This summer, Red Feather worked with partners to host two hardworking crews of young adults who fixed up 90 Northern Cheyenne homes. You may recall last summer we partnered with St Labre Indian School and Catholic Heart Work Camp to paint, build wheelchair ramps, and perform other maintenance and safety repairs on 40 Northern Cheyenne Homes. This summer those same organizations and even more volunteers did similar work on 47 homes. And if that wasn’t enough, a few weeks later another group of volunteers from Group Work Camp came and were able to similarly fix up 43 homes. That's 90 homes improved in 2 weeks!
“These repair blitz’s take a lot of coordination and planning, but so much work gets done in such a short amount of time, we’ll do anything we can to help”, said John Marian, one of the head “trouble-shooters” for both weeks. “My job is to make sure the numerous workgroups have the tools and materials they need, understand the approach to take, and are following safety procedures…oh and having fun too,” he added with a smile.
Northern Cheyenne’s Housing Improvement Program was instrumental in helping to prioritize the projects and coordinate their successful completion. This marks another important example of how, by partnering with tribal agencies, Red Feather can bring resources from outside the tribe to help meet their needs. We are grateful to have such hardworking and caring partners.
Installing foam board insulation
Chris and Sampson of Talon Construction installing new metal roof on Curley's home
Seven. Seven weeks. That’s how long it took to completely renovate Northern Cheyenne elder and veteran Bilford Curley’s home. In that time we: removed and re-installed the roof, siding, doors, and windows, built a new wheelchair ramp and rear deck, upgraded the bathroom to be wheelchair accessible, installed a new kitchen and second bath, created a bonus room out of a drafty, unsafe garage, relocated the chimney and installed a stove, fixed and painted the walls, installed a solar furnace, increased the insulation factor in the ceiling, dealt with a pest infestation, and installed new laminate flooring.
Seeing the reaction of Bilford’s children after a month of being kept away made all the short nights worth it. Trevor, Tessa, Tavin, and Toran were moved to tears when they saw their newly renovated bedrooms, kitchen and bonus room. It wasn’t long before the youngest asked the most important question, “when can we move in?”
“Tonight,” was my reply, “if you want to.” To which they responded with cheers and smiles.
On August 27, Red Feather, along with Talon Construction welcomed the Curley’s home. In keeping with our tradition, we gave the family time to experience their new home without the prying eyes of others. In fact, Bilford was so overwhelmed; he stepped away for a few minutes before the entire community arrived for the open house. In all, we served a picnic BBQ to about 80 people who came by to inspect our work. Everyone was amazed by what we accomplished in so short a time.
This project was amazing because of the diversity of parties that came together to make it happen. There were the local and national companies that donated materials to support the project: US Stove donated an amazingly efficient EPA-certified woodstove to heat the front rooms of the home; SolarThermiX donated and delivered a solar furnace which will help heat the rear bedrooms and reduce the heating bill; Delta Faucets donated fixtures for both baths and the kitchen; James Hardie gave cement building products and components for the wall system; and Gallatin Valley Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore gave us various odds and ends that saved us thousands of dollars. All of these contributions led up to the overwhelming emotion and gratitude that Bilford and his family felt upon seeing the inside of the home for the first time in over four weeks.
We were also blessed with a fantastic, unbelievably hardworking, talented crew from Talon Construction and Native Energy Auditors. A special thank you to Richard Hamilton, owner of Talon; Leo Campbell, owner of Native Energy Auditors, Justin Fourhorns, Chris Littlecoyote, Brenda, Shania, Lori Clubfoot, Doug Waples (coming to help on his days off), another – who wishes to remain anonymous, and last but not least Sampson.
Red Feather also appreciates the guidance and partnership of the Northern Cheyenne tribal officials. The tribe covered almost sixty percent of the project costs. Specifically, the Northern Cheyenne Housing Improvement Program (NCHIP) supported the modernization of the home, while the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Housing Authority (NCTH) supported the project with in-kind donations of materials.
USDA’s Rural Development office even provided support in the form of a grant for the Curleys.
We were grateful to have the volunteers from Catholic Heart Work Camp and Group Work Camp assisting in the crucial early weeks; and stalwart volunteers Shawn Simpson, Ellary Kramka (RF’s new AmeriCorps VISTA), and Elsa Hoover also were a huge help to the paid local workers.
Bilford shared a story shortly before a Sun Dance priest blessed the home and food. The story was his history of housing. When he was young, his family life was good, but as he got older, alcohol tore his family apart. He left at a young age, deciding to live in his car for over two years instead of that destructive situation. When he first moved into the home we just finished renovating, the garage was full to the ceiling with trash, cockroaches and mice and there were so many holes in the walls you could see into the back bedrooms from the kitchen. Never in a million years did he expect to live in such a beautiful and modernized home. This home is for his children. This is why this project was so important, because every one deserves a healthy, warm and energy efficient home. With enormous gratitude, we thank the generous people, agencies, and corporations mentioned above, and all the support of friends, family and strangers who gave to the project on gofundme.org, that allowed Red Feather to give this man and his family the hand up he’s been asking for since 2007.
Thank you to all of you who have assisted Red Feather along the way. Through thick and thin you have been there and sustained us. We would not have been in position to do this important work without you. We humbly ask for your continued support so that we can help more families in need. Red Feather’s annual fundraising drive is fast approaching. If you plan to give to Red Feather this year, please consider giving early so that we can maintain this great positive momentum.
As the weather begins to turn from the heat of summer to the more pleasant temperatures of autumn, and before the cold sets in, it is the perfect time to think about weatherizing our homes. You’ll read throughout this newsletter the commitment that Red Feather is making to: educate people about the importance of weatherization, empower them to weatherize their homes, and ensure those who aren’t able to help themselves are not forgotten. You may ask yourself, why focus on weatherization? Or maybe even, what is it?
We all know a shelter’s purpose is to keep us alive first, and comfortable second; and it does this by shielding us from all manner of unpleasant weather: cold, hot, wet, wind, etc. What weatherization does, is make a home more resilient to those outside conditions, while at the same time lowering the family’s energy bill.
For those of us who are financially secure, we rarely consider what it takes to maintain a comfortable living environment. When the temperatures drop we just see a higher utility bill at the end of the month, pay it, and don’t give it much more thought. Imagine if changes in the weather meant your children would have less to eat, or you couldn’t afford the gas to get to work? Unfortunately, many in the tribes we serve struggle every winter to pay monthly heating bills. On average, households with incomes below the Federal Poverty Level pay 27% of their annual income simply on home energy bills.
There are numerous important reasons for all of us to limit our energy consumption. The obvious reasons are the harmful effects that the mining and burning of fossil fuels has on the water we drink and the air we breathe. Here is one of the less obvious ways that weatherization helps the planet. For the communities we serve, the most common heating source is wood. Tribal woodsmen are having to drive their trucks farther and farther to harvest younger and younger trees to keep reservation homes warm during the winter. Even a small improvement in the energy efficiency of those homes can help begin to restore those forests. Forests that we so urgently need to clean our air.
Finally, weatherization is an entry point for learning about home maintenance, and also draws the connection between home environment and occupant health. Our workshops not only build awareness of potential health and safety risks in the home, but also build the students’ confidence to address the smaller jobs themselves, and encourage collaboration with other community members for larger projects.
We are forever grateful for the support from electrical utility provider, APS, which is enabling us to educate people and weatherize homes in Arizona, and likewise for the grant we received from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, which will allow us to teach a DIY Weatherization class for the Northern Cheyenne tribe in October. Where those funding sources leave off and your donations take-over is when we find problems in the homes of students that require more money to address. Your support is what enabled us to renovate the Curley family home which you will read about later in this newsletter. Please spread the word about this need and what we can all do together to address it. Please go to redfeather.og and click on “Donate Now.” Then stay tuned for an update on the families we were able to help together.
And our last bit of wonderful news is that have a new member of the Red Feather team, Ellary Kramka. Here’s a little bit about her in her own words….
Through Americorps VISTA, I will be serving with Red Feather for the next year in the Bozeman office, and I could not be more excited about the opportunity. After a life changing trip to rural West Virginia in high school, I knew that I wanted to spend my days fighting the good fight against poverty. I felt responsible for what I had seen. As I was applying for jobs during my senior year of college, Red Feather stood out to me from other organizations I was looking at. I love that Red Feather is not just about alleviating dire circumstances—Red Feather is also driven by a desire to empower the people it serves. I consider it a privilege to work for a nonprofit that partners with its community members, listening to and responding to their needs. I also love that I get to be working with an organization that focuses on improving living conditions for Native Americans, specifically. The chance to honor the Native American culture and learn from it is one of the many reasons I am filled with excitement for this coming year.