Sisters Reunited at MCC After 3 Years Apart
What are the odds of finding an estranged sibling in a city with millions of inhabitants, commuters, and tourists when you have no way of knowing their whereabouts? Pretty slim to none. However, after a three-year hiatus with no phone calls, meetings, or message exchanges, just such a reunion occurred in the Millionair Club Charity’s busy dining hall.
Sisters Lovella and Feanette Black Bear were born in southwest South Dakota on a Lakota reservation. There, they grew up in tough conditions, constantly surrounded by poverty, addiction, and a lack of formal education. Their Lakota people, a sub-tribe of the larger Sioux nation, was another population left in the wake of European colonialism and American westward expansion. However, they persisted in the face of hardship and have grown up to become advocates for native peoples’ welfare, housing opportunities, and addiction awareness.
Lovella and Feanette both experienced homelessness themselves, and their struggles pulled them apart. Over ten years ago, the sisters each faced climbing rent prices, a higher demand for formal education, and an ever-growing struggle to pay all their bills. Each sister adapted differently, one moving in with a daughter in Kent and the other finding a home through Housing First in Seattle. They stayed in touch when they could, but over the past three years, the sisters did not see each other in spite of living in the same metropolitan area. They found work where they could, managed to find enough food and resources to get by, but maintaining communications just proved too difficult.
As fate would have it, each sister independently began working with the Millionair Club Charity, Feanette having worked on-and-off for a decade and Lovella having started more recently.
The Millionair Club Charity is a 97-year-old Seattle non-profit that provides a temporary staffing service for the homeless and unemployed populations of Seattle. It focuses on a jobs first solution to tackling homelessness, and it provides job readiness training as part of its program. Because workers require food, clothing, equipment, hygiene, and proper eyewear, MCC provides a full host of services at no charge to those in need. This includes two meals per day, laundry and shower facilities, work clothes, and a free eye clinic with access to exams and no-cost glasses. Workers pass through an orientation and background check process, and then MCC coordinates job placements with local employers. Jobs include temp, long-term, and permanent placements in a wide variety of industries like food service, housekeeping, landscaping, and light industrial work.
After receiving a tip from the MCC dispatch team that the siblings were both working with MCC and that they could possibly run into each other, a plan was hatched for the two to meet up on a Tuesday morning in the breakfast hall before heading out to their respective jobs.
The day arrived, and sure enough, Lovella and Feanette each walked into the bustling dining hall on Western Ave. There was no grand celebration or ticker tape parade as the sisters met; what they shared was an understated and quiet warmth that signaled the reunion of family. They found solidarity in each other’s presence, and the two sat side-by-side quietly as they awaited their respective jobs for the day.
When asked about their chance meeting, the sisters said they were both happy to be together again. They’d already made plans to meet up later on and cook dinner for a friend with disabilities. Within a couple of minutes of talking with the Black Bears, it was highly evident that they shared a passion for helping others.
Lovella advocates with Chief Seattle Club to help raise awareness and support for native peoples. “There’s lots to be done, and I believe the city needs to do more,” she says. “On the reservations, there’s a lack of education and too much addiction, and people just lose hope.”
Feanette told of a dying friend whose alcohol addiction began at the age of eleven. “He was found in a box in the trunk of a tree. He was adopted, but by the time he was eleven, he was homeless and began to drink.” Her friend, now forty-four, is losing a battle with cirrhosis, and she fears this is just one of many instances. Relative to other populations, Native Americans experience a higher rate of homelessness and addiction.
Lovella believes there needs to be more affordable housing opportunities so that working people can manage to get by. She feels lucky to have found an apartment through Housing First, but she knows that it’s not so easy for many others. Shelters are limited, and tenting outside has its own host of dangers and unpredictability.
Each sister is thankful for the employment opportunities presented by the Millionair Club Charity, having worked in landscaping, housekeeping, concession, and hospitality. They like working the stadium events at Centurylink Field and Safeco Field because it is encouraging to see other homeless folks finding good, honest work. They each feel that the Millionair Club provides work with dignity and that the organization is true to its message.
“The Millionair Club Charity helps a lot. It provides opportunities for real work that I can feel good about and helps me pay my bills. I have rent, food, car payments, and life insurance to worry about, so this really helps.”
What does the future hold for the Black Bear sisters? They are certainly going to stay in touch, and the fight for awareness and support will continue. The sisters will raise their voices for native peoples, the elderly, and those battling addiction. They’re continuing their diligent search for long-term employment, and they will continue to use the Millionair Club Charity as an employment resource.
When asked if they would enjoy working together if the opportunity came up, Lovella looked at her sister and said with a smile, “I can work with anybody. They just have to keep up.”
Millionair Club Charity
2515 Western Ave
Seattle, WA 98121