room full of trash, a half full refrigerator, and every surface needed to be repainted. When we left, the employees of the Housing Authority had to replace the light fixtures before someone could move it. It was truly gratifying to know that this home, which had been vacant for three months, would have remained so had we not arrived. We didn’t finish the second house we began working on, but we left knowing that the next group to come in would finish, and that because of our collective service to those who needed it, two Winnebago families would be able to move into new homes.
This isn’t to say that all we did was work in a house. We had two wonderful guest speakers, and the food, while never wonderful, was at least good. The cooks were also kind enough to always make sure that there was a vegan option for everything. sometimes the vegan option was rice and overcooked veggies, but Thursday and Friday they specially made frybread for me that didn’t have any powdered milk in it, and they went out and specially bought soy milk so that I could have cereal in the morning for breakfast.
The food was never a highlight for me, however. I got a huge thrill out of seeing a small family of bison just a block away from the mission, and I even downloaded an app for learning the language.