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Just outside of Seattle, Washington ... over the mountain and in the valley ... lies Yakima and the Wapato Indian Reservation. It isn't what you would call a travel destination, in fact most people would never think to include this rural location when making vacation plans. So, it came as a shock to a lot of people around me when I chose to visit this small town a few years ago to work with the kids on the Wapato Indian Reservation.
I traveled with a team of teenagers and our goal was to help those in need for a week during the summer. The five of us were assigned to a new summer program being developed for the children of the Wapato Community by a wonderful man named James from the Wapato Parks Department. We met with James and a group of young kids in a park ... as there was no building ... and began a week-long stint of playing with the children. It didn't seem like we were doing all that much ... it didn't seem that what we were doing (singing, painting, running around, blowing bubbles and laughing) was important enough. But, as the week progressed, James told me stories of how life was for the children of the community.
For the most part, the community was poor. Both parents, if the household had two parents physically there (which was rare) had to work. Some homes housed many extended families as well, leaving the dwelling overcrowded by our standards. Many fathers, brothers and uncles were in or had been in jail. Families worked in fields and during the summer, without the safe haven of a school, the young children either went to work with their parents ... which meant sitting in the family car all day while the parents worked the fields ... or stayed at home. The kids who stayed at home alone fell prey to the strong gang presence in the area. At a young age, these kids' lives were touched by divorce, violence, alcoholism, rape, theft and prison. It was a tough life for anyone ... let alone a five-year-old.
We learned we had to love through all that pain and that we would never see a 'completion' to our project ... we had to trust that our presence made a difference. We came to learn that the mere act of being there handing out hugs and smiles was what we were called to do.
I returned to the Wapato Indian Reservation three more times in subsequent years and was able to see the project James started in the park ... grow. A building was built, a staff hired and a budget was eventually put into place. But, I'll never forget that first time ... pulling up to the park with this song by Louis Armstrong playing in the CD player ... the Wapato Water Tower looming overhead, anticipating a day of exhaustive play with the kids and realizing that as much as we touched their lives ... they were touching ours as well.
What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong
What song reminds you of somewhere?