Alternative Spring Break Scholarship Winner Katie Heinen Works With the Navajo
Business marketing major, Katie Heinen, a junior at the University of Colorado Boulder, has had a passion for community service since she was 12 years old. Through a Casey Feldman Foundation Alternative Spring Break Scholarship, she was able to further pursue this passion at the Dine Reservation in Arizona where she worked with Navaho youth during her weeklong spring break.
Heinen has spent the last several years of her life serving others in their communities. “My service experience began in 6th grade, and since then service has been a key part of my life, giving me encouragement and strength every day,” Heinen said. Her service trips all have different objectives, varying from working with elderly individuals who have Alzheimer’s to tutoring underprivileged children. She has even traveled as far as Nicaragua to help those in need.
“I am completely on my own to pay for these trips,” says Heinen. “When I went to Nicaragua, I did everything I could to make money through extra jobs and fundraising. It was the most humbling experience to have people support me like that.”
Among the many service projects she has taken part in, Heinen remembers one incident in particular that changed her life. While Heinen was in high school, she would spend every Tuesday evening working with homeless individuals in Chicago. While working at this shelter, Heinen became very close with one inhabitant in particular—a man named Joseph. Joseph eventually opened up to Katie about his life-long addiction to drugs and alcohol and struggle to stay sober. One Tuesday, Heinen could not find Joseph in the shelter. After keeping an eye open for him all night, she eventually saw him and headed over to talk.
“I looked over and saw Joseph sitting down, looking very distraught. I walked over to him, gave him a hug, and asked him what was wrong. His next few words are some that I will never forget. ‘I almost drank tonight and did drugs. I was so close to doing it. But then I thought of you, and I stayed strong,’” Heinen recalled. “ This moment has changed me forever, and has encouraged me to always stick with my passion for service. I may have left an impact on Joseph, but the way he impacted me was more than I could ever write in words.”
On her Foundation sponsored spring break trip this year, Heinen stayed on the Dine Reservation in Teec Nos Pos. The initial goal of the project was to help support youth health by promoting outdoor activity, but after getting to talk to the young people, that goal soon changed. “Once we met with the high school students, we learned that many of the juniors and seniors were incredibly unprepared for college,” Heinen said.
“After we learned this information, we had group discussions with a private school that we were working with, a public school on the reservation, and even visited a college on the reservation to gain more information to provide to the students. We gave the students time to ask us any questions they had and discuss further the possibility of their future, including a college education,” Heinen explained. Heinen and her fellow volunteers then spent time helping the students prepare their college applications. The experience “opened my eyes to the struggles of living on a reservation to more than just the stereotypes of poverty, mental illness, alcoholism, and domestic violence.”
Heinen feels incredibly grateful for the opportunities the Casey Feldman Foundation gave her. “I think about this trip often; the people I met, the things I experienced, and simply how blessed I am to have everything in my life,” she said. “After reading about all of Casey’s passions for service, I felt as though I could relate to her…and would have loved to get the chance to pick her brain about all of the injustices of the world,” Heinen said.