Reflections Warm Hearts Warm Homes

  • March 07, 2019
  • Posted by Mary Satterthwaite

The past two weeks have been a little different from our usual chainsawing and trail digging. We partnered with LEAP to do a program called Warm Hearts Warm Homes (WHWH). This involves the winterization of low income homes (such as, plastic wrapping windows and weather stripping doors) and providing them with more energy efficient materials like LED light bulbs, but the physical work we did those two weeks sometimes made a smaller impact than the social interactions we had. It also opened our eyes to the often overlooked neighborhoods and towns throughout Montana, and where I had the opportunity to meet some of the kindest souls.

My team members were Matt N. and Christine G. (RIP Sweaty Banana crew members Noelle, Maryssa and Chet). Our first week of WHWH was in Libby, MT. It is due west of Kalispell about 1.5 hours.  Our first day on the job we met a couple named Brian, who has severe nerve damage and now spends his life in a wheelchair, and Marty, who has epilepsy and severe sinus issues. They lived in one of the most decrepit trailers I have ever seen and a yard filled with half deconstructed cars/trailers. What we didn’t realized is that we would soon learn more about car mechanics, iron casting, and welding than I have ever attempted to absorb in my life in just over an hour.  Most of what Marty and Brian told us went right over my head, but I like to believe that I got a little bit out of it.  To give you an example of how much experience they have had Marty reconstructed her first engine and helped build a foundation of a home by the age of 14. Needless to say, I felt pretty unqualified to install winterization materials in their home.

We expected to be out of there in only 15 minutes because they didn’t want us to actually install anything, but it ended up being one of the longest appointments of the week.  This changed me perspective on how we would impact the people we visited over the next two weeks. Giving them company and friendly new faces willing to interact with them is what many of our clients got most from our visit. This sense was confirmed by Brian and Marty telling us, “sorry to keep you, we don’t get many visitors”. 

After this sort of overwhelming first day of seeing such a brilliant couple living in tough circumstances, we were in need for something a little less emotionally taxing to balance things out. Fortunately, we got an awesome ‘once in a lifetime’ experience a few days later.  We traveled 35 miles north into the Yaak, and were warned by Geoff, our client, “there are hicks up here.”  Geoff was a sweet old man who lived in a home along the Yaak river just north of the Yaak Tavern. This home was literally a one-of-a-kind. He started building it in ‘72 and is now planning on building a tower addition atop the second floor. All of this made from mostly recycled materials.  The house is filled with local art, photos of his band, posters from music festivals and events. The first floor is his designated shop to work on his home, create art, and play with his band.  To get a sense of his whimsical personality, he had wooden recreations of the flying monkeys from Wizard of Oz on the outside of his home to scare bad people off. He was cheery and happy with only the bare necessities (offering us all coffee but admitting he only had one cup).  We then got to enjoy the lovely fall afternoon exploring by the Yaak river and driving home through the amazing glowing golden larch forest.

Our last week in Browning, MT (about 15 miles north of East Glacier) was spent admiring lots of cute dogs and cats, or on one occasion trying to keep an overly eager street cat from getting into one of our clients homes.  It was almost more common to see a dog or a cat walk down the sidewalk than a person. We got to do a lot of winterization work and met a lot of interesting families and individuals. One of our clients was an older Native American man who grew up on the Blackfoot reservation and taught me a lot about his culture and tradition. He performs and studies both Native American and Christian practices, which is now a common theme on the reservation. His son, a caterer, performs sweats and sun dance ceremonies north of Browning in Babb.  He game me a tour around his home showing me photos of his family. One being a photo of his parents dressed in their traditional Native American clothing holding liquor during the Prohibition Era. I felt so welcomed and comfortable with him, and it opened my eyes to the how life on the reservation has changed over time.

WHWH was a total 180 degrees from our usually work for the NPS or NFS where we get to hide away from most of the public. Therefore, this experience has helped me to complete a picture of the community that we work to support and live alongside. Furthermore, I feel more knowledgeable about legislative, social and economic issues of Montana.  Overall, it was a great two weeks getting to know my new home state and spending nights after work watching cable TV with my crew-mates before the season comes to a close in just a few days. Seeing our clients care for their family and friend with so much love and with so little resources reminds me to show my love to the amazing and beautiful people I have met throughout this season.


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