Ellen Shenkarow decided to spend her time in retirement helping where necessary through volunteer work. She volunteers with Catholic Social Services helping refugees and asylum seekers in Tucson, Arizona. This summer Ellen, a retired ESL teacher, wanted to spread the spirit of “doing good” with her family and teach her grandson what life is like for others in a different culture while expanding his worldview. Ellen explains here how volunteering in Montana helped her; her husband, Mark; and her grandson, Max; bond while volunteering and working with the Blackfeet people.
What motivated you to participate in this service opportunity in Montana?
We were looking for a volunteer program that we could do with our grandson Max, who celebrated his bar mitzvah in February. We wanted a location inside the U.S., so Max would be aware that there is poverty right here in this country. I didn’t know what to expect, but the service program in Montana exceeded what I could have imagined.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but the service program in Montana exceeded what I could have imagined.”– Ellen Shenkarow
Why did you feel it was important for Max to participate in an experience like this?
Max has traveled all over the world and already volunteers in his community. We felt that this experience would help my grandson to look beyond his own environment and know that not only is there a need, but also that he can truly make a difference. I think Max became aware that the Blackfeet people are part of an old and sacred culture, that they are spiritual, and maybe that there are similarities with Jewish tradition.
“We felt that this experience would help my grandson to look beyond his own environment and know that not only is there a need, but also that he can truly make a difference.”– Ellen Shenkarow
What have you learned from this experience?
I definitely became aware of the storytelling tradition, the dancing, the sweat lodge, the importance of regalia in dancing, and the pride that Blackfeet have in their traditions and that they are taking responsibility for their people.
What does it mean to you to share this experience with your husband and grandson?
This experience has been a highlight in my life — to be able to share with my husband, Mark, and our grandson Max. I think Max and Mark bonded even more because they slept in an upper and lower bunk together. To go through the orientation and participate in helping out at the school library, serving food to the elderly, and playing cards at the assisted living center together were opportunities that cannot be duplicated. I feel extremely fortunate that we are able to be part of Global Volunteers.
“This experience has been a highlight in my life — to be able to share with my husband Mark and our grandson Max.”– Ellen Shenkarow
Do you think you could have had a similar family experience at home?
Not really — too many familiar things surround us. Removing the everyday experience for all of us is partly what made this week so meaningful. Max lives in California and so we don’t see him every day, either. It was wonderful to volunteer in another location – away from his home and ours – to focus on service and our time together.
What can you say about the people with whom you worked in Montana?
I was surprised by how forthcoming some of the Blackfeet were with us. That was pretty special. Telling us about what to do to complete a work assignment and also in the evenings talking to us about spirituality and life experiences. The Blackfeet were simply wonderful to work with and learn from. In addition, the other volunteers were very special. I know Max has made friends that he will stay in touch with and Mark and I have, too. That was definitely an added bonus. Our Team Leader, Dana, was the most special person. At such a young age, she really has maturity and the ability to bring people together.
“The Blackfeet were simply wonderful to work with and learn from.”– Ellen Shenkarow
Volunteer on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation
Service programs on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana are scheduled for nearly every week from June through August. Contact one of our expert Volunteer Coordinators at 800-487-1074.