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photo by Joe Duggan

The Wahoo Middle School student council is leading a coat drive they hope will gather at least 250 coats for Native people on reservations in South Dakota. Council members are (top from left) Aubrey Voboril, Sadie Murren, (bottom from left) Alison Brodhal, Laura Harris and Sydney Hancock.

Wahoo Middle School Students Will Send Warm Wishes to Natives

A few weeks ago, Aubrey Voboril knew nothing about the plight of many Native people in South Dakota.

Since then, the eighth-grader at Wahoo Middle School has learned about double-digit rates of poverty and unemployment on the Pine Ridge and Crow Creek reservations.

But hearing that some children don’t even have winter coats gave the statistics deeper meaning.

“That kind of inspired me,” she said. “They’re in a lot of need of help and they don’t have very much. I thought, I wouldn’t be able to survive without a coat.”

Aubrey’s school counselor asked if the student council might sponsor a holiday coat drive. So Aubrey, the council president, made a pitch to her fellow officers, Sadie Murren, Alison Brodahl, Laura Harris and Sydney Hancock.

They voted on it.

“There wasn’t one person who didn’t want to help,” Aubrey said.

Now the entire middle school of 200 students in grades six through eight is collecting gently used coats, scarves, hats and gloves. They set a goal of 250 coats by Dec. 15. In the first week, they gathered about 50.

The coats will likely end up at the Crow Creek Reservation north of Chamberlain, home to about 3,800 Dakota Sioux people. More than half of reservation residents lived in poverty in 2000, the latest statistics available through the U.S. Census Bureau.

Unemployment on the reservation is 95 percent, said Kitty Wells, a tribal member who is executive secretary for the tribal chairman.

Fort Thompson, the main reservation town, has one grocery store, one gas station and no thrift shop. So the need for cold weather clothing is severe, especially for the roughly 1,000 children who live there, Wells said.

The Dakota people will be touched by the kindness of Nebraska students they’ve never met, she said.

“I don’t know how we’re going to be able to thank them,” she said.

Ann Egr, the school counselor and faculty co-sponsor of the student council, expects the students will meet or exceed their goal. For example, students collected more food than predicted for the community food bank and they far exceeded the goal for care packages sent to U.S. servicemen and women.

“This is a group that’s very energetic and excited, and they’re such great, positive leaders,” Egr said.

One way they generate excitement is through friendly competition. Each of the school’s nine home rooms will try to collect the most coats by the deadline.

The winners will get a pizza party courtesy of Carol and Dennis McDonald, a retired couple from Swedeburg.

The McDonalds belong to a nonprofit advocacy group called One Spirit, a virtual community of volunteers who have raised money for food, heating and work programs on Lakota and Dakota reservations in South Dakota. The couple will use proceeds from online auctions to pay for gas, and possibly vehicle rental, to deliver the coats before Christmas.

Jeri Baker, director of the Richmond, Va.-based organization, said the Wahoo coats will be pooled with other donated clothing. One Spirit has contacts on the reservation to make sure the coats get to the right people.

Any extra winter clothing will be donated to the Pine Ridge Reservation along the northwestern Nebraska border.

“I think it’s wonderful,” Baker said of the coat drive. “There are too many people in the United States who have no idea how the Natives live on reservations. We hear a lot about casinos, but we don’t hear a lot about the poverty and the conditions in which they live.”

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Wahoo Students Will Send Warm Wishes to Natives

Mrs. Starkrstark@esu2.orgWahooTeacher

Dec 04, 2007

This group of kids is amazing. They are beginning to see there are people in the world other than their little groups and are growing quickly in maturity and awareness. They want to help others and are learning how to do it. Way to go 8th grade WMS students! Keep it up and.... "Get on the Bus!"