YouthWorks introduces new Pawhuska director

Roseanne McKeeJ-C Correspondent
YouthWorks introduces new Pawhuska director

Two directors of YouthWorks spoke to the Kiwanis Club of Pawhuska recently to introduce Dave Jaeger, who is assuming the responsibilities for the Pawhuska site.

According to Midwest Regional Director, Kate Harrell, the change is the result of internal site restructuring.

YouthWorks is a non-profit organization started in Minneapolis in 1994, seeking to connect teenagers to God, each other and the communities in which they serve through short-term mission trips within the United States and its territories.

Jaeger, who has been with YouthWorks for ten years and is based in Nashville, is one of two Southeast Area Directors.

Harrell said: “We are transitioning the [Pawhuska] site from the West, which comprised all of our Native American communities, to the Southeast, because geographically it fits a lot better. That is why both Dave and I were in Pawhuska. I have been a part of setting the site up since 2008, and this was Dave’s first trip to Pawhuska.”

“Dave has a community near Fort Smith, so it made more sense to have him oversee the projects in Pawhuska,” Harrell said.

“Pawhuska is a very popular work site. We have nine weeks of programming per summer with an average of 65 people working at each site,” she explained.

“We actually had to shut down Las Vegas one year because it wasn’t selling, and San Diego. But Pawhuska, Oklah. is full every year,” Jaeger said. “It’s an interesting dynamic that’s hard to put your finger on but it says a lot about the community here. I think we get feedback on the website and people see that.”

Harrell said: “I love your community. You all have been so gracious and so kind and Dave knows I have kind of kept you a secret because I didn’t want to share you. Everything I come to Pawhuska, something happens that is normal for here but it seems magical. Dave has said several times, ‘where are we?’ I say, ‘welcome to Pawhuska!’”

Previously, Harrell had become responsible for the central region when the previous director left. Harrell accepted — on a temporarily basis. She handled the extra responsibility so well, that soon she was asked to oversee the central region on a permanent basis. As a result, Harrell now oversees 38 communities from Idaho, northern Michigan, Puerto Rico, a site in Virginia, Arizona and various sites in between.

“Currently YouthWorks serves in just under 70 communities throughout the United States. We have one site in Canada and a site in Puerto Rico as well,” said Harrell who has worked for YouthWorks for 13 years.

Harrell’s own involvement with YouthWorks began with a trip to the Apache Reservation her senior year of high school. Her first assignment was to paint a woman’s house.

“She was so ashamed that she didn’t have running water and we couldn’t go to the bathroom there. She came out when we were finished and just wept. She was so thankful that her house was painted and she gave us beadwork that she had done in appreciation,” Harrell said.

“I grew up in a little town in Minnesota. We didn’t have a lot of money but we had enough. Running water was not something I thought people did without and just painting her house was the greatest gift ever. And throughout my time at YouthWorks, I tell the students ‘you’re not going to come in lovin’ the res, but I’m pretty sure you’ll leave wanting to come back.’”

“Each summer we hire about 350 college aged students to run all of our trips. Four of them come to Pawhuska and we do children’s programming, some home repair beautification; at night we tour your fine city and do other events. We go to where the Million Dollar Elm was, to the swinging bridge, we play softball with Rev. Finley, we tour the Catholic Church and then we do a service at the Pawhuska Bible Church. We have a cookout every Thursday, which you are invited to. Please come,” Harrell continued. “Last summer I think we had 32,000 people participate, so it’s a major production.”

Based in Minneapolis, Harrell oversees two regions, the central and western region, of which Pawhuska has been a part. Fifteen of the 19 communities she oversees are on reservations, she said.

“We want to educate our staff well about coming into a reservation community,” Harrell said.

“We have a recruiting team, which hires all of our summer staff and registers all of our churches. We also have Christian schools, Boy and Girl Scout Troops that come with us. We started family trips, so families can go and serve for a couple of days together,” Harrell explained.

Harrell said: “Most of our trips are for junior and senior students but we also have a couple of sites that are just for the church.

“We also serve in urban areas: Brooklyn, Queens, Philly, and on down into reservation communities; and everybody notices because we’re the only white people and we drive big church vans.”

“The western region always has the most staff that come back just because we get to see some really hard things, but some incredible beautiful things. It’s great to see staff and church groups come back year after year.”

“I once was pulled over by a police officer, here actually, anything that could’ve gone wrong was going wrong and I looked like a completely shady character. I explained I was coming here for YouthWorks and he said, ‘YouthWorks – oh my granddaughter went – go on your way,” Harrell said.

Harrell shared: “Our heart is to come in and serve a community alongside the community and be somewhat an inspiration. We bring a lot of energy. Teenagers bring a lot of life. We do productive things. We want to serve your community in whatever capacity. We want to listen to you and know what you want us to do in your community, so if you have suggestions, ideas, Dave would love to hear them.”

“We hope that eventually we work ourselves out of a community because the things we do are simple. We love on kids. We mow elderly people’s lawns. Eventually we hope we work ourselves out because a community realizes that they are capable. We just create the ripple.”

Service and meeting needs is the focus rather than evangelism, Jaeger explained. “We are so multi-denominational that we don’t really try to go much beyond service,” he said.

“Groups come thinking: ‘we’re going to save Pawhuska’ and they leave saying ‘something happened to me in Pawhuska; I was really challenged this week and I grew.’ That’s one of the things I hope for on this trip. They’ll see that people live different and that’s okay it’s just different or maybe I saw God in a new or unique way or maybe I learned that my job is not to do stuff but to just be with people. Rather than just painting someone’s house the service can be listening to them and being interested in who they are. I hope that you all in the community get the vibe that we care and want to hear the story and learn and listen,” Jaeger said.

As they grow, they become more attuned to giving each community what they want and need, he added.

“We’d love to hear what you need. I’d really even like to hear the hard stuff about frustrations and even some of the pain points and figure out what we can do about that. Lastly, I would plead from you is that we want you to be a part of it,” Jaeger said.

“We want to get to know what this community’s story is and share that in whatever way that is. Maybe that’s just stopping by any night for dinner or any night for club and saying, ‘hey, I’d like to come and welcome the groups, or say something challenging to the groups.’ We’d love to get to know you. We do a kid’s program for five to ten year-olds in the community during the summer. Our heart is service.”

Asked if they get requests for specific service locations, Harrell said: “We have churches that go to the same community year after year.”

There has to be an adult from their church always present and the church is responsible for getting the group to and from the work site. There are some churches in the Minneapolis area that make as many as six trips a year, Harrell said.

Harrell: “We are a non-profit organization, but we don’t do any fundraising. All of the funds are generated from people coming on our trips. Typically the average trip cost now is $260-270 each except for the transportation.

Pawhuska Pastor Ken Woodhams, who is also a Kiwanian, said: “The kids want to come back not because they feel that they have done so much for someone as much as it is that the interaction of getting to know the people in this community transforms them. They begin to look at the world differently and they come at life differently. I think for us in that kind of relationship, regardless of whether we get 35 houses painted or 25 lawns mowed, the fact is that in the building of the relationship we are transformed, both of us. These kids come from big cities and small communities like ours. The transformation takes place during the interactions. There are times it’s hard. It’s hard on our building [because the volunteers lodge at the church] and we struggle with that, but ultimately for me as Pastor my argument is that we are still changing lives. A building is a building. It’s stuff. We’ll fix that. But to transform a life, especially a life of a teenager and give them some sense of purpose beyond their hand-held electronic gizmos is really important. We participate in that.”

Jaeger said, “The kids think, I’m going on a mission trip and then it becomes I’m going to see a person…suddenly they’re not a project, they’re a person.”

Jaeger admits that those who serve do not do so perfectly.

Reflecting on that observation, Jaeger said: “Probably my predominant thought for the last year has been we don’t come out polished and perfect. We come through some really bumpy things. I realize that was me at some point and people walked with me through things; and now hopefully I get it and will the rest of my life. There’s a girl I know who has a tattoo that says ‘beautiful mess’ and I think that in some sense that’s the case when we work with teenagers and let them be a community and try to do something positive and try to walk them through it. Sometimes it’s really beautiful and sometimes it’s really a mess and sometimes it’s both. Thank you for patience in working with us.”

Kiwanian Ed Ward said: “The appeal of Pawhuska is in no small part because of this guy, pointing to Pastor Ken Woodhams, he’s always there at the church kind of guiding these folks.”

Kiwanian Lori Loftis said: “When you visit them, go and spend time with the kids. I sat with two junior high girls who said they were going to go back to their school with plans to use a classroom to create a food pantry. This was needed because there was a great distance between the grocery store and their community, so they wanted to create a Christ Cupboard type of pantry, so we are impacting their lives too.”

YouthWorks was the brainchild of Paul Bertelson, a youth pastor, who observed that his students grew more during their annual one-week missions trips, than they did the entire rest of the year. “His hope and prayer in starting YouthWorks was that every teenager would have the opportunity to go on a mission trip and have their life changed by God,” according to the Youthworks website.

For more information about YouthWorks visit: www.youthworks.com.