Page 19 - William Woods University - Winter 2013-14

The Woods Magazine WINTer | 2013-14
19
For the last three years, William
Woods University faculty and
students have volunteered for three
weeks each summer working with the
Oglala Lakota Nation on Pine Ridge
Reservation in South Dakota.There
they help build relationships, homes,
and lives.
Many say this is a life-altering
experience. For Madeline Ortego, a
2012
WWU graduate, it truly was.
Pine Ridge has become her home.
When pursuing her master’s degree
in social work at the University of
Missouri, she
reflected on
the positive
experiences
she had on the
reservation and
decided she would
fulfill her field
work hours at
Red Cloud
Indian School.
Ortego worked
as a counselor in
the Red Cloud
District, and then
decided to return
through AmeriCorps, an organization
that engages more than 80,000 Ameri-
cans in intensive service each year.
I decided this was a place I really
wanted to start my career. Every day,
these kids face unconscionable adversity
from abuse, to neglect, to alcoholism,
to living in poverty—but they’re still
very resilient and driven. It was for
that reason that I decided I wanted
to return,” she said.
They have so many
goals and dreams in spite
of all the obstacles that have
been put in front of them—
that is the focal point of
social work:
to empower people despite
their hardships.”
Though Ortego had never taught
before, her education from William
Woods University provided her
with the necessary skills to teach
at Red Cloud.
During college, she worked as a
residential support assistant at the
Hope Center in Fulton, a 16-bed
psychiatric group home for persons
transitioning into the community.This
experience helped prepare her for the
depression, anxiety, and other mental
disorders she faces every day at
Red Cloud.
In her senior year,
she interned at
the Children’s
Division of the
Missouri Department
of Social Services in
Mexico, Mo.There
she learned more
about working with
kids, especially
at-risk students.
The social work
program at WWU
completely defined
me as a person. It opened my mind
to all the different career possibilities
that come with the social work degree,”
Ortego said. “My professors really
helped prepare me for the realities of
what I would face in my job … and
the environments in which we would be
working.”
Even so, her first day as a teacher
came with an element of surprise.
The first day I taught was incredibly
intimidating. Now that we’re a few
months into the school year, I feel that
I am really starting to get the hang of
teaching,” said Ortego.
So many of these kids have
horrible self-esteem. Each day I try to
instill in them this love for themselves.
I just want them to realize they all
have potential.”
Along with her new teaching career,
Ortego has found another passion—
bus driving. Each day, she drives around
the reservation and gathers her students
in her yellow school bus to take them to
school.The commercial driver’s license
AmeriCorps requires her to have
enables her to see the environment
in which her students live.
It is the most empowering,
gratifying experience,” Ortego said.
Contributing in this small way has
really given me the opportunity to
understand my students more. I’m
proud to wear so many different hats.
In the field of social work, there will
always be so many different jobs that
you can do.”
According to Ortego, the most
rewarding aspect of her job has been
facing the challenges on the reservation.
Every social issue you could imagine
is intensified.The kids with the most
behavior issues make me grow into
a better person professionally and
emotionally by teaching me to rise
to the occasion.”
Cindy Koonz, WWU coordinator
of multicultural affairs, says of Ortego,
We are so happy for her for following
her heart. We are grateful for the way
that she is utilizing her talents to be of
service in the way that she is.”
I really encourage everyone to
go out to Pine Ridge or even take
advantage of volunteer opportunities
in their local community,” Ortego said.
It will completely open your mind to
different perspectives when you witness
the struggles that exist within your own
town, your own state, your own country,
or even in the world.”
››››
"
It is
the most
empowering,
gratifying
experience..."