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About Kevin Baisch

stay home dad of 3 girls under 8. My wife and I moved to Williston in 2005. I like to fish, hunt, cook, music of all types, politics, and religion.

Pass the collection plate

 

 

April 11, 2012

There is a great deal of concern among my household and that of thousands of households in western North Dakota. I am a life long North Dakotan as is my spouse. Both our families have long standing ties to the community that trace back to homesteading days. Our grand parents and great grand parents came to this state two and three generations ago and by the sweat of their brow and the callousing of their hands carved out a life, a community, a future from the land. Some years were good to them, some not, as is the case when you rely on God’s grace to send rain when needed, to hold storms at bay until harvest in done, to keep the family healthy and safe in between.

North Dakota has been blessed with abundant natural resources, both in the agriculture sector, which includes our families, as well as the energy sector which touches all of us whether or not one has an interest in those resources. One could say that we are in a “good” cycle now and they would be able to make a strong case for that argument. In many cases they are right. The state has, as you are aware, reaped a bountiful harvest from the recent activity in oil exploration and production. Ron Ness, President of the North Dakota Petroleum Council recently reported that there are 5300 wells operating in the state with that to certainly increase. The deputy tax commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger reported in a recent interview that the state has harvested 350,000 barrels of oil per day in March of this year and the state projects to receive $2 billion in oil tax revenue over the next two years. Ron Ness indicated production could reach 700,000 barrels per day by 2015. The last two year budget included $1 billion in savings earmarked for the various state trust funds. In the calendar year 2010, 31% of North Dakota’s tax revenue came directly from oil taxes. It may be more as of this date.

There are many numbers that help tell the story. The city of Williston for example has been rated by the U.S. Census Bureau as the fastest growing micropolitan area in the United States between April 1, 2010 and June 1, 2011 with a growth rate of 8.8%. In 2010 Williston’s population was estimated at 17,000. In 2012 that number has been estimated at 38,000. Tom Rolfstad of the Williston Economic Development Association has cited sources estimating this to grow to 50,000 in 3 years and 100,000 in 5 to 7 years. A similar growth is being experienced through out western N.D.
Watford City’s population swelled from 1500 to 6000 in 18 month. Tioga had a residential population of 2000 a short time ago, but that has certainly doubled during this expansion.

The impacts of this growth are evident in many ways. Williston schools struggle to stay afloat. In a PBS NewsHour September 27,2012 interview, District 8 Principal Steve Guglich said he expects the districts enrollment to double in the next couple years. The school district hired 14 new teachers last year according to Mr. Guglich. 5 are still without permanent housing. In the same interview, Williston Public School District 1 Superintendent Viola LaFonataine echoed those concerns. She said the student influx has required the revamping and use of an old and outdated elementary school building, Mcvay, and the use of multiple portable class rooms. 34 portables were added last year alone, 24 at Mcvay, and 8 at Williston Middle School. The housing shortage has caused harm to students as well as teachers. According to Superintendent LaFontaine there were approximately 19 homeless students in district 1 five years ago. Today there are 170. As families move to the area this crisis will intensify.

Is there a doctor in the house? Increasingly, in western North Dakota, the answer is no. Scare you? If not it should. Maybe where you live you have ample access to healthcare with a variety of specialists. I say that’s wonderful. But at the same time I say to you, your fellow North Dakotans deserve the same care, or at the very least basic level care. Hospitals here have taken a beating. A Stanford University Rural West Initiative piece dated October 1 2012 addresses the issues we face here and is well worth a look.

Healthcare access in rural areas has always been challenging but has become critical with the oil boom and influx of population. Physicians, nurses and all levels of healthcare professionals have been stretched to the limit. Because of the rural nature of the state, the recruitment of new physicans and healthcare professionals is difficult. In the past the population was aging and therefore a different approach was needed to care for them. Recently the patients being served are younger and the injuries and needs quite different. Families with newborns are increasing, as are industrial and vehicular accident and trauma injuries. With limited walk-in services in the community many services are provided at the E.R. level. The Stanford article quotes a statistic by Matt Grimshaw, CEO at Mercy Medical Center in Williston, that pre-boom E.R. visits were about 8,000 per year. In 2013 that will triple to more than 24,000. The article quotes the CEO of Tioga Medical Center, Randall Pederson and Dr. Tyrone Langager at Montrail County Medical Center in Stanley addressing similar concerns with E.R. visits off the charts.

Bad debt is increasing as well, mostly due to the fact that even with good paying jobs, housing is not available. Those receiving services disappear into the community without a traceable address. Even with precautions to obtain as much information as possible, they are sometimes like a wisp of smoke. The workforce in this area is very “fluid” to say the least. Grimshaw indicated pre-boom bad debt at $2 million per year. This year? $7 million. This is not sustainable.

Law enforcement, firefighters, or ambulance departments have felt the pressure as well. Law enforcement reports a 260% increase in emergency calls since 2009. Nights with 30 or more calls are common now. In the past there were an average of 5 or 6 a night. Ambulance calls have doubled in the last 5 years with 436 vehicular crashes last year, many between cars and semis, however the Williston Fire Department still has the same number of employees it had prior to the boom. The police department has fared slightly better and has been authorized by the Williston City Commission to hire 7 new officers and have done that. They are needed as DUI’s are up 77% from 2009 numbers. More domestic calls, crashes, fights, more child abuse cases.

What will it take to recruit professionals for all areas? More doctors, nurses,lawyers, dentists, therapists, accountants, teachers, firefighters, law enforcement, retail, hospitality industry, or tradesman? One word. Infrastructure.

Williston hired the services of Advanced Engineering and Environmental Services Incorporated to assess those needs. Here is a quick, but certainly not all inclusive, “laundry list” of what they reported as essential. The needs of the city in their opinion include, $102 million for storm sewers, $18 million for solid waste, $23 million water plant upgrade, $87 million for waste water improvements, and $258 million for roads and transportation.

That’s just the “ground work ” but it is essential in order to build homes, that will bring families that will fill out our community and broaden the tax base. It will bring the teachers to teach, the store owners to provide goods and services, the healthcare workers to care for our families, and the clergy to minister to us. It will provide the city workers to care for our city, to keep it clean, keep it safe, and promote not only Williston, or Tioga, Stanley, Watford City, or Dickinson, but North Dakota as a whole. We have a rare opportunity here, a once in a lifetime opportunity to show the nation and in some instances the world what we can do here in rural America. We can provide a way to lift our country out of its dependence on foreign oil. We can provide jobs to Americans and security to the nation at the same time, but we can not do it alone. We need our legislators.We need them to see a vision that is not a two year or three year vision. We need them to look a dozen years, two dozen years down the road. To see what will be not only next year, but next generation. That vision requires courage. It requires a bit of a risk. It requires funding. Without courage it will be difficult to take that first step. Without enduring risk it will be difficult to stay steady and patient and without funding it will be impossible altogether.

I hope they strike down proposed cuts in funding to oil impacted communities. When the “collection plate” is passed please take a moment to support adding to it.  It is an investment in our fellow North Dakotans, old and new alike. It is an investment in our children and their children. It is a reminder that we are a state that cares for one another, friend and stranger alike and are a people who are not afraid to meet a challenge. We can do this, we must do this, but we must do so together.

Kevin Baisch
Williston N.D.

 

The Praying Type

The stress is building in the medical community each and every day. While the country debates jobs we have the opposite problem. Too many openings that remain unfilled. It’s not  for lack of applicants. Our population has swelled and applications pour in as well. The problem is what has been the problem for many many months. Infrastructure. Specifically, housing. Affordable housing. The medical community is stretched so thin  and they are beginning to show the strain.  Even doctors who have ties and commitments to the area are beginning to question how long they can hang on.  Some are leaving, including my daughters primary care physician. The doctors and nurses who remain are swamped with case loads and no longer take new patients. It is a frightening scene here. Just today a man came into the hospital looking for a “walk in ” clinic. When he was told there is not one available on Saturdays he made an angry comment about how he was from Montana and people said they were “backward” there, but it is much worse here.
I bristle at that. This has nothing to do with whether or not we are “backward” here in Williston. It has everything to do with resources. Sometimes late at night I toss and turn and slip from the comfort of my bed to look out the window at the cars driving by on the street out front. Glass of water in hand, I think about how a handful of employees at the local hospital and clinics are trying valiantly to hold those places together. I know many of them.I trust them. I have come to love some of them, but I also know that they are human. They are tired. They look for help. They receive little. And so they forge on.  I wonder if they would be ready for me should I or my family need them. I hear stories of  long waits in the emergency room.  Of doctors seeing too many patients in one day. Of personnel burning out, turning over, calling it quits.
While the providers in the area build new additions and in some instances completely new buildings I can’t help but wonder who will staff them. It is frightening, it is disheartening. Just yesterday the call went out for 5 ambulances at the same time. We have 4. The crews did the best they could and coped by pulling an older unit out of the garage. I am so grateful for those responders. I am grateful for all the medical personnel in the community. I also fear for them. The stress is overwhelming. Sometimes I am reminded of the old M.A.S.H. television series. The choppers approach. The medical team scrambles. Sometimes successfully, sometime not. It is a triage mentality.
Will this improve? I believe in my heart that it will. When?….only when the state takes the seriousness of this situation to heart and begins to think outside the box.  It will take bold steps and leadership. It will take someone to step up and no longer wait for “private enterprise” to close the gap in housing and infrastructure. We can no longer let the fear of stepping on the toes of real estate agents, contractors, and tradesman stifle what we know needs to be done. Under normal circumstances I agree with the free market system. In the long run the market will correct. It will provide. It will compensate.  In the short term, it can not. It will not. These are not normal circumstances. These are not normal times. When it comes to the education, health care and safety of the community it is necessary in extreme times to take extreme measures. To step up and take control of the situation. If that means providing temporary  ”man camps” for  employees financed and built by the state or federal government…so be it.  We need to provide housing for teachers, dentists, pharmacists, doctors, nurses, mental health, law enforcement, fire and first responder personnel. We need it now. These people are the glue that holds a healthy and productive community together. Without them, the community is less productive, less pleasant, less stable, less safe. If your’e the praying type, pray that our leaders see this, understand it, and act on it…even if it is unpopular. If your’e not the praying type….find someone who is.

Picnic Anyone?

Today’s the day the kids have been waiting for. Each day I tell them how many days before the “event.”  The day has finally come. The ” Sizzlin Summer Party is today.  

Come to the party

” I can’t wait” Marlee says.  ” Will they have the jumping castles?” Anna asks, getting right in my face.
“Yes” I reply. 
“Will they have the pink one, can we go in it?”  She presses. 
“I don’t know what color they’ll have Anna, but they’ll have a big one set up, and sure you can go in it.”  I respond.
” Oh good!” She says as she jumps a little.
Ah, the life of a 3 year old. So simple.

 We pull into the church lot and park by the kitchen door.  As we walk in to drop off the cookies we baked for the event I notice the  fridge and church kitchen and  pantry are stocked with the goods of a picnic.  I spy 20 or 30 watermelons.  Flats of buns, jars of pickles, boxes of chips, large cans of beans, bottles of ketchup, mustard and relish.  Trays of cookies and deserts line the counter. Coolers are at the ready. Grills are lined up like soldiers ready to be given the command to press the attack. Looks pretty impressive. Pretty organized. Norwegians are like that. 

 We have been back in Williston for 8 years now. Each year First Lutheran Church throws a summer get together for the community. When it started it was simply a “block party” and involved maybe 100 to 200 people, most of which were First Lutheran Church members.  Today there there could be 2000 or more. The word is out. The need is great.

As the community swells with new arrivals, the need also swells. The need for a meal. The need for a place to rest for even an hour or two on a summer’s evening. Hot as it is, and in a new place, the faces are always appreciative. They contain smiles, even if the eyes show signs of weariness. Of course many friends and neighbors will  come as well. Many will  “man” the grills, work the serving table, the cotton candy, popcorn and snow cone machines. Some, those with musical talent, will be under the tent put up on the lawn, to sing, play guitar, keyboard, or in some instances to dance a bit for the crowd who  will gather on chairs,  also sheltered from the sun.   The children will run and scream and laugh. Families will put blankets down on the church lawn to eat with one another. Quickly, if at all, in the case of the kids so that they can get to the games and “fun stuff.” 

getting ready

 

This is what we are called to do. As members of the community. As Christians, if that be the case, although there will be no “preaching”  in  a formal manner. Sometimes what is done by the people of a  community or church speaks louder than what is printed or preached. Lately I have been “big ” on examples. On actions. Sometimes that is not the case.  Williston is no different. Sometimes we are better at acting and sometimes we stumble in that regard.  Whether or not those who put on this event are members of First Lutheran, another church, or any church at all…they are setting an example of what it means to be charitable. An example of what it is to be a community. An example of what it means to be our “brothers keeper.”  I hope those who put this on and those who come will enjoy the experience. I also hope that those who come, the children, those who care for them, and those who simply want fellowship and a meal, will take note of the example set by the church, and the community of Williston. This is a good place to be.  The people are kind. They care. In the middle of all the bad stories of the day let’s not forget to acknowledge that fact.

Walk a Mile In My Shoes ( Boots )

The girls buzz up and down the aisle. Every couple feet I hear a ” Dad, can I have this?”  shouted out from one and then followed by the other two.  The toys they held up were beyond our discussed “limit” and my enforcement of those limits was being tested repeatedly. It seems they know that I will weaken eventually.
” Nope, keep looking.” I reply, which draws a couple of “awwww’s” from two of the three.  The third is quietly looking at books. She hasn’t learned the art of whining and begging yet it seems.
As i wait for them to choose I look toward the counter.  A tall, thin man is doubled over pulling his jeans down over a new pair of boots. His hands are dark from being in the sun as is his neck. I can not see his face. I glance at the jeans he is wearing. They are stained and smudged with the dirt, grease, and grime that comes with hard work and maybe hard luck. The knee has one big hole. His shirt fares little better. Pocket torn, also stained from sweat and dirt. Sleeves rolled up. He straightens up revealing a face that is etched with wrinkles, but one that contains a smile for his new purchase.  He brushes the sun bleached hair away from his face and turns toward the clerk.
“There” he says, putting his weight, which isn’t much, on his new boots for the first time. ” Made it a month on these.” he says proudly, holding up the old pair, the front of which is almost completely gone.  I detect a bit of a southern drawl.
The clerk in a patronizing tone that I find myself using sometimes with the girls when I am distracted or not too interested in their escapades, replies ” oh really?”  Then looking closer and with more interest, she continued with ” Looks like you’ve walked in some nasty stuff with those, gotten your moneys worth out of them for sure.”
“Yep”  he replies. ” Nasty stuff at work.”   He pulls a bag from the rack and places his old boots into it to take with him, although there is little left of them to take home. “Thank you ma’am” he says with a smile to the clerk. He picks up his bag and heads toward the door wearing the new ones.
“How about this dad?” my oldest says, drawing my attention away from the boot man. I turn to look at her holding up an appaloosa horse set, her sister at her side. Their eyes study my face. I can almost feel them holding their breath. My eyes dart to the price tag and I frown a bit and pause. The girls have seen this move enough to know that I am on the fence about their request.  After a moment I reply. ” Ok, but I want you to all to share them.”  I watch them literally jump off the floor. ” We will dad!”  The clerk smiles and she rings the set up, along with a book for my youngest daughter.
As we climb back into the pickup I consider the boot man once again. His pleasure with the new boots was not that different from that of my daughters with their horses. On one level the same, but on another quite the opposite.  One a necessity. One absolutely not so.  This man was grateful to have a job and from that job buy those boots. Something tells me, however, that man has more needs than boots. A new shirt? New pants?  A place to live? I don’t know.  I do know this:  you need none of those things to set a good example. This man did so for me without even knowing it.

You Raise Me Up

I listen to ” You raise me up” streaming from my speaker tuned to Pandora. The day is cloudy, overcast and humid.  A shower has moved thru the area and as a result the dust that so often is hanging in the air from the truck traffic to and from the rig sites has settled.  A second round of rain closes in from the west. The air is clean and I can see a great distance. The girls, trapped inside, play games on the computer, read, and occasionally ask for yogurt.
I have a moment to reflect. I think of our “little town” and what is happening here.  Life here is busy but not more so than many cities. What strikes me about Williston now is the “mix” of people who now live here. North Dakota is not known for it’s diversity, and western North Dakota even less so I would imagine. Let’s face it, the North Dakota of the past is one of Norwegians, Germans, Poles and and Dane’s. Studious, serious, hardworking, honest and strong of faith. They are still here…but they have company

My mind slips back to the other evening in line at the local store. I was in line with my daughters. Julia wanted a new hat and so she picked out a “Phineas and Ferb”  baseball style hat to go with the other items that we had in our cart. The lines were full, as is the custom here lately. Julia tried her hat on and then handed it to me to try. I removed my Twins baseball cap and tried her new one on instead, which brought a round of giggles from her, as well as her sisters, and a couple smiles from surrounding customers.
“That hat looks silly on you” Marlee said.  ” Yeah, it looks better on me.” Julia agreed, and with that I returned it to her.
“It’s not my style.” I said, ” it has the flat brim, and besides, its teal colored.”  I said.  ”There are all kinds of style of hats you know.” I continued. “Look over there for example.” I said, motioning a few check stands over where a tall man with a white wide brimmed cowboy hat waited patiently.  ” Or there.”  motioning the other direction where a ” biker” dude stood with a circular, almost pill box style hat on his head. Both took note of our little chat and fashion show and nodded at us.  Julia smiled and pulled her hat back on.  In fact, the store that night had quite the cross section of the new community. Cowboy, biker, man with dreadlocks, guy with a nose ring, ( which Marlee kept staring at) and a girl in goth garb, ( is that still popular?) as well as a family with children, and an elderly couple winking at the girls .  All those in line different in appearance but yet the same inside.
The community is different. It has changed. Perception of this as positive or negative depends, as many things in this life , on the attitude, experience and viewpoint of the individual. The song finishes with the lines,
“You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains;You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas;I am strong, when I am on your shoulders;You raise me up… To more than I can be.”

As a community we have he ability to view what is happening here in the same way. In a good light or in a bad light. We can cling to the past and it’s perceived “good times” or embrace the changes and pray for the strength to be ” raised up….to more than we can be.”
I struggle at times with this very issue. I would be dishonest if I did not say so. But in all reality I find Williston a more interesting place, not in spite of these newcomers, but because of them.

Man About Town

 

Drive by the tall green one again” Julia says from the back seat. Suddenly they are all chanting, “green one, green one, green one” over and over until they see me make the turn to circle around the block. A loud cheer comes from the “peanut gallery” as they realize they will get a second look at one of their favorite new homes going up west of our place. We are on our weekly drive around town to see what is new, and believe me there is much that is new.

The green one is spooky” Julia says. “Yeah” her kid sister echos. “Why do you say that?” I asked. “ Oh I don’t know she says, I guess because it’s so tall and skinny.” “ Oh “ is all I can manage.

instant neighborhood

 

I am concentrating on weaving in between the beehive of activity and cluster of vehicles along the construction site streets. The streets are choked with pickups, utility trucks, trailers of materials and even a dump truck and cement truck. As we circle the block I notice that there are campers, backed in along side and in between new partially constructed homes. Along side them sitting on lawn chairs and next to grills from which plumes of savory smelling smoke rise are workers from the sites. They smile and wave pleasantly as if we are just one of many who drive by to look. I am sure that is the case.

Housing for tradesman working on new homes

We wave back and continue on down past the “spooky” green house, much to the approval of our backseat “navigators.” “ Let’s keep driving around awhile.” I say, and off we go to explore other parts of town.

As we drive we come across much that catches my eye. Much of what I see is certainly not spooky, as my daughter says, but I do find the speed at which things are changing and moving here a bit unsettling. We head down along the southeast side of town. Past the train depot. In front are standing the newest arrivals, bags at their feet, phones in hand. Some smoking, some talking to one another, but all certainly wondering what is next for them.

New Arrivals

 

 

A little further, still on railroad property, we come across flatcars of fracking sand. Some of it a type of ceramic proppant to help hold the fractures open. A man on a forklift works to load them on to a semi trailer to be trucked to the well site. He is sweating, but smiles and waves when he sees the girls in the pickup. I notice the “made in China” stamped on the bags and wonder if the sand is from China or just the bag. I suspect the sand may come from there since I have seen some on previous swings thru the rail yard that have been stamped with the U.S.S.R. Label.

frack sand

 

 

The girls have been after me to get some beef sticks and so I make the turn toward Prairie Packing and pass south of Scenic Sports. As we reach the tracks we see off to our left, more bags. This time they are labeled, “flyash.” “Wow!, look at all the bags you guys.” I say.

 

flyash

 

What’s in them?” Marlee asks.

Flyash” I reply.

“Fly what?” the girls say and begin to giggle.

Fly ASH “ I pronounce a little slower this time, knowing what they thought I said.

Their giggling subsides as I explain that flyash is used for mixing in with drilling liquids before burying in the pit. The girls are clearly bored with my explanation and so we move on.

 

Closer to Prairie Packing we come across a row of temporary housing. “Looks a little crowded don’t you think?” I say to the girls. A simple “ yeah” is all I am getting now. They seem to be tiring of my little tour of town.

temporary housing

 

A quick stop at the meat market and beef sticks in hand seem to brighten their mood. “ Next stop the park.” I announce.

Yeah, park, park, park, park.” they go, back to chanting in unison.

 

Which one will it be ladies?” I ask.

Davidson!” says one, “ Harmon!” says another. It appears that we have a stalemate.

We have time for both today.” I say solving the problem…for now.

 

Davidson Park

Some things even in the midst of this explosion of growth and activity remain constant. The good natured rivalry of sisters.

The Perfect Storm

Mercy Medical Center Outpatient Wing

I can see it in her eyes and in her body language. She scoops up the kids in an effort to move beyond the demands of the day and I look closer at her. ” How was your day?” I ask.  ” We lost a couple more nurses in the clinic today, and two in the o.r. ” The stress and weariness in her voice confirm my suspicions. It’s not been the best of days for her. ” I just don’t know what they are going to do over there.”  she continues. ” How can they even recruit new staff when there is no housing?”  ” Oh man.” I reply.  ” That’s not good at all.”  ” What’s going on?” I ask.” It’s a lot of different things” she says  ” There has been some unhappiness for quite awhile over there, but things are just coming to a head.”
She goes on to explain the situation. It is indeed a “perfect storm” if you will and it’s hitting at the worst possible time for the community. A combination of stress on wage levels for health professionals, an increase in workload, patients, and hourly demands and a decrease in the number of physicians.
Her concerns are the communities concerns…even if the community does not realize it. The gravity of the situation is apparent to those who work in the healthcare facilities in the community, but not to those who come through the doors for care. In the communities eyes, they only see a long wait time to be seen, or  even to obtain an appointment in the first place.

Lego's Williston Style

If you visit with those in the field you will see a deeper and more serious problem. One that is accelerating and frightening.  As housing is priced out of reach for even professionals in the community those that leave will not be replaced easily. Shorter staff levels only ratchet up the stress level of those who remain. Physicians, Nurses, Pharmacists, Physical and occupational therapists, dietitians, as well as environmental services personnel are stretched thin….and getting thinner. I am fearful that the quality of care in the community will suffer. Indeed…it may already be compromised to some degree by the short staffing. The local facilities have provided quality healthcare for many years. Mercy Medical Center and Craven Hagan Clinic have been pivotal in providing health care for this community for decades and Trinity Health has also stepped up to the plate. Both facilities, as noted in the picture above, are building new facilities or additions to the existing facilities.  Many in this area have opened their homes, my wife and I included,to take in those professionals who are willing to come to Williston but have not found the housing required to settle properly. They patiently wait for housing to catch up, or to come down a bit in price.

I am thankful for those healthcare professionals who come, and who are patient. Their patience is a heavy price for them to pay, but one that I thank God for often, for when the time comes that I or my family need medical attention I want to be assured that the E.R. will be staffed. That the doctors and nurses will be rested, alert, fully focused and ready to help my child, my wife, or myself. If that is not the case I fear the price that will be paid will be by a loved one…of my family…or yours.

Oil and water ( for elephants )

Have you seen the movie Water For Elephants? It’s not too old of a movie. For me it is pretty new actually. When you chase kids all day, every day, there is little time to keep pace with movies…grown up movies at least. The story  is set during the great depression and opens with Jacob, a veterinarian  student,being called out of class and informed of his parents death in a automobile accident. It turns out that his father, who apparently was a doctor as well, had borrowed heavily against their house to finance Jacobs education, and in addition to that he was a kind hearted man who had performed services for people of limited means and took little money for those services. As a result Jacob not only lost his parents that day, but also his education, home and all his belongings. As the story continues, Jacob packs his suitcase and walks away from his home, head bowed and not looking back, not knowing where he is going.He walks until he can no longer, and then hears a train approach. All he knows is he can no longer walk,  his feet hurt, he is exhausted and can not move any further on his own. He  jumps the train losing his suitcase in the effort.  The boxcar he lands in is full and he almost meets his death at the hands of the occupants as they think he is a hobo…until they look at his clothes. The only thing he had left. They are of nice quality and clean. It turns out the train is a circus train and the leader in the car recognizes Jacob’s potential. He gives him a chance, and a job.

That got me thinking. There are many parallels in this storyline and in what is happening in our country and our state.  Each day I see new people in town. Every single day. Just yesterday as I took the girls across a busy intersection from the park to the ice cream shop, we passed just such a newcomer. He looked tired, but clean. Resting on a bench at the street corner. His backpacks off his shoulders and at his feet. One resting behind his back to provide a bit of a backrest.  All of his worldly possessions in three bags. I nodded at him as we approached. He did not return the nod but did take note of the girls and I may have detected a bit of a smile.  We continued on our way.  While watching this movie I found myself thinking about this man. I wonder if he was another “Jacob.”  How many times have I judged people coming here by standards that may pigeon hole them? Am I the ruffian from the boxcar, or am I the leader in the car who recognizes the worth of the person in front of me?

As this country struggles in what some are now calling a depression, I wonder if our state and more specifically our town of Williston could be considered a kind of “circus train” as in the story. The circus train provided a level of excitement to the town. It also provided a level of caution by residents of the community.  The very nature of this “fluid” and transitory group, exciting as it was, in their midst was at the same time intriguing and unsettling.
I  believe that as a community and certainly as an individual, we are sometimes the ruffian in the circus boxcar  and sometimes the leader.  If we copy the ruffian, we will erect our defenses. We will hurt, divide and drive away newcomers. If we strive to emulate the leader, we can as individuals and as communities provide the opportunity for those who come to here to do what the lead in the story accomplished.  He found hope. He found acceptance. He found love.

House of God?

I take a bite of my cheeseburger, grab an onion ring and listen to my daughters laugh and play a bit with my wife on the other side of the booth. The girls seem more interested in playing with mom than they do with finishing their chicken, but that’s o.k. Mom has been working a bit extra lately and they are happy to be together. The local truckstop diner is small and busy but we were able to find a spot and get our order before the rush. Suddenly I see my wife’s face light up and a “hi there” come out of her mouth. I turn to see  a familar face approach our table. It is the smiling face of a young woman, clean in appearance and dress. With her is a young boy, also clean and smiling. “I didn’t recognize you at first” my wife says. ” Oh, yeah , I’m not in uniform” she says with a laugh. They go on to visit more while the girls and I continue to poke at our meals. I listen in. She goes on to tell us more of her story. Last time I visited with her she was new to town. It was a couple months ago. She was working as a waitress in a local restaurant. She had no place to sleep, except on couches of those good enough to show her that kindess. Now it seems, a few weeks later things had improved somewhat. She had a camper here now and her family, a boy 7, who was with her, and a daughter 14 who was not. As her story unfolded futher my interest was peaked when she began to talk of what was happening to her family since we last visited. She, along with 5 others had taken CNA training classes at a local “care facility.” I hesitate to name the facility but the title of this post derives it’s name from the Hebrew translation of the word. I’ll leave it at that. All of the students for the certified nursing assistant program had completed the training in a timely fashion. All were ready to take the next step. To become certified. In order to do so they would need to take a test. Once that was done and they were “certified” they would receive a substantial raise in their hourly wage, from approximately $7 an hr. to $15 per hr. There seemed to be a catch however. The facility would pay for the test, but only when they felt they were ready. The state of ND allows students 4 month to take the test upon completion of the classroom curriculum. As long as this woman was not certified, the facility could continue to pay her less. My heart broke for her as she continued.  ” We live behind the facilty in the camper” ” We have no electricity, no water, and no sewer” ” I need the test so that I can earn the higher wage, then I can move the camper to a better spot, one with hook ups”  ” The other five CNA students all quit she said when they could no longer wait for the test. They all went out on their own and took the test, paying for it themselves she continued. ” I can’t afford the fee for the test to do that myself” she said. I felt an emptyness in my stomach, even though we had just eaten. The boy shifted from foot to foot waiting for hiis mom to finish the story. ” If i can’t get the facility to cover the cost of the test I may go back to my waitressing job I first had, it paid me $2 an hour more anyway” ” Then maybe I can save enough to take the test on my own.”   She paused, and then moved the conversation on to something else for a few minutes and then just as quickly as she had appeared, she said good bye and headed to the till to pay for their meal and leave.

How could this be? What would cause a facility that is to care for community members to act in this manner? Why would they treat employees in this way? Could they not provide this employee with a plug in for electricity, or hook up for water? This is a hard working individual that is ready, willing and capable to care for our community members who can not care for themselves.  Mothers and fathers, uncles, aunts, neighbors and friends. Are they not worth the price of some water and electricity? Are they not worth the price of a certification test? Or of the additional $15,000 a year that employee would cost you once certified? It is appalling and shameful that a facility, who is not struggling financially, should act in this manner. Even an institution that is serving in the name of Christ can be swayed by money. It is a sad reality, but one that doesn’t have to be that way. It is my sincere hope that they will reconsider their policy and their decision to delay the testing of employees. That they will help this woman and others like her to become productive members of their facility and this community. If they do so, their faciltiy will once again be worthy of being called ” The House of God”