By Alan Sorensen
If you had a choice of living anywhere in the world for a year, where would it be?
For a German woman and an Ohio man, that place is Havre, Mont.
Ingrid Bockstahler and Philip Stafford arrived in Havre Oct. 9 for the purpose of donating a year of their lives to District IV Human Resources Development Council (HRDC).
Bockstahler hails from Teningen, Germany, where she served as executive secretary to the mayor of neighboring Emmendigen. Bradford graduated from high school in Bradford, Ohio two years ago and spent a year in construction and as summer camp counselor.
"Another guy and I built three homes, a couple of spec homes and one custom home," Stafford said. "And I did a little work on a restaurant before helping at summer camp."
The pair are volunteers with the Brethren Volunteer Service of the Church of the Brethren, though each arrived with the agency through different routes.
"I grew up in the Church of the Brethren," Stafford said about his understanding of the volunteer program. "It's always been around."
"I started with a German peace organization, Eirene," Bockstahler said. "It's Greek for peace. BVS is the American partner organization."
The two self-starters were among a group of volunteers from Germany and throughout the United States who gathered for orientation at Camp LaVerne in Angelus Oaks, Calif. The volunteers lived together as a community for three weeks and studied such topics as honoring diversity, conflict resolution, global economics and spiritual gifts.
A weekend was spent in Los Angeles and Tijuana, Mexico, where volunteers spent time learning about urban and homeless issues. They prepared and distributed food for homeless people on skid row in East Los Angeles and for people making a living salvaging at the Tijuana dump.
The orientation was intended to build community spirit among participants through personal sharing, fellowship and increased knowledge of the world.
They arrived in Great Falls by bus from San Bernardino, Calif. and were driven to Havre by HRDC Executive Director Tom Bolan shortly after midnight Oct. 9. Bolan said the only amenities the volunteers receive are: a living allowance of $55 to $65 per month depending on their time of service; vehicles for work-related transportation; housing and some food.
Each of them came to Havre by choice.
"When you go to orientation, they have files on each project, including ones overseas Europe, Central America, China," Stafford said. "Part of the time at orientation is to go through the files. Eventually, you form your top three choices and usually you get your first choice."
Stafford chose Havre first.
"It was this project or the Brethren Response Project, where they go in after hurricanes, floods, and help out and rebuild," he said. "All of mine were based on that kind of work."
So did Bockstahler.
"Havre was number one," she said. "I told them, My first choice is up here (she said holding her hand above her head) and my second is down here (with her hand below her knees).'"
Havre came in first for Bockstahler because it's Havre.
"Because of Montana first of all and because I'm really interested in the Indian culture. I saw pictures of Montana. It's really beautiful, as I expected."
Bockstahler is making her second volunteer appearance in America. Three years ago, she served at Gould Farm, a rehab center for mentally disabled people in Monterey, Mass. She is a trained secretary with a lengthy professional background.
Bockstahler's duties with the Havre agency revolve around the Domestic Abuse program, including management of the Haven. Stafford is a jack-of-all-trades who takes care of countless odd jobs for the agency.
"I enjoy Havre and my job very much," Bockstahler said. "I'm the new shelter (Haven) manager. I'm doing women's support and taking care of low-income families."
Stafford, too, has found a niche in Havre, and has no problem staying busy.
"I've been moving a lot of furniture," he said. "But most of the programs have things for me to do."
Besides moving furniture out of the HRDC office in Harlem, Stafford has helped with the transitional housing moved in from the abandoned Air Force Base north of Havre. Right now, he's doing inside finish work on the relocated base housing converted into additional Head Start classrooms.
"People in the housing or Section 8 housing call when they have something that needs looking at," Stafford said. "If I think I can't do it, we call someone to get it done. But I try to do everything I can so we don't have to pay someone to get it done, like a plumber."
The two volunteers have taken their volunteerism on the road, helping out at the Feed My Sheep Soup Kitchen when they can.
For recreation, they've been hiking in the Bear Paws and Stafford said he spends what time he can in the park. "I'm starting to help at the ski area, too," Stafford said.
Bockstahler said she and Stafford will probably spend some if not most of their weekends during the ski season at the Bear Paw Ski Hill on the Chippewa Cree Recreation Area. They plan on donating half of their ski days to selling lift tickets at the area located nearly 30 miles due south of Havre on the Beaver Creek Highway.
Bockstahler's hobbies include biking, hiking, reading and swimming. She has been involved with Amnesty International, the Green Party and the Cultural Centre. She is amember of Evangelische Kirche Teningen-Koendringen Lutheran in Teningen-Koendringen, Germany.
Stafford received his high school diploma in 1999 and has experience as a camp counselor and contracting assistant.
Stafford's hobbies include basketball, soccer and working on his bus. He is a member of Oakland Church of the Brethren in Gettysburg, Ohio.
Stafford got to put his basketball knowledge to work as soon as he hit town.
"Tom's daughter (Bolan), was on a fifth-grade basketball team and I volunteered to help coach the team," Stafford said. The fifth-grade season ended and Stafford began looking for a fast-break basketball team to play on.
Bockstahler has use of an HRDC car and Stafford has use of the agency's utility truck.
"I went around last weekend to see the museums and explore some of the history around this area," Bockstahler said.
Bockstahler will remain in the Havre area throughout the year, but Stafford plans to head home to Ohio for the Christmas holidays.
Bockstahler and Stafford are taking part in a longstanding tradition of ministry through service established as BVS in 1948. BVS works at advocating justice, peacemaking, serving basic human needs and maintaining the integrity of creation.
They are among 100 volunteers working worldwide with various peace and social-economic justice organizations focusing on many current social needs including care for children, youth and senior citizens; ecological issues; homelessness; refugee assistance; domestic and international peacemaking; and general community services.
In exchange for their work, volunteers receive room, board and a small monthly stipend from their project.
Brethren Volunteer Service, a program of the Church of the Brethren General Board, is open to any person 18 or older who is interested in service through a Christian program.