All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for October 2003

‘Hero’ innovator wins car for life

Wednesday, October 8, 2003
John Fitzgerald
Billings Gazette

Robert Young, the executive director of Red Feather Development of Bozeman, will receive a vehicle free of charge from Volvo until the day he dies.

Young is the national grand prize winner of Volvo’s “America’s Greatest Hometown Hero” award. He’ll get $50,000 for a charity of his choice, a trip to Times Square for the awards ceremony and use of a Volvo for life.

Red Feather Development teaches Native Americans how to build straw bale houses. The agency concentrates on reservations in Montana, Washington and the Dakotas, but soon will start a project in Arizona, Young said.

Red Feather focuses on young families looking for starter homes. They are required to help build the two-bed, one-bath homes, and then help build others. They also have to get their own low-interest loan to pay for materials.

Straw bale construction works well on the reservations because it uses material on hand, and because a stick-built home requires electricity and power tools.

“It can be an intimidating process,” Young said.

Young owned a clothing manufacturing business based in Seattle when, nine years ago, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. At about this same time, he read a story in Indian Country Today about Indian elders dying from the cold and living in substandard conditions.

“When I was diagnosed with MS, I had friends, family, MS support groups,” Young said. “To see that I had so many safety nets and to see that they don’t have almost any safety nets, it was a real eye-opener. The combination made me rethink what I wanted to do with my life.”

He sold his company and used his savings to build Red Feather.

The company was located in Seattle until nine months ago, when Young moved to Bozeman to be closer to the reservations that were the most active.

He said the organization runs on a budget of about $250,000 a year, with about 40 percent of that being in-kind donations. There are 2-1/2 employees.

Last year, Red Feather volunteer Ward Serrill nominated Young for the award, which seeks to help people working on a local level to improve their neighbor’s lives.

As part of the award Young gets to select a Volvo vehicle, and the company gives him a free three-year lease. At the end of the three years, he brings the car back and gets another.

The lease deal ends when he dies. The lease is pre-paid by Volvo Cars of North America for up to 15,000 miles annually excluding taxes, license, registration fees, insurance and maintenance. If Young passes the mileage allotment, he must pay 20 cents per mile.

As for advice, Young simply encourages others to apply for the award. “There are tons of people in Montana who are doing good work with no funding, no recognition. I’d love to see them get more involved. I mean, if we could win this ... ”

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