By Robert Lucke
Sheila Alefteras is an amazing person. First, the specifics. She works at a local day care center. Surrounded by 12 tiny tikes, Alefteras ate a bowl of macaroni and catsup (a dish, by the way, she does not recommend for anyone else) and talked of her life in Havre.
Raised here since she was 10 years old, she is a single parent working and raising her 6-year-old son, Jordan.
Alefteras is one of the people who make Van Orsdel United Methodist Church in Havre a better place for the rest of the congregation.
"I am overloaded," admitted Alefteras. "I am the Sunday school superintendent, a member of the finance committee, I do the Sunday openings for Sunday school, I play in the bell choir, and I have the revitalization program."
"Revitalization," she said, "is a movement to organize churches and faith-based ministry. It is designed to revitalize church and community through Bible study and eventually ending in a community mission of some kind. It is a way to join forces with other churches to help our community that so desperately needs help."
Alefteras knows of specific needs in the Havre community.
"There are unsupervised children, no place for the homeless except for under bridges, and a high number of senior citizens shut-ins not receiving proper services," Alefteras said. "This is a problem that could be addressed by local churches and there is nothing we couldn't do to fix problems or at least help to fix them. Think what we could do if we all united together to work on a project. The results would be amazing."
Alefteras has gone to workshops in Great Falls and Chicago to find out more about revitalization and is working hard to make it work for Van Orsdel and other community churches.
That does not keep her involved enough so she is a team leader and group worker in the local cancer Relay for Life programs that happen in Havre.
"Relay for Life is the signature event for the American Cancer Society," she said. "It is to raise money for support services and cancer research. In Havre it is a 12-hour walk-a-thon once a year. I am a team captain and in charge of entertainment and helping with cancer control."
Word of mouth was what drew Alefteras to the Relay for Life.
"My cousin saw one and when they were going to have a relay in Havre, she told me they really had fun so I went to a meeting and soon this became another one of those very important parts of my life that get me overloaded at times," Alefteras said.
"I got involved for two reasons," she continued. "My mom is a survivor of colon cancer and is in remission. This is one way that I can get involved and I can make a contribution. And this is a place where my son can contribute right along with me. He gets to be a part of something that is bigger than he is and we can do it together. It is definitely a family project. Where else can you stay overnight in the middle of Havre in a tent and be safe?"
And if all that was not enough, Alefteras just finished a seven-church Vacation Bible School project.
"Seven churches were involved in a communitywide Bible school and we doubled our numbers from a year ago," Alefteras said. "We served kids from all over town and it was free. There is a great need for free programs for our children. Some just can't afford to pay."
In addition, Alefteras has just recently became a licensed foster care parent.
And if all that is not enough in her life, she is going back to school next fall.
"I have a year and a half of elementary education already and I wanted to become a teacher and live in Havre, but that is not going to happen and I don't know if I want to relocate," Alefteras said. "Isn't it funny that Bush is giving all that money back to the people because we have so much left over, but we are closing our schools and increasing class sizes because of no money."
MSU-Northern is offering a new degree in community service. That sounds interesting to Alefteras.
So why does she do all that she does? Simple, really.
"I feel a very strong calling from God to be involved in volunteer work. It is not always easy. I do have to make sacrifices, but it is a privilege and really my duty to do so," Alefteras said, smiling broadly.
"And I do have strong support," she said. "If I can do all this work and be a single parent, everyone can find something that they can support. My motto is if you have time to relax, you are not doing enough."