High school student Claire Smith from the Hun School of Princeton, NJ penned a reflection on her group service-learning experience with Global Volunteers in Montana. This story is reprinted with permission from Phillyburbs.com.
By Claire Smith
I had one of the most fulfilling and fantastic experiences of my life working among the residents of the Blackfeet Reservation in Browning, Montana.
I learned so much, from traditional games to Blackfeet history to how to paint a fence and sand a deck. I got to try traditional fry bread, which was delicious enough alone, but made better with cherry-huckleberry jam. I even recanted my fear of kickball and played the game with a bunch of young students at day camp.
My fellow volunteers, made up of 16 students and teachers from my school, bonded, and we are so happy we went.
The Journey Begins
On the day we left home, I arose, bleary-eyed, at 4 in the morning, to meet up with my team before we departed for Philadelphia International Airport. My mind was a sea of emotion. I was so excited to visit a new state, meet new people and help out as much as possible.
When we arrived at the airport, one of my friends realized she had left her suitcase on the Hun-bound bus, which immediately became a long-standing gag among the team. We had a brief layover in Minneapolis-St. Paul, and then flew to Great Falls, Montana.
There, we met up with our team leader, Diane, from Global Volunteers. We drove for two and a half hours to Browning, where I learned the “prairie dogs” we kept seeing were actually called “13-lined ground squirrels,” but referred to in Browning, our host community, as “gophers.”
In Browning, the cultural and political center of the Blackfeet Reservation, we lodged at the Blackfeet Community College and took our meals at Eagle Shield, an assisted-living community. Each meal was delicious, filling and a true mesh of traditional Blackfeet and comfort foods, like spaghetti and meatballs.
saw St. Mary Lake, with its breathtaking views, and drove around taking pictures. It’s a gorgeous park and a great start to the week.
On Monday, we outlined our goals and characteristics we wanted to represent and strive to achieve for the week. It was inspirational and funny, especially when one of our teachers proclaimed his goal to be “to see a grizzly bear.” We later had a community meeting, where various members of the community assembled to describe what they needed help with.
We could choose between the Traditional Games Society, which preserved native games; Eagle Shield, where we cooked and served seniors; De La Salle camp, where we worked with children; the Blackfeet Community College library; and the Boys and Girls Club, where we had to clean up.
I chose De La Salle first, where I went to help children. As we arrived at lunchtime, we ate with the children, and the students decided they wanted to play kickball, reminding me of my childhood fear of team sports. My fears were conquered when I saw everyone around me enjoying themselves and realized the children were happy to see us. I even scored a run for my team, which I had never done before.
The following day, Tuesday, I was scheduled to work at Eagle Shield, but as it was tribal Election Day, we could only work at specific locations. I volunteered to paint a fence, which was not as easy as it looks, and work in the library in the afternoon. At the library, my friend, Sherry, and I researched articles on the Blackfeet Nation. It was sometimes painstaking, but the time flew, and we enjoyed ourselves.
On Wednesday, it was back to painting, as we all went to paint community member Miss Ellen’s house. Miss Ellen has arthritis, so she needed help fixing up her home. I was placed on sanding her front walkway with my French teacher, another chaperone. At the end of the day, her house looked beautiful, and she served us delicious, homemade fry bread with cherry-huckleberry jam. We all felt good helping Miss Ellen, no matter how tired or paint-stained we were.
Thursday, some of us went to Eagle Shield and we served Indian tacos, which are delectable combinations of fry bread, chili, lettuce, tomato, cheese and onions. We had them later for dinner. That afternoon, we headed back to the library, where we sight-read and sorted books using the Library of Congress system.
On Friday, our last day of service, I went to the Traditional Games Society, which restored traditional games to the community. I helped make hoops for a game where the objective was to get the hoop on the stick, and I whittled wood for the notorious “run and scream” game. In run and scream, one takes a stick and runs for as long as he or she can scream with one breath. It is very therapeutic, and I hope I would have gotten farther if I hadn’t started laughing!
Friday night was our trip to Deboo’s Ranch, where we had the option to either go horseback riding or hiking. I chose hiking, so my friend Sherry joined my French teacher and I for a walk around their large, beautiful property. One of their new puppies followed us, leading to a cute, memorable experience.
Later, we had a barbecue, reminisced about the week, jumped on the trampoline, played with the dogs and had a great night. Besides volunteering, we had many memories from our free time, such as playing many rounds of Mafia at midnight and meeting local people such as Mr. Tailfeathers, who showed us what he wore to traditional Indian celebrations.
I feel enriched by spending the week with the Blackfeet people, and I recommend Global Volunteers to others looking for a phenomenal way to spend a week.
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