In celebration of our 15 years empowering women, we are excited to introduce a retrospective collection of success stories from EWI alumnae. EWI board member Howie Feinstein is the contributing writer for this series.
Many people think or talk about a life of service, of committing themselves to lending a hand to those in need. Most do little to make that a reality, or fit it in when they have some extra time on their hands. But a special few, like 2016 E.T.S. graduate Rene White-Feather, truly walk the walk.
Rene, a proud member of the Lumbee Native American tribe, grew up in Indian country in North Carolina. She has always remained devoted to helping her people, and and attachment to the land and nature. She now lives a rural area of Loudoun County, Virginia, hard by the mountains, living off the land as much as possible
Between her past and present country times, Rene served America in a 22-year military career, including high-level management and diplomatic tasks, often in dangerous posts. This greatly expanded her world view, and enabled her to understand and relate to people of very diverse backgrounds, an ideal she still pursues in her current life of service.
Following her retirement from the military, she embarked upon missions to develop leadership skills for her fellow Native Americans, and rose to the presidency of Sanctuary on the Trail – The Independent Native American Church of Virginia., a position she continues to hold. She teaches Native American history, and has worked diligently for the preservation of sacred Indian sites. Rene, as well as her husband, have had to deal with physical disabilities – she was stretched thin, but unable to say no to requests for assistance from Native Americans, veterans, women’s groups, and others to whom she felt a deep loyalty.
“I care. I feel really blessed, and I feel like I’ve been given tools, and one of mine is being resourceful. There are a lot of people who are suffering. I’ve known a lot of people and have a lot of ideas on how to help them. I care, and I want to help them. I am helping veterans and senior citizens with medical and other benefits. God always put me in a situation to keep me humble. If you choose to have me in your life, then I would love to be a part of helping your life have more value and meaning.”
Clearly, it has never been primarily about making money for Rene. She was living her passion for service in various arenas, but was in a position where she needed to establish a consistent income stream: “I was doing grant research. I went to a meeting, and some E.W.I. people were there [note: we’re everywhere!]. They noticed my Indian jewelry, and I told them that I was trying to help Native American artists. I got an email to come in for an interview. I brought some artwork with me, and they offered me a full scholarship!”
“I took the E.T.S. classes, and met some amazing women – I still keep in touch with them. It was a long drive to the classes, through the mountains. On the way, I thought about the questions E.W.I. was asking me. I realized I wanted some fulfillment and some extra money – I already had plenty of responsibility. And, I came out with a complete business plan!”
And just recently, Bouldercrest, a veterans organization for wounded warriors, called me and asked me to apply for a culinary position. I applied, and I was hired! I cook three meals a day for them; do horticultural work; and the pay allows me to continue with all my other service obligations. Helping veterans and Indians, and my church – it brings me joy.”
But predictably, Rene never stands still. This fall, for the third consecutive year, she will oversee “The Gathering,” a Native American-inspired, multi-genre festival at the fairgrounds in Berryville, Virginia on October 21 & 22. Featuring music, dance, horses, organic food, Indian ceremonies, health care, and more, attendance well in excess of last year’s crowd of 10,000 is anticipated.
The life of service never ends. This is what empowerment means for Rene White-Feather.