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At the Rural Center: Our Urban Rural Center

October 2007
By: Dinah Monahan
If you heard of a city where the murder rate was the highest in the country per capita, the suicide rate was 1,700 percent higher than the national average, where almost all births are to single, teen mothers, and where there is a 70 percent jobless rate, you would probably think of an inner city, deep in New York or Los Angeles. However, that place is Whiteriver, Arizona, on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation. It is also home to the largest of our three centers.

Whiteriver is truly rural, nestled in the pines and dramatic rock formations of the White Mountains. The reservation itself has a population around 13,000. Whiteriver has approximately 6,000. The Fort Apache Indian Reservation covers over 2,600 square miles of pines, lakes, mountains, and grassland. Five years ago, the Rodeo-Chedeski fire destroyed nearly 500,000 acres of prime forest and dealt a deathblow to the Apache logging industry, one of the main employers of the tribe. This thrust the struggling tribe into an unemployment rate of over 70 percent and accelerated all of the accompanying demons that go along with that poverty.

Our Whiteriver center is 6,700 square feet. When we first opened four years ago, we had quite a challenge. A chain link fence with a locking gate surrounded our center. A few nights after we moved in, the fence was cut, and our TVs were stolen. The next night the VCRs were stolen. We hired a night watchman, and he caught the teens in their third attempt to steal our computers. We felt fortunate as they did not spray paint and destroy the interior. We have solved the problem with bars and metal screens on the windows, bulletproof lights on the corners, and razor wire around the fence at the back. We call it our Crisis Pregnancy Gulag! Two Apache Christian ladies—Marlene Truax and Vanta Preston, who take great pride in the huge, immaculate Mommy Store—run it.


Abortion is anathema to the "old way," but is now accepted by the younger generation. We have many young women who seek abortions and change their minds after coming to the center. We also have talked to many women who have had abortions and are deeply grieved by what they did. A mother's instinct is the same, regardless of the culture! We are currently working on getting a portable ultrasound to take to Whiteriver once a week.


One of the most important things we do in Whiteriver is teaching parenting classes through Earn While You Learn. Doing any ministry in Whiteriver is discouraging. There are so many issues that are deeply embedded, and they have little motivation to change. In a moment of doubt, I asked our Director, Marlene Truax, if she thought we were making an impact. She brightened and said, "I can see the difference in the children of the clients who come regularly. As we watch them grow from infancy to toddlers, we see that they are talking sooner, are brighter, and are more secure." She continued, "In our culture, children are just there. We don't know how to talk to them, make eye contact, read to them, and love on them. There is no understanding of discipline. Most of our clients have never heard what we are teaching. They are amazed. The greatest thing we do, though, is to give them the hope that God can change their lives."

Dinah Monahan is Executive Director of Living Hope Women's Centers in Arizona. She can be reached at

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