It is Saturday morning, and Nellie yawns as she wakes up from her bed. The air feels crisp and cold in her room. It hurts to breathe. Hopefully dad just turned off the heater last night, and can turn it back on again today. Last time, the power company shut off our heat, and it took a long time to get it turned back on. Those were very cold days.
Quickly dressing in long pants, a warm shirt, sweater, and socks, Nellie walks down the short hallway from her bedroom to the living area. “Momma, why is it so cold?” Nellie asks her mom, who is sitting at the kitchen table. “Nellie, good, you’re bundled up. The power company turned off our heat. They turned the heat off for everyone on our block. I’ve been trying to figure out who still has heat at the Rosebud Reservation all morning. I haven’t found anyone yet.”
Nellie is cold all weekend, and worried. Its November, and the weather is only going to get worse in South Dakota. Would everyone on the entire Rosebud Native American Reservation freeze to death this winter? The power company turned off power for over 100 houses on the Rosebud Reservation, and they won’t turn it back on until all bills are completely paid off. With no jobs, and no extra money, Nellie didn’t know what her family would do.
Nellie is always excited for school on Monday morning because her teacher, Ms. Smith, is so smart and inspiring, and really seems to care about her students. “Good morning class!” sings Ms. Smith as they get seated. “Good morning Ms. Smith!” the class sings back. The students all look around and seem relieved.
Ms. Smith asks the class, “Did anything exciting happen this weekend?” Nobody speaks. Ms. Smith asks again, “Nothing? Nothing interesting happened this weekend? If not, then let’s get started on our math lesson.” Nellie cautiously raises her hand, “Excuse me, Ms. Smith?”
“Yes Nellie. Did something interesting happen this weekend?”
“Ms. Smith, they turned the heat off again.”
Ms. Smith looked confused. “What do you mean, Nellie? The heat is on, thankfully. It’s going to be cold today!”
“No, Ms. Smith. The power company turned off our heat at home. They won’t turn it back on until we pay off our bill.”
Ms. Smith replied, “Oh. Nellie, I’m sorry to hear that. Let’s talk about it after class.”
“Ms. Smith? It’s not just at my house.”
“Oh? What do you mean?” asked Ms. Smith.
Nellie said quietly, “They turned off the power at all of our houses.”
Nellie’s classmates all started talking excitedly amongst themselves. They all confirmed that they’ve been without heat since Friday, and that they all got the same message from the power company. They wouldn’t get any power again until they paid their bills in full.
Ms. Victoria Smith watched her students talk about the power company, the lack of heat, and the coming winter. She needed to get to a quiet place so she could think of a way to help these children, but that couldn’t happen until school let out. She needed to get through today’s lessons first, and then she would try to think of a solution.
“OK kids. We will try to figure out what to do about the heat problem later. For now, let’s enjoy the heat in the classroom, and get started on our lessons. Today we are going to start with working on our multiplication table.”
Victoria Smith is a young teacher at a school on the Rosebud Reservation. She is 26 years old, and recently graduated from Wellesley College near Boston, Massachusetts. Wellesley is a college for women, and it has a special motto, “Non Ministrari sed Ministrare.” That means, “Not to be ministered unto, but to minister.” Wellesley College’s goal is to educate women who will make a difference in the world. That’s why Victoria chose to become at teacher on the Rosebud Native American Reservation in South Dakota. Most of the families here live in poverty. They don’t have access to education, jobs, money, or anything else to help improve their lives. Victoria hoped she could make a difference for her students.
Victoria had been thinking about her students’ power problem all day. She corrected assignments after school let out, and now she was reading through Facebook before bed. She enjoys keeping up with her friends on Facebook especially now that she’s living in South Dakota, far away from her friends and family. As Victoria read through some posts, she came across some Wellesley message boards. Suddenly, Victoria had an idea. Since Wellesley is known for women who make a difference, the Wellesley graduates are an unusually helpful group. Maybe they would like to help Victoria’s students get their heat back? It was worth a try.
Victoria quickly posted a message of her own on a Wellesley Facebook message board explaining the problem, and asking for ideas. Then she turned her computer off, and went to sleep.
Victoria woke up the next morning to her phone ringing loudly on her nightstand. She answered the phone, “Hello?” A voice replied, “VICTORIA. Its Keisha.” Keisha was Victoria’s roommate at Wellesley during her first year. “Hi Keisha! It’s so early here. Is everything ok? Keisha replied, “Have you checked Facebook this morning? A bunch of people responded to your post last night. You have hundreds of women asking if they can donate money to help your students!” “Really?” asked Victoria. “I’ll check it out right now!”
The next few weeks are a whirlwind for Victoria, Nellie and the rest of the students. A handful of Wellesley graduates took charge of organizing payments from hundreds of other Wellesley graduates. Those women paid off the families’ power bills one by one. It was thousands of dollars, and it took a lot of their time. They had to get each account number, and the power company did not make the process easy, but they did it.
This is based on a true story about my mom’s friends and how they helped the families on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota last winter. Her Wellesley College classmates are my heroes. I have seen my mom and her Wellesley friends do acts like this one many times, for many different people. They collect money, clothes, food, and anything else that’s needed as soon as they’re asked. Just two weeks ago, we filled two big boxes with my books and mailed them to the children at Rosebud because they did not have enough books to read.
The Wellesley graduates don’t even know the people they help most of the time, but they help anyway, just because someone asks. They learn about a problem, and they try to solve it. They often succeed. I want to be like them – a woman who makes a difference in the world – in big ways and small.