By Alex Cohen
Today started off early for three of our Givers, as they were up and out in Zion National Park to try to get a glimpse of the sunrise over Bryce Canyon. Unfortunately, all they got were beautiful views of misty snow covered trees and a quiet place to reflect, as the weather was not cooperative. Once we were all back on the bus, we traveled to Horseshoe Bend, one of the most photographed sites on the Colorado River. It was great to get off the bus and stretch our legs while walking on the soft red rock that felt like sand under your feet – only red. After a short hike, we arrived at the edge of the canyon and could not believe the view. We took in this majestic scene until it started to rain (again) and we headed back to the bus.
Onward to Page, Arizona to visit the Page Regional Domestic Violence Shelter (PRDVS), a women’s shelter that provides a variety of services to local women in Page, the Navaho Nation and surrounding cities. When we arrived, Victor Castillo, a Program Coordinator with PRDVS met us at the door. He was a very tall man with the most gentle face and demeanor. He greeted us with such humility and gratitude, even though he still had no idea why we were there. He explained that we needed to all sign a confidentiality agreement because the work they do is very sensitive and they want to respect the people who reside there. Once inside the office we met Gregg Martinez and Angel Tadytin, who asked us if we would like to be included in a special blessing they were having for their group by a Navaho medicine man. We were thrilled to get another blessing, and said yes.
We followed Gregg and Angel to a community room where the rest of the shelter staff was waiting. Before the blessing, everyone in the room introduced themselves and shared which clan their family was from. It was nice to hear the names of the clans and what they all represented. The blessing was given in both English and their native language, and ended with a song. The medicine man waved the feather of a live bald eagle throughout the song to spread cedar ashes to all of us in the room. It was so beautiful and we were honored to be included.
We toured the facility as they explained the typical process women go through when they arrive or, in some cases, when the staff goes off to rescue them and their children. First, the women go through an evaluation process based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs so the shelter team can better understand their unique situation. Once they have been evaluated, they are allowed to settle in for a few days and acclimate themselves to their new home. The shelter offers more than just temporary housing, they also provide all meals, counseling and a number of programs that these women can use to empower themselves and their children. In addition to their initial response programs, the shelter also offers Transitional Living, where they live in an apartment, they are given job training, resume building skills and childcare for their interviews. Most of these women get back on their feet, get jobs, move out on their own and do not return to their abusers.
After our tour, we spoke with a woman who had been through the program herself. Her story was one of life-long abuse but she never recognized the cycle and how to end it. She felt trapped and when she finally did gain the courage to leave, she ended up in a different abusive situation. Luckily for this woman, she found the PRDVS. The shelter leaders picked her and her children up and they have never looked back. Now, this amazing woman is currently enrolled in college and pursuing her degree. She is living in transitional housing with her six children as she anxiously awaits the completion of a 5-bedroom home for her and her kids. She was self confident and well spoken and she credited this amazing place for empowering her to be who she was always meant to be. We bid farewell but knew that they and this experience will always be in our hearts.
We decided to grab lunch in the area before heading to our next destination. Our boys found a place that looked amazing called Big John’s Texas BBQ in Page. We knew it was going to be great when we pulled up and saw two HUGE smokers right outside the place – YES! We sat down and again were greeted with a smile by a very pleasant woman, who looked like she had been there forever. She happily took our order and made suggestions as well. The food was incredible, but again the staff was even more incredible. The patrons were a mixed group but they all had one thing in common, everyone had their face in their plate enjoying every bite… when I tell you it was a little messy with all the BBQ sauce, each table had a roll of paper towels instead of napkins and we used plenty.
Again, we decided to pay for everyone’s meal and tip the staff generously. They were, as the others, confused as to why we were doing this for them but once we explained our mission they got it and could not have been more grateful. They began to tell us stories of how long they had been there, how it was a family owned business and how some of them have struggled through the years. One of the men there told us about his special needs son and how things like this (someone just saying thank you for all you do) mean so much to him. People wonder why I do these things, and this is why – the people I help not only need it but they deserve it, someone needs to show them respect and gratitude for their hard work.
With full bellies we piled back on the bus and headed to the Grand Canyon – another thing on my bucket list – and we were all excited to see it. On the drive, there was more snow and freezing rain – oh no here we go again! Once we got to the National Park entrance, we had another 22 miles to go to reach the visitors center where Jake had arranged for us to meet Todd Nelson, a park ranger and Phil Payne, who runs the parks volunteer programs. Todd and Phil described the programs they developed for college students looking for an alternative to Spring Break called Break Away. Through the program, students come to the park for their break to train and work, getting exposure to all the park has to offer. Many of them come back and do their summer internship or find careers at the Grand Canyon after they graduate. Todd and Phil hope to expose enough students to their program that they can create the next generation of Park Rangers who will love and respect the park as much as they have.
We were treated to a very exclusive tour of the Kolb brothers’ home, two brothers that operated the first photography studio and one of the earliest commercial tourist businesses at the Grand Canyon. The Kolb home was built on the edge of the South Rim, at the head of the Bright Angel Trail, and has a long history that has helped shape American’s view of what a national park looks like.
After the tour and a few group and site pictures we had another long drive, this time to a hotel in Flagstaff for the evening (the first night sleeping off the bus and we were all looking forward to it!). We cleaned up and headed to dinner with the group and had one of the best meals we have had on this voyage at a place called Tinderbox Kitchen. Our server was great, she was also the bartender and made amazing drinks. Ranger Todd from the park happened to be there so we invited him to sit with us for a drink after his dinner. We talked more about the park and the program and enjoyed his company. We tipped the waitress very generously and headed back to the hotel in anticipation for the best sleep we’ve had in five days.
Tomorrow is an early morning as the mission continues…