Time on reservation touches Marietta College students

MARIETTA – Marietta College students who took an Alternative Spring Break trip to South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, one of the poorest areas in the country, didn’t want to limit their service to just one week.

So they got college officials to donate 86 mattresses being taken out of service and collected 14 boxes of sheets, towels and blankets to send to the reservation, where recent statistics estimate unemployment at 80 to 90 percent and life expectancy lower than anywhere in the Western Hemisphere besides Haiti.

“Community service is awesome if you do that every now and then, but unless it’s a continuous relationship, it’s not necessarily as impactful as it could be,” said Rachel Hartong, a senior public accounting and finance major from Mount Vernon, Ohio.

Because the approximately 30-hour, one-way drive can’t be made regularly, Hartong and some of the other 11 students who spent a week at the reservation in March decided to do something else to help out until some of them can go back in the spring of 2014.

They acted on a request from Re-Member, a nonprofit organization working with members of the Oglala Lakota Nation on the reservation, to inquire about sending used mattresses from their school back to the reservation.

“One of the big projects of Re-Member is building bunk beds, because a lot of these families are trying to squeeze a lot of people into … trailer homes,” Hartong said.

In addition, the students collected sheets, towels and blankets from students, faculty and others.

“It’s mostly student donations – mostly seniors since they’re done with their twin bed and sheet sets,” Hartong said.

Because she was staying in town this summer for an internship at Peoples Bank, Hartong volunteered to oversee the collection for the students, which meant making sure the donations were clean.

“I have been doing laundry after work every day in June, late May,” she laughed.

Seeing firsthand the poverty on the reservation was an “eye-opening” experience, Hartong said.

“A lot of people don’t realize there are people in those conditions right in our own country,” she said. “It’s not what you see in Marietta. I’ve been to Nicaragua and Peru, and it would have been close to what I’ve seen in those countries.”

According to Re-Member, the poverty on the Pine Ridge reservation can only be described as “Third World.” People take in whoever needs a roof over their heads, resulting in overcrowded homes, many without running water or sewer, according to the organization’s website, www.re-member.org.

Marietta College has organized Alternative Spring Break trips off and on for more than a decade, but in the last five years it has become a more regular offering of the Office of Civic Engagement.

In addition to the reservation, some students traveled to New Orleans to help with ongoing recovery efforts eight years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city.

“We know we have a part of our student body that isn’t necessarily looking for the beach as their option,” said Tom Perry, director of college relations. “They’re going to areas that need help.”