« Hillside moms hang tough, friends still | Main | Fourth Street shops continue tradition of community »

Sincerity outshines service at Hillside resource center

By LIZ ENKE
DCN Correspondent

In the middle of West Fourth Street stands a brick building whose salmon color seems to have washed away with time; but what else is to be expected after 20 years of existence. In this building’s case the famous saying holds true, “don’t judge a book by its cover.?

The Center for American Indian Resources (CAIR) was established in Duluth to better accommodate to the number of Native Americans living in the surrounding area as well as on the Fon du Lac Reservation.

There are over 18,000 pure blood and mixed blood Native American citizens in Minnesota with at least 1,000 living in Duluth’s Central Hillside. The Native Americans in Duluth belong to the Lake Superior Band of Minnesota Chippewa—the second largest group of American Indians in the United States.

Over the years it has been noted that many reservation areas are not able to provide sufficient resources for survival. CAIR provides social services, counseling and other human services to 2,300 patients a year.

The abundance of services and programs are noteworthy, but it is the staff that shapes and gives the clinic personality.

Patient Sharon Mathison has been coming and taking her son, now 28 years old, to the clinic for over 20 years.

“It’s more private for Native Americans,? said Mathison. “It’s more one-on-one. They know me by name, and it’s very cultural.?

In the waiting area Gloria Mirkovich can be found behind the welcoming window.

“Hi, do you have an appointment?? asked Mirkovich with a smile as a woman walked through the front door.

“Hi,? said the cheerful lady. “I just have some papers for you, and I was wondering if I could get a flu shot.?

“Yep! Come on back,? replied Mirkovich.

Mirkovich has worked at CAIR for the past 14 years. For the first five of them she worked in the pharmacy. Mirkovich is a licensed practical nurse and is now working in registration.

“I enjoy it,? said Mirkovich. “I get to know people really well.?

Mirkovich’s open-heartedness and inviting personality seems to be common among the staff at CAIR.

Behind the scenes and the hallways is where longtime employee Gale Omundson can be found.

As office manager, Omundson enjoys providing medical assistance to the community that she’s a part of.
Omundson began her career at the Min No Aya Win (MNAW) clinic in Cloquet 24 years ago.

After all those years at CAIR, Omundson says her favorite part of her job is the babies.

“I get to know families and have become really close friends with some of them,? said Omundson. “I love the babies and the elders.?

Six years ago, while working in Cloquet, she met a youngster who she immediately felt a connection with.

Omundson remembered that moment quite vividly.

“He was being carried out of the back door and I was going out that door,? said Omundson. “He couldn’t have been more than five days old.?

As it turned out the boy started going to school in Duluth. When Omundson transferred down to work at CAIR she continued to watch him grow.

“It’s fun to watch,? said Omundson. “I’ve seen him go through all of his sports events and sports physicals.?

Over the years Omundson has also developed a relationship with the boy’s mother.

“Oh yeah,? Omundson said with an innocent smile. “Mom will say, ‘do you remember when she helped you do this or sat and colored with you?’?

Time has gone by and the baby boy Omundson first met going through that back door is about to graduate high school.

“It’s like they're babies,? said Omundson, “then all of a sudden you turn around and they’re graduating!?

Prior to working in administration, she would fill in for employees at the front desk or registration that were gone. She said she misses how hands-on it was but working in more of a “behind-scene-setting? hasn’t deterred her from interacting with people.

“Sometimes the front desk will call me and say, ‘so-and-so is here and wants to see you,’ or ‘so-and-so’s baby is here and they want you to see them',? explained Omundson.

It is easy to infer that Omundson is very affectionate toward her job. But to better illustrate her strong work ethic and endearing personality, consider that Omundson drives 30 miles to and from work each day from Alborn, Minn.

To most, that length of a drive may sound ridiculous, but to Omundson it’s not an issue.

“I love it in the country. You drive [here] in the morning and you think of everything you need to do; you get your ducks in a row,? said Omundson. “Then on the drive home you think about everything you need to get done there.?

Omundson said she doesn’t see herself leaving CAIR anytime soon.

“Yep, I’ll probably retire here,? smiled Omundson.