Altruistic Overachievers Upper Columbia Academy Students Reach Out To The Navajo Nation
First they brought their good deeds to one of Spokane’s most downtrodden neighborhoods.
Now they’re headed for one of the country’s worst.
The teenagers of Upper Columbia Academy are overachievers among altruists, prolific proselytizers of their Seventh-day Adventist faith.
The students of this boarding school, an oasis in a huge Palouse wheat field, are into community service, not gang fights and graffiti.
In two weeks, they will take their hearts to the Navajo Nation on the Utah-Arizona border.
“It’s refreshing to work with such highquality kids of such good values,” academy teacher Mike Martling says.
Last fall, several of the students made weekly visits to Spokane’s West First neighborhood. They handed out soup and sandwiches to homeless alcoholics and drug addicts.
A few months later, they began collecting blankets and clothes for the Navajos. Last week, they shipped 850 pounds of donated items to the northeastern part of the reservation.
On March 15 they’ll get to meet some of the recipients.
Thirty of the kids will pile into a bus with a half dozen adults for a 20-hour ride to Monument Valley, Utah.
For nine days, they will help repair hogans - the Navajo’s mud and timber dwellings - and volunteer at the reservation hospital, the only health care facility within 100 miles.
Eighteen-year-old senior Sara Avery of Sandpoint eagerly awaits exploring a different culture and sharing her own.
“Instead of just sitting around and talking about it, you’re doing it,” she says. “It teaches you about caring and accepting other people who don’t have as much.”
The academy could not have selected a more needy people.
About 80 percent of the Navajos fall below the federal poverty line. Few have indoor plumbing, running water or electricity.
“The poverty is unbelievable,” says Martling, who visited at Christmas.
His brother-in-law, Ray Carney, is the administrator of Monument Valley Hospital, the only North American mission hospital operated by the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Martling’s sister, Dawn Carney, runs the hospital’s health foundation.
Outside the hospital is a pump that serves as the only drinking water source on the northern part of the reservation.
It took the Carneys two years to gain the trust of the Navajos, a proud people who spent 300 years fighting the Spanish and the U.S. Cavalry.
Their reservation is home to nearly a quarter-million tribal members, spread over an area roughly the size of New England.
“This is the most remote part of the reservation,” Dawn Carney says. “It’s a Third World country within America.”
Jeff Langford, a 15-year-old sophomore from Trout Creek, Mont., plans to use his carpentry skills to help repair sheep corrals.
Sheep farming is the mainstay on the northern part of the Navajo reservation.
“I’m looking forward to meeting the Navajos - not for what I can give to them, but what they can give me,” Langford says.
Philip Cromwell, 19, a senior from the Portland area, was the top collector for the blanket and clothing drive, with 180 items. “It feels good to help somebody,” he says.
Many Navajo children run around without coats in the winter, Dawn Carney says.
Although the Navajos appear resigned to abject poverty, they are grateful when anyone extends a hand of kindness, she says.
“The people really, really appreciate a blanket and the things we take for granted as Anglos,” she said. “When you reach out and give them a blanket, they are thrilled.”
MEMO: The students are raising or contributing $200 of their own money for their trip expenses. Leftover money will be donated to the hospital. To help, call (800) 54-NAVAJO.
The students are raising or contributing $200 of their own money for their trip expenses. Leftover money will be donated to the hospital. To help, call (800) 54-NAVAJO.