Mandan Lions Club provides gift for community center
By Gary Heaton for The Mandan News
On Main Street in Solen, a small community on the edge of the Standing Rock Reservation, there sits a multi-structured building with a faded hand-painted sign on the side that proclaims it to be the Solen Community Center. Prominent in the sign are the words “youth – parents – children.”
My wife Judy and I were in Solen to attend the annual Christmas celebration as representatives of the Mandan Dacotah Lions Club. As a club project this Christmas, we raised money to help the Good Heart Community Center purchase Christmas gifts for children in the Solen community.
As we entered the community room our senses were assaulted by the smell of food, conversation and goodwill. Louis DeCouteau welcomed us and gave a brief history of the community center, before taking us to the kitchen where plates piled high with ham, turkey, mashed potatoes and beans were placed in our hands.
While we were eating we were introduced to some of the volunteers. Pastor Greg Carn and his wife, along with members from Prairie Family church in Bismarck, volunteer at various events sponsored by the community center throughout the year (Pastor Carn would later appear in the guise of Santa Claus and hand out gifts to the children, calling each one by name, to receive their gifts).
Dorothy Rolfstad, a member of Good Shepherd Lutheran church in Bismarck, has been volunteering at the Community center for eight years. Once a month Dorothy brings items donated by church members to the community center, where they are sold in the thrift shop. She also manages to make most of the community celebrations. What impresses her is that, “The community dinners are always potluck, and the items in the thrift shop are priced according to the person’s ability to pay. Everyone contributes something based on their individual circumstances. It is not a handout, but a way to help while allowing people to maintain their dignity.” Good Shepherd also provides monetary assistance at Christmas.
Robert GreyEagle, associate pastor at Prairie Family, read the Christmas story to the crowd before Santa Claus arrived. “Bobby,” whose mother Rose is a married to Louis, says that, “being half native and half white gives me insight into two worlds, and by volunteering at the community center I am able to give something back to the people I grew up with.”
Joe Bearsheet, who grew up on Standing Rock, is a member at Prairie Family and a trained chef turned concrete worker. He says, ‘Volunteering at the community center gives me a chance to cook for a crowd and keeps me in touch with my roots.”
The inspiration and driving force behind Good Heart Community Center is Louis DeCouteau, an unassuming man who had a dream to make Christmas time better for the children of the Solen community. In 1998 he brought together a few like-minded citizens for discussion. “Community members recalled gathering to receive candy bags from Santa at the American Legion Hall of their youth. Community gatherings were not present when our group discussed our own memories of community functions,” DeCouteau says.
As a result of that meeting an idea was born for a community center. They applied for a grant through Tribal Youth Services, and for two or three years, held Christmas parties for the children in the school gym in Solen.
When money became available in the local district, a proposal was written to purchase a building in the community that was formally a bar. With a building in place the Good Heart Community Center organized as a non-profit organization and increased activities to Sundays and other holidays throughout the year. The building is owned by the district; however, the community center has a 50-year lease on the building. Louis DeCouteau, his wife Rose, Chanda DeCouteau, and Bob GreyEagle act as administrators.
Holidays are now celebrated as a community, and the center is made available to other groups who use the facilities to serve the community, such as SRST Community Health representatives, SRST Diabetes Program, USDA Summer Food Program and Job Service of North Dakota.
The community Center has a thrift store that helps with bills (lighting and phone) and necessities such as propane for cooking the meals that they serve and heating the building during the long cold winters of North Dakota. But they are always in need of donations and any help is appreciated. Contact the community center at 445-3436 for more info. It is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday.
Louis says that “the annual Christmas party and other gatherings are all about “family, family, family. We want to show our children that adults can get along and teach them the value of community.”
As I reflected on the afternoon on the drive home, I recalled that my first impression of the community center from the outside was that it appeared to be several buildings haphazardly pieced together. Yet once inside, the separate buildings mold together to serve a communal purpose. In some odd way that seemed to be a fitting metaphor for people living in small towns across our state.
Communities are made up of individuals seemingly randomly thrown together. Yet they soon discover that if they are to survive they must work together to serve the greater good of the community.
Perhaps we can all take a lesson from the Solen Community. In the final analysis communities, much like Christmas, are really all about “family, family, family.”