Bob, a Remote Maintenance Worker with YKHC’s Office of Environmental Health & Engineering and Rachelle White, Assistant Nurse Manager for Inpatient YKDRH.
Rachelle first moved to Bethel in February of 2005 when she completed her degree from Northwest University based out of Kirkland, Washington. Bob came to YKHC with extensive experience in construction and carpentry. He moved to Bethel sight unseen in August of 2005. They have two sons, Wyatt, 17, and Michael, 19.
“I know everyone says this, but I first fell in love with the patients.” said Rachelle. “Taking care of patients, elders who can recount stories about childhood memories growing up in sod huts, or remembering the first time they saw a white person, it’s just incredible.”
Upon asking what inspired the Whites to start up their own 501c3, project HOPE, or Helping Other People Excel, Bob said, “without stating the obvious, there are some harrowing statistics which have plagued this region for quite some time, namely the substance abuse and suicide rates. We wanted to have a healthy way of reaching out so our young people can grasp the sense of community we have felt since coming here.”
Bob explained that there are still many things that he doesn’t know about the region, the land, navigating the rivers, sloughs and country. “I have relied on many elders as well as kids in teaching me something, sharing their knowledge. It astounded me how many young people may not have had the chance to experience life in the wilderness, who maybe have never cut fish or participated in fishcamp, subsistence or cultural activities. Camp HOPE has helped make this possible.”
Rachelle noted that many of the young people they are trying to help are those who have fallen through the cracks, that lack a safety net. “These are kids you do not see in church. They come from some hard core backgrounds… a bit rough around the edges, who have experienced much sadness.” Out of the kindness of their own home the Whites have opened their kitchen pantry to help some of these young kids who are couch-surfing in Bethel, or are transient or displaced from surrounding villages. “Yes, we have had kids knock on our door in the middle of the night who just need a safe place to stay and a meal to eat because their own home isn’t safe.”
The goal of HOPE is a long term one, understanding they spend a significant amount of their own income and volunteer hours to keep the promise of HOPE alive. “We want to see a long term, positive impact…Yup’ik culture is evolving and we just want to be part of that story,” explains Rachelle. “There are so many experienced, knowledgeable youth and elders out there who wish to see the transfer of skills and knowledge come about in a healthy way. We are just hoping to allow for those connections and positive outlooks to occur, while learning ourselves, along the way.”
Bob, a pastor himself, understands the historical trauma that is often associated with wearing the cloth of a faith-based institution. An Assembly of God pastor, Bob said the Christian institution’s track record is “almost a slap in the face to the people of this region, who were told to abandon their tradition and ways. I like to think camp HOPE is application, not theory, and that we are trying to participate in the healing process, not perpetuating more anger or dissent.”
How is this done? Camp HOPE often brings groups out into the wilderness environment and they have had to partner with local tribes and villages to make this happen. They have had to obtain special permissions from neighboring village of Napakiak to set up a year-around fish campsite and Bob and HOPE volunteers conduct team builiding exercises that build self-esteem and cultural knowledge.
A favorite application is wilderness survival scenarios. “What will you do if you get stranded, your boat swamps, you’re freezing and wet and you need to survive? This is one really fun exercise our kids really appreciate. They pretty much have all the answers, but going through a problem-solving scenario where they can place practical application to getting out of a life and death situation is very powerful.” Bob explains that the students and elders together figure it out. They can build fires without matches, they learn special techniques using the resources around them, and the answers are already there.
What are some ways to reach young people these days regarding the generation and cultural gaps?
Rachelle said, “take time to see and to listen. That is the biggest thing in understanding the challenges young people face. They want to be seen, want to be heard. Look for the invisible one. Supporting and listening to their stories, and their circumstance. Everyone wants to feel safe, loved and nurtured.”
When we asked Bob and Rachelle to reflect upon the last eight years they have resided here in the YK Delta, and what advice they would give to new persons moving to the region for the first time, Bob and Rachelle reiterated some great advice. “Forget what you think you know. Be open. Sit down. Be quiet. Listen. Come here to serve, don’t come here to take. Help serve the people. Be honest, as body language may indicate insincerity and people can read that.”
Rachelle also emphasized that in the health care setting, that new providers, nurses and locums should often use the services of a Yup’ik translator or an interpreter. “Your world view will be shifted. Be patient, and in time as you learn and grow, people will accept you.”
Camp HOPE is always looking for volunteers and financial support to help with their cause. Volunteers who enjoy getting out in the wilderness, or can share any type of skill such as trap making, skin sewing, basket weaving, and the sharing of traditional ways of knowing are especially appreciated. They often need help during their summer camp months when they dedicate three full weeks to their summer camp. “YKHC has been helpful. Anywhere else, it would be difficult to take such a large chunk of time.” Bob said he usually has someone cover his 15 assigned villages during his extended leave.
For more information please visit www.HopeInAlaska.com for more information about how to get involved. Bob and Rachelle would like to especially thank donations and volunteers including nurses, doctors and local businesses such as the Prop Shop, Back Creek Marina, AC Store, local fuel companies such as North Star, Crowley, Delta Western, Nicholson’s and community members and people across the U.S. who have never been in the Delta including a variety of local and various church groups. Without them, camp HOPE could not happen and we are so thankful!