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Pastor helps tribal member set goals


Nancy Donato, 22, a member of the Yakama Nation, credits the Rev. MarLu Scott with guiding her along the path to a college education. UMNS photos by Nancy Neelley.

By Lilla Marigza*
May 7, 2009 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)

A young woman has beaten the odds because a supportive United Methodist pastor gave her the confidence to set ambitious goals for herself.

Nancy Donato, 22, will graduate from Eastern Washington State University next December. She is a member of the Yakama Nation, a tribe of Native Americans living on the Yakama Reservation in southern Washington state.

Growing up, she says, the temptations of drugs and alcohol started in the 7th grade. “Not only in my community, which is primarily Native Americans, but I think in small communities in general, there isn’t a lot to do other than drugs or things that aren’t very positive,” she explained.

Statistically, almost half of high school students in this region drop out and few of those who graduate go on to college. With little education, job prospects are bleak.

Donato said many of her former classmates have children to support. While some find work in the local mill or at the tribal casino, others depend on family. “It’s really sad when I see people I went to school with and they’re not doing anything with their lives,” she added.


The Rev. MarLu Scott holds newly
baptized Lola Westin Wheeler.

Her life would have followed a similar path, she believes, if not for the guidance of the Rev. MarLu Primero Scott, pastor of Wilbur Memorial United Methodist Church, located on the reservation.

Pursued own dreams

A native of the Philippines, Scott is a second career clergy member who has followed a lifelong dream because of the encouragement of a mentor in her life. In 2003, at the age of 60, Scott’s first appointment was the small, rural, 150-year-old Wilbur church.

Scott could see that young people in the community were eager for life advice beyond what high school guidance counselors could offer. “Teachers would agree to mentor students, but they seemed to become discouraged by the general attitude and response from the students,” she said.

The pastor said she recognized Donato’s gifts right away and was determined to help the young woman recognize her potential. She encouraged Donato to participate in Sunday liturgy and provided positive afterschool activities. Scott even bought airplane tickets so Donato and a classmate could visit Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., where Scott attended seminary.

Encouragement and support

The contact has continued while Donato is studying at Eastern Washington State University. Scott has sent care packages and makes frequent phone calls. Wilbur Memorial members also send encouragement.


Scott says all clergy should seek opportunities to engage and develop
young church members.

The support means a lot to her.

“They’re quick to show that they are proud of my accomplishments and that means a lot to me because it tells me what I am doing is worthwhile,” she explained. “They’re like my second family.”

Scott believes all clergy should seek opportunities to engage and develop young church members. “It is a very important component in the shaping of our faith, in the shaping of who we are as we respond to the needs of our world,” she said.

Donato is the only one of her siblings to go to college and one of only four students from her high school class on track to complete a bachelor’s degree. With a major in child psychology, she plans to return to the Yakama Nation and nurture children in the tribal casino daycare.

She also wants to set an example for tomorrow’s leaders, “I just want to be there, not to impress them, but to show them I made it,” she said.

*Marigza is a freelance producer and writer based in Nashville, Tennessee

News media contact: Fran Walsh, Nashville, (615)742-5458 or newsdesk@umcom.org

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Resources

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Yakama Nation

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