Reflections from Volunteers

Alison Colin

On July 14 I arrived at the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in La Plant, South Dakota. I traveled with a group of GHS students that represent Round Hill Community Church in Greenwich, Connecticut. We all arrived to the reservation on a Sunday afternoon along with the Mohegan Tribe from Connecticut. As the days went on at the reservation I was becoming someone that I am truly happy to be right this second. The volunteer service we all completed on the reservation was done with our hearts and our open arms. I attended this trip with an open mind and was ready to complete any task that was put in front of me.

The trip to the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation truly inspired me to become a better individual. Not only were my eyes opened to the way these innocent young adults and children live, but my heart was open as well. I am grateful for everything I have in my life and I will never forget this trip. Knowing that there are children, ages from 3-17, that are struggling to climb up the mountains that represent their daily struggles has really impacted me and my future. I have always wanted to help those around me, even if it may be a few miles away from me, and I know that coming to La Plant and being able to lend a helping hand will impact the way I view my life and what/who I have in it. I want to help more people and be a positive role model. I have learned that simply asking “How was your day?” or “How are you?” can really change someone’s mood and day. Things like that make me realize that I can change the lives of others and have a positive impact. I am a proud believer that lending a helping hand whenever you can is an important part of learning more about life and about yourself.

I am going to be a senior at Greenwich High School this upcoming August and I am nervous yet excited. I think going to La Plant and lending a helping hand on the reservation has changed me and I will always appreciate and be grateful for this experience. At GHS I hope to share my story with my close friends and even start a club. The club can have meetings and I am more than willing to share my story of my week on the reservation. I think that sharing one’s experience is important as that will lead to bigger and better things. For example, if students at GHS are willing to hear my story I think and hope that some of them may be inspired and want to learn more about the kids in La Plant that truly need our help and our kindness. I believe that making a kid smile, even for just a second, brings such an amazing feeling. Personally, helping those in need has always been my life goal as well as making people feel and know that they matter in this world. I am not super religious but I do pray and talk with God about things like this trip and how grateful I am that I feel wanted and like I belong in this world. I pray that all of these kids in La Plant feel the exact same way some day.

Jordan Ysaac

When I got to LaPlant about a week ago I didn’t really know what to expect for the week and was very curious to know what was awaiting for me for the week. During the week I learned a lot and the camp really opened up my eyes to what was going on in South Dakota. Throughout the week I really enjoyed learning and seeing the difference in cultures when I meet the Mohegan tribe and the other natives.

This trip impacted me significantly. After being exposed to the things that people in the reservation go through it really made me realize and appreciate the little things that I have in my everyday life. While at the Reservation I noticed there wasn’t the simple thing like running water, proper plumbing and even not having walking distance to a store when you need something. Looking at all this made me realize the little things that I take for granted and don’t even pay much attention to. This trip also opened up my eyes to the lack of opportunity that the kids in the camp have. While at the camp I noticed how good these kids were at sports and how they had such a passion for them. After seeing this I found it so upsetting how these kids don’t get the opportunities that we get in Greenwich and I found it so sad and unfair how these kids don’t have the things we do. When going back to Greenwich I’m going to be more appreciative of the opportunities I have and remember to be grateful for the little things I have in my life.

I believe that my upcoming year at GHS will be different from my previous years. Due to my experience at LaPlant and seeing so many life changing things I think I will be able to take these experiences and share everything I saw with the people around me. When going back to GHS I hope to inform those that don’t know what is going on in South Dakota at the reservation and tell them about all the negative things that are currently happening and hopefully spread awareness.

Michelle M. Garay

During my time on the reservation I got to spend time with the Charger family. There are six of them, but I hung out with Pauly, Xavier, and Ashton. It was much more memorable my third time because of how much more grown “my kids” were. They are still super athletic which ruined me. I ran more than I would have liked. I am also happy with all the crafts that we did during the week. I learned about another Native American tribe and was surprised by how much the children enjoyed our Mexican culture activities.

This is my third time at the Reservation. I always end up crying because it’s become like my home. The only reason I missed my phone throughout the week was because I just wanted to listen to sad music at the end of each day. I go to these trips knowing that I will only be there for a week, but it’s just impossible to connect with a kid when they also know you will be leaving soon. Whenever I see the kids the first day of camp, I always hope they remember who I am from the years before. I rely on my past, but after this trip, I learned that you have to act like it’s your first time there. You have to bring new energy, not just old memories. I made sure I spent the day doing something they wanted and not something I think they should be doing. Even though they are scheduled to be doing certain things, I made sure to give them space and let them breathe. I wanted to give them a perfect day because I knew that when they go home, they could be walking into something that we don’t see often back home. The Lakota children (little Pauly, Xavier, Ashton, Derek Jr., Jayden, Jaheida, Nataliyah, Julian, Hunter, Wayne, and Dakota) were the ones who impacted me the most. I came back for them. That proves the point of how I’ve been impacted. It wasn’t an adult who told me to ”live your dream” and “reach for the stars,” it’s these children’s smiles that made me realize that I indeed did something right in my life.

I want to be able to express my experience with my new peers. I want to be able to not just go back to South Dakota as an intern during the summer, but maybe have the chance to be an educated University of Bridgeport alumna and have a few sign up to go for a week and visit the reservation. I’m also going to be more involved with community service and mission trips because I learned that I love to travel and meet people/cultures.

Victor Colin

This trip was a weeklong stay at the town of La Plant on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota. Here, we bunked with another native group who would work alongside us in this summer camp for Native American children that lived near La Plant. We would make friends with the kids on the rez while also building a strong relationship with the other volunteers. Throughout the day, we would set up games and activities for the kids to do and give them the fun that they deserve.

This trip has put a lot of things into perspective for me. I always imagined that poverty and abuse would be something that occurred in some third world country, but in reality these are things that are happening in our own country. The children in La Plant are nothing like the kids in Greenwich or anywhere for that matter. Because of the environment they are growing up in, they are forced to mature more quickly and obtain the survival skills that one might need in order to stay alive. As a result of their environment, these kids have no way of knowing how to act around others and also how to express their emotions in any way. I notice that instead of trying to learn your name, they would try to avoid you and call you mean names for no reason. Another thing that I noticed was the various open wounds that the children would get throughout the week. There was no way of knowing how they got there and you can only hope that it wasn’t anything inflicted on them. But since we were only there helping them for
the day, we could not do anything for them when they got back home. This trip has showed me first hand the amount of privilege that I have as a boy growing up in Greenwich. There are little if any opportnites for the La Plant kids and they end up stuck on the rez for the rest of their sad lives. Unlike me, I have so many things handed to me on a silver platter and yet am not taking advantage of it. I realize now that these opportunities that are given to me are something that these kids will most likely never get. So I feel obligated to take those opportunities and always be grateful for the things that are given to me every day.

This year I will be a junior going through the college process. Since freshman year, I’ve been in this program called AVID. In AVID, we are given extra help when we do end up going through the college process. After this trip, I realized how much it really means to get any help at all and especially for something like college. A lot of the kids on the rez have already dropped out of middle school because they don’t feel that they need an education because they think so little of themselves. Everything in the high school is there for us to take and use to our advantage. I truly am lucky that I am in GHS because I get these opportunities to grow and excel at anything. Because of what I saw at the rez, such as kids giving up on life and the conditions that they are living in, I feel grateful for the life that I have and the privileges I get for being in GHS. This year, I will do anything that I know will help me in the future and take any extra help because I know that not everyone gets help and it’s a blessing to have that help.

Diana Carrera

In July a group and I traveled to La Plant, a reservation in the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. After I went last year and met all the children I knew I had to go back. We provided a week full of fun and brought our energy and creativity to the summer camp. I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to go back and listen to the eye-opening stories they had to tell. This trip has impacted me by showing me the injustice that the Lakota people have to go through.
 

Alexandra Cid

This summer I spent a week at the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe along with eleven other people from the Round Hill Community Church, and several members of the Mohegan Tribe in Connecticut. Throughout the week we put everything that we had planned beforehand into action and combined it with our new Native American friends. Our entire group was able to get along wonderfully and this made the whole week much more impactful not only for us, but I believe for the experience the children had as well. It is hard to explain with words how successful and life changing this week was, however this does not mean that everything went as planned. One of the Simply Smiles mottos is “flexibility is key” and we had to take this into account several times in order to provide the campers with an enjoyable time. Overall, I believe this entire experience brought out the best in all of us and all of the children.

Last summer I traveled to South Dakota with the scholarship from the Round Hill Community Church and I was so moved from my time there that I did all in my power to go back this summer. Luckily, I along with other group members, was able to figure out a way to actually go back and I can say with confidence that I will be returning as a different person once again this year. I had time throughout the week to catch up with some of the friends I made last summer and while I saw a lot of positive progress in their attitudes, I could still see scars on them, both emotional and physical. It got so hard at times to look at these children who are the same age as my cousins and nephew, going through situations that no person, no matter how old, should face. While it was hard to see this trauma, it has also inspired me to do more for the people around me, even if it is at home instead of the reservation. The situations that kids in my town face most likely are not as difficult as what the kids on the reservation have to go through, but this does not mean they don’t need as much of our help or support. Once I get home I know I want to make sure to put time aside to give back to those around me instead of solely focusing on school. This is something I have been working on, and this week has just pushed me further towards this direction.

I really would like to begin a club or at least raise awareness about the challenges the kids in South Dakota face, through small presentations (or large if we are given the chance) at Greenwich High School. I have wanted to begin a club for the longest time, but I never really knew how to go about it or what I could choose to pursue in a club because there are so many already. Now that I have spent two summers in South Dakota, I am eager to do more for the people I met and I will definitely be coordinating with the Round Hill group members and teachers to get the ball rolling on this. I know it may get difficult, however I just need to think about the amazing children and elders on the reservation and I know I will have the strength to push through each challenge.