By Barbara Dills
Sopris Sun Correspondent
For the past five years, the Carbondale-based Jaywalker Solutions Program has been taking program clients—men in early recovery from the disease of addiction—to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in southwestern South Dakota to do volunteer service work. The project is a partnership with Pine Ridge-based organization Re-Member, whose name is a play on words addressing both the need to remember the history of what occurred in the past to Indian people and, in the words of Re-Member Director, Ted Skantze, “to put back together what’s broken.”
Now in its 17th year, Re-Member hosts groups of volunteers from around the country and the world at their center near the town of Pine Ridge, accommodating anywhere from 40 to 65 people at a time for a total of 1,200-1,500 volunteers per year. Jaywalker’s clients have participated in projects that include repairing trailers, putting in outhouses, harvesting food in community gardens, and building bunk beds, among others. “But we don’t just bang boards,” Skantze told The Sopris Sun. Volunteers are provided with nightly opportunities to hear speakers from the reservation community and to learn about Lakota history and culture. They may attend local cultural events like pow wows. At Re-Member, volunteers work side-by-side with people from the tribal community. “We call it a life-changing experience for everyone,” said Skantze. “We stand with people. Not in front or behind them.”
Jaywalker Solutions Program Director Dan Reed says that for clients participating in Jaywalker’s 90-day transitional living program, time spent at Pine Ridge, “has proven to be probably the most profound experience these clients have with us. If they are fortunate enough to be at Jaywalker when we do a trip to Pine Ridge, it’s something they take with them the rest of their lives.” Witnessing the poverty on the reservation, as well as experiencing being a minority oneself, can be tough for some to process, however. “Our whole purpose in taking them there is to give them some perspective. ‘OK, you have some issues that you’re dealing with. Take a look at this. You’re not alone. Everybody is experiencing something. And the solution to everyone’s problems is to reach out and help one another,’” said Reed. “When we get them involved like this, it’s profound. The key is really the relationships forged with people there.”
Jaywalker Owner Bob Ferguson went along to Pine Ridge on a recent Jaywalker trip and was impressed by what he saw. So when Re-Member Director Skantze asked Reed what Jaywalker was planning to do with the Jaywalker Big Bus when it was ready to be retired, Reed and Ferguson hatched a plan to donate it. Skantze traveled to Carbondale last week, and on Dec. 10, with a mere 106,000 miles on its odometer (almost brand new by reservation standards), the 15-passenger Big Bus rolled out of town, headed back to Pine Ridge, this time for good. It will be used to transport Re-Member volunteers to service projects, bring local speakers to the center, and made available for other community needs. “I guess the Big Bus just wanted to be a Rez Bus,” quipped Reed. Added Skantze, “The next time you see it, it will probably be painted up, covered by bumper stickers, and wearing a feather or two.”
For more information on Re-Member, visit www.re-member.org.