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One Heart Warriors works to revitalize Lodge Grass

Lodge Grass clean up
Posted at 11:05 AM, Mar 31, 2024

LODGE GRASS — Quincy Dabney can tell you stories. Unfortunately, too many of them are destructive.

“Wild, man," he recalls. "We had vehicles that were being stolen from, you name it … Billings to this 100-mile circle around the (Crow) Reservation,” Dabney recently recounted to KTVQ.

 And, “I was up against a cartel, knowing that I was up against an evil and they could potentially be coming after me.”

Dabney is referring to the gradual fall of his hometown in Lodge Grass, once thought of, he says, as the Crow Reservation’s bustling crown jewel. He’s now the town mayor seven years into spearheading a massive cleanup.

“Obviously, mayors don’t make much and I really took a big financial sacrifice because I was a coal miner,” Dabney admitted without regret.

His career revelation hit him while driving his scraper as he worked a night shift at the coal mine.

“And I prayed a prayer … there was just something eating at me, man. I was just like, there’s more to life, there’s more I can do here.”

By chance, he met Tuff Harris, who shapes Native American leaders through his One Heart Warriors program in Billings.

“Honestly, Tuff helped tune me up," Dabney said.

Truth is, the mayor's job was never really on Dabney’s radar. Until he was stunned at the ruins of his hometown.

"It was this place where everyone wanted to go … and then all of a sudden, where nobody wanted to be,” he said.

Seven years ago, the mayor's door at Lodge Grass City Hall was actually dead bolted shut due to lack of activity, when Dabney was voted in as a write-in candidate. He says his own past, crossing paths with drug and alcohol abuse, provided him tools to clean up the town.

“The drugs and alcohol (in Lodge Grass) had to go," he said. "The abandon cars had to go, the abandon homes, trailers …”

Slowly, neighbors bought in. Dabney recruited them to help clean streets and empty, weed-infested lots, and then prayed over the land. The result ... an epic drug problem started filtering out of Lodge Grass. Dabney still keeps cell phone pictures of drug paraphernalia willingly surrendering by addicts during the cleanup.

“Two drug needles and a bindle,” he points out in one picture while scrolling through his phone.

Nearby at Lodge Grass High School, Josh Stewart is delivering his own form of One Heart Warriors leadership.

“I remember Tuff coming home and talking about his vision,” Stewart recalled while seated in a locker room at First Interstate Arena after a divisional basketball game in early March.

Stewart, who took over as boys basketball coach five years ago, instantly flipped the team culture to one of discipline, respect and giving.

“(It was about) meeting at that intersection and saying, how can I influence the community? How can I impact? How can I help?”

On the court, he noticeably helps with his calm, demeanor. Even when calls don’t favor his team.

Stewart’s approach guided Lodge Grass to back-to-back state titles early on. This year, as the school navigated through turmoil within the girls program, Stewart agreed to step in mid-season as head coach and, alongside his assistants, led both the boys and girls to Southern B Divisional tournament trips with the boys eventually placing third at state.

Like Dabney, Stewart had life tools in his belt. Unfortunately, his stemming from family tragedy.

“We lost one of our little brothers to suicide and that impacted the family, impacted the community, impacted my life a great deal," he remembered. "And I went into this depression, and it took me down a dark road for so long. A lot of poor decisions, a lot of loss, a lot of heartache and pain.”

Stewart says that ignited his urge to change. “I don’t want to take from lives, I don’t want to hurt people," he thought. "I want to heal and help.”

He educated players that practice doesn’t end after school, it carries into the house.

“That was powerful … super powerful," Dabney admitted. "He gave them a list and they knocked that list out whether it was changing the trash, washing dishes, helping grandma, mowing lawns or whatever it is. Basically, it was time management.”

Stewart simplified the lessons to four pillars.

“Character building, attendance, grades and attitude,” he said.

Thanks to the One Heart Warrior program, there's is now a third prospering leader emerging in Lodge Grass. And it’s literally across the street from the mayor’s office. From his window, Dabney can see the the foundation of a barber shop to be run by Merval Phelan, a Montana certified licensed barber, according to Dabney.

"Awesome guy. He was in One Heart Warrior with Tuff.”

Weather permitting, a grand opening of the barber shop is set for mid-May. There’s both significance and irony in building on that exact spot, which Dabney says used to be a drug house.

By his count, Dabney believes the barber shop will the first new business in Lodge Grass to sprout in almost 50 years. Next door used to be the Cozy Corner, one of his favorite youth spots.

“(I remember) putting my dollar on top of the counter and being able to look at all the penny candies," Dabney reminisced. "I think it went down because of a firecracker.”

Pictures on Dabney's phone keep fond memories alive, while — board by board — new ones are built offering fresh hope and help in this recovering town.

“I mean, isn’t that what life is about … it’s about helping people.”