Our Humble Beginnings
RE-MEMBER began as a partnership in the fall of 1997 when Keith Titus - then a pastor in West Olive, Michigan - and Mike Alles, of Grand Haven, Michigan, teamed up to start an outreach organization. Shortly thereafter both were apprised of the grim circumstances on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, and in May 1998, Keith and Mike made their first trip, accompanied by Rev. Virginia Titus, Keith's wife and co-pastor. Following a bad Michigan storm, they decided to deliver fire wood to Pine Ridge. As a result of that trip, it was decided that they would focus their efforts on the Oglala Lakota people of Pine Ridge, and in June 1998, RE-MEMBER began as a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) corporation.
From that small beginning, RE-MEMBER now brings more than 1000 volunteers to Pine Ridge each year. Our volunteers build bunk beds, repair homes, assist the elderly and disabled - all while affording themselves an immersing experience in Lakota culture. Located on a 2.5 acre site with five buildings including a fully-equipped workshop, kitchen facilities and the ability to house more than 100 volunteers and staff at a time, RE-MEMBER is firmly established as a permanent presence on Pine Ridge. We also have a growing number of Lakota employees on staff, allowing us to address another vital need on Pine Ridge; jobs. Now embarking on an ambitious and exciting plan to renovate older homes and build new ones, RE-MEMBER looks to the future with excitement and promise, working with the Lakota people to improve lives on Pine Ridge; better homes, better jobs, better health, and a better life.
Since RE-MEMBER's beginning, we have been confronted with the overwhelming need for adequate housing on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Located in the poorest area of the United States, there simply are not enough livable homes. Comprising only 2% of the U.S. population, it is estimated that Native Americans comprise 8% of America's homeless. On Pine Ridge, residents have had to wait literally years before obtaining a livable home, and sometimes, they never do. RE-MEMBER is now in a position to do something about this abhorrent situation
Over the past several years, we have gained valuable experience in providing rehabilitation services in homes on the Reservation. Now, we intend to put that expertise to better use as we bring together volunteers, organizations and governmental entities both on Pine Ridge and across the nation to help us address the housing needs.
We are reaching out to the Federal Government, working with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Department of Agriculture in our endeavor. We are in contact with Habitat for Humanity, Running Strong, Oglala Sioux Tribe Partnership for Housing and Oglala Tribal Housing in an effort to utilize our vast Volunteer pool to make significant progress in alleviating the desperate need for housing on Pine Ridge.
The lack of housing has a direct impact on the health and welfare of the residents of Pine Ridge. Conditions exist here that should not exist in the middle of the wealthiest country on earth. Our mission statement provides "RE-MEMBER seeks to improve the quality of Indian reservation life." We believe we can best fulfill this mission by providing more affordable and adequate homes for the Lakota people. When people come to Pine Ridge, and see the conditions in which people live, they are shocked. They ask "Why, in this day and age, in this country, are there people living in these terrible conditions?" We are very grateful that our volunteers, friends and partners follow that question with another, far simpler one: "What can I do?"
Only by improving the lives of the indigenous people of this continent, can we truly "fix that which is broken." The housing conditions here are deplorable, but they can be improved. We are here on Pine Ridge to help make that change, and to help fix this broken part of our world.