Supporting Native American Students
August 16, 2013
It’s not surprising that a city with a name like Shawnee would boast a rich Native American history. Nor is it surprising that an enterprising group would form to address the needs of the culture’s youngest descendants. The Shawnee American Indian Education Parent Committee assists the local school district in meeting the unique culturally related academic needs of the American Indian/Alaska Native student population. However, it came as something of a surprise to Wendie Boswell when she wound up becoming vice chairperson of the SIEPC while attending her very first meeting.
“A vice chair was needed and someone asked if anyone was willing to step up,” recalls Boswell, who is a member of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma. “I said, ‘Yes, I’ll step up. What do you want me to do?’ I’m not going to sit here and complain if I’m not going to do anything.” That was three years ago. Without blinking, this mother of five tacked on yet another responsibility to her laundry list of volunteer duties—a list sure to exhaust the average person.
Some of her other posts include serving as PTO president of Shawnee Early Childhood Center, a huge facility that instructs 600 preschoolers and kindergartners, her youngest son among them. She’s also an active PTO member at Will Rogers Elementary and has been known to fill in at other Shawnee schools where parent help is slim. Mindful of the SIEPC’s mission, Boswell is often the organizer behind arts and crafts workshops staged specifically for Native American students. Designed to make them aware of their history and culture, the children work on projects that are later featured in a yearly art show the SIEPC mounts and displays at the district’s administrative office.
Boswell is a driving force behind the SIEPC’s annual fundraising powwow. It’s a large-scale event the whole community is invited to attend. She also helps line up Native American dancers and storytellers to perform at individual schools. Such offerings are part of the SIEPC’s efforts to promote cross-cultural understanding and appreciation of all racial and ethnic communities.
When she’s not volunteering in the schools or running meetings, Boswell somehow finds time to oversee a nonprofit she started called Birthdays Made With Love. It provides homemade cakes to foster children in several Oklahoma counties. In the beginning, she was baking five to 10 cakes a week by herself. Now a network of 150 volunteers is in place. Their combined efforts result in about 75 to 100 birthday cakes a month being made available to families who request them.
Of all her activities, Boswell says she enjoys her hands-on work in the schools most. Friday popcorn sales at the Shawnee Early Childhood Center remain a perennial favorite. “I just love when I’m at the store or somewhere and kids come up and say ‘Oh! You’re the popcorn mom! You bring us popcorn every Friday!’ It’s just cute.” She also treasures her own children’s pride when she coaches not one, but two little league teams. “They’ll say, ‘Hey, that’s my mom out there helping to coach,’” she says.
Her family certainly has a right to be proud. Clearly everything she does emanates from a warm heart. Emotion spills into her voice as she says, “There’s so many kids out there whose parents do not care what’s going on in their lives, and if just one person shows them they do care, it might help.”
Boswell recently became a grandmother when her oldest daughter had a baby girl. She knows the day will come when all her children will be grown with families of their own. And where will Boswell be? Most likely volunteering in her grandchildren’s schools, which wouldn’t be much of a surprise at all.
Writer: June Allan Corrigan
Photo credit: Dejah Quinn