Chickasaw Children’s Village Cottage parents Cindy and Mike Shipley with their grandson, Jaxxson.
KINGSTON, OKLAHOMA – A chance meeting at a high school football game forever changed the lives of one family and dozens of Chickasaw children.
Chickasaw citizen Lucinda Shipley was happy teaching second grade. However, she wanted to do more to help the students outside of the classroom.
Her husband, Mike, was gone far too often from their Atoka, Okla., home on long distance truck routes.
Then, one night at a high school football game, the couple ran into a friend who told them about an opportunity to be house parents at the Chickasaw Children’s Village.
They applied and were accepted. Their lives have changed for the better, and in the process many Chickasaw children’s lives have been enriched.
This month, the Shipleys are celebrating their sixth year as cottage parents at the Chickasaw Children’s Village, a place that provides residential care, education services and opportunities for social, spiritual and personal development for Native American children.
The Shipleys are among eight sets of dedicated cottage parents and several staff members at the facility.
“Devoted cottage parents are vital to the success of children at Chickasaw Children’s Village,” said Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby. “Cottage parents are in the position to offer our youth a comfortable, caring place to call home, and also serve as positive role models by providing guidance, unconditional support, and a connection to our culture.”
Working at the Children’s Village offered a chance for the couple to fulfill a dream.
“Mike and I have always loved kids and we talked about buying a big house and being foster parents,” Mrs. Shipley said. “Being cottage parents at the Children’s Village was the perfect fit.”
The Shipleys currently have 10 teenage boys under the roof of their cozy cottage, including two of their own – Neeson and Dillan – and eight male students, ranging from age 14 to 18.
Some of the students are enrolled at the Chickasaw Children’s Village because of family tradition. Their parents and grandparents attended boarding schools and those students are keeping the tradition alive. Other students are seeking better opportunities.
“All of the kids are here by the families’ choice,” Mrs. Shipley said.
The boys all attend Kingston Public Schools and are involved in sports and other extra-curricular activities, including vocational agriculture, band and academic bowl.
Weeknights, the whole crew can usually be found on the go to an array of school activities, either as participants or supporters.
“We try to encourage (the boys) to support each other,” Mr. Shipley said.
A dozen people living under one roof demands a lot of organization and structure for meals, chores, appointments, laundry and homework.
In the cottage, photos of all “their kids” line the long hall. A large white marker board is hung near the kitchen to keep track of everyone’s schedule, the daily menu and assigned chores for the week.
“The key is staying organized,” Mr. Shipley said.
Connecting to the Chickasaw Culture
On-campus activities include an array of academic opportunities and sports, including culturally-relevant activities.
“Growing up, we always knew we were Chickasaws, but there was not much of a connection,” Mrs. Shipley said. “I’ve learned a lot about my tribe by doing this job, I feel like I am helping my tribe and giving my kids a connection.
“Sometimes the kids can tell you more about the culture than you know.”
Students who are affiliated with other tribes introduce the family to their tribal cultures, too.
Students participate in many cultural activities such as playing on the village stickball field, participating in “mush” ball, archery classes, language class and trips to Ada for art classes.
Making sure the students are aware of opportunities within the Chickasaw Nation is a priority.
“The Chickasaw Nation has so many opportunities for the youth, such as the school to work program, camps and academies and summer youth programs, Mrs. Shipley said.
“We tell the kids they are future leaders of their tribe, they need to learn about their tribe and get their education.”
The Shipleys relish the joy of introducing “their kids” to new experiences and taking them to new places, such as amusement parks, or simple places like restaurants and college football games.
“I enjoy making sure they are not just culturally informed about the Nation, but of other places,” Ms. Shipley said.
The Shipleys also provide spiritual guidance. The family attends church together at Enos Baptist Church, the church in which Mr. Shipley was raised. They have taken several students to Falls Creek for camp in the summer.
Through the years, the couple has had more than 50 children under their roof, molding and shaping young lives.
The couple relishes their role as mentors.
One of their former female students recently asked Mr. Shipley to walk her down the aisle if her father is unable.
The hardest part of the job, they said, is worrying about “their kids” when they are not with them.
About the Chickasaw Children’s Village
Established in 2004, on 160 acres near the shores of Lake Texoma, Chickasaw Children’s Village promotes academic achievement while developing students’ character. Students gain the skills necessary for successful family function throughout their lifespan.
Tutoring services and flexible academic curriculum are designed to meet the needs of every child, including courses for the college bound, vocational, remedial, special education and “at-risk” students.
Students range from first to 12th grade. Several amenities are available to students including a library, computer lab, a gym, a garden, storm shelter, recreational areas and on-site medical facilities.
Chickasaw Children’s Village, Carter Seminary, Bloomfield Connection
Chickasaw Children’s Village is the successor to the historic Carter Seminary in Ardmore.
For many years, Carter Seminary educated Native American boys and girls in dormitory-style on the Ardmore campus.
Carter Seminary was built in 1917 as a replacement for the Chickasaw girls school Bloomfield Academy, which was located in Bryan County and burned in 1914.
The school was renamed Carter Seminary in 1934 in honor of Chickasaw Charles D. Carter.
In 1949, the school became co-educational and in 1953 Native American students from across the United States lived on-campus, but attended public school off campus.
Bloomfield was founded in 1852 near Achille, Okla., and opened in the fall of 1853 as a boarding school for girls, with 25 students. The curriculum included English language and alphabet, spelling, reading, writing, and arithmetic.
Advanced students studied botany, United States history, natural philosophy and grammar. Students were also taught to make and mend their own clothes, do housework, and learned drawing