"Don't hesitate because you may not know something. You will learn along the way and you will be a better and bigger person for the experience."
Candace LaGou, 48, of Red Lake, MN, volunteers for a project whose goal is to work with children to end poverty in her Indian reservation community.
What kind of philanthropic or volunteer work did/do you do?
Candace: I have been doing volunteer work, not only with my work, but also with the community. It is a project called Horizons, and its goal is to end poverty. We wanted to see what kids were thinking, so we asked adults from different youth programs to come to a meeting and bring kids they work with. The kids put together a survey for youth about what they would like to see happen or change. We have since started implementing some of their ideas, and I still get these kids together to do volunteer work. The kids are volunteering with a local businesswoman in creating a Halloween haunted house and they will be helping her do tours. Two of these kids live 30 miles away, but if they want to help and volunteer, I am happy to pick them and take them home.
What is the name and location of the organization?
Candace: I work at the Red Lake Family and Children Service in Red Lake, Minnesota. The other organization is called Horizons, and I volunteer and involve the kids in community volunteering and awareness, and this is being done in the Redby district of the Red Lake Indian Reservation in Northern Minnesota.
Tell us about the project, especially who benefited from this work.
Candace: With Family and Child Services, we've involved the kids in brainstorming, tapping into the teen mind, and listening to what they are thinking and doing. They are, after all, the future and should not be ignored. We also involve them in decision-making.
In the other project, Horizons, myself and others have put kids through leadership training. Every one of the kids went through four days of intense training, and I always encourage them to use that training when thinking, planning and implementing ideas. The Horizons project is still in the early phases, but we have had talking circles, leadership training and community visioning, and now we are ready to move to an action phase, which is where we stand now. I am taking the kids to the Red Lake Nation Youth Council, where they will be getting involved with other kids from the reservation, and hopefully they will be elected officers.
What inspired you to get involved?
Candace: The kids. There have been some terrible things that have happened here on our reservation. I worked at a local convenience store and listened to the kids talk about how there is nothing for them to do and how no cares or listens to them.
How did you first get involved? Give us some details.
Candace: I went to the local Family & Children Service and asked if they had any intern positions available, and that I wanted to work with kids, but I was not sure how to get involved. They hired me as an intern, and I started helping everyone, and this led into my present job.
What is/was the best thing about your experience?
Candace: The kids. These kids are so awesome. They are smart, spiritual, and all they want is that attention, someone who thinks they are special and someone who appreciates them and all they have to offer. They have such a willingness to help, to make a difference in their world.
What is/was the hardest part?
Candace: Not everyone is ready to meet these kids on even ground or give them a chance to paddle in grown-up waters. What I try to teach and show them is not always consistent with what they run into in the bigger world, and I feel bad for them when they are met with adult rudeness.
What was the biggest surprise?
Candace: The biggest surprise is that these kids can handle the snubs and putdowns. They take it stride. They have also shown a remarkable ability to handle the work and challenges of volunteering for their community and a commitment to bettering it.
What new things have you learned as a result of your experience and how have you changed as a result?
Candace: I learned that volunteering is hard work. You have to be willing to put in a long day. As a result of this experience, I have learned to use my organizational skills.
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of getting involved in philanthropy or volunteering?
Candace: Do it now, don't wait. Don't hesitate because you may not know something. You will learn along the way and you will be a better and bigger person for the experience.
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