Hi all! We are nearing the end of an absolutely tremendous summer on the Reservation, but we still have two more groups coming who are going to do some serious hard work. I'm writing to you from Fran and Ed Graves (Kristen's parents)'s lovely Green Bay home, where the Reservation crew is taking a few days off from rebuilding the La Plant community center, leading summer camps for 40 kids aged 2-14, driving our big red bus, doing home construction and repair, and serving community meals to over 85 people. I apologize for not updating as often as I should have - in a story that I will elaborate on in a bit, we haven't had Internet or very much electricity in the community center since the ceiling collapsed. So, here I am, attempting to summarize a truly incredible summer in a short blog post, which I hope will convey just a bit of the inspiring work our volunteers have done these past eight weeks. It's hard to even think back to the beginning of the summer, because it seems like forever ago - and, to put it in perspective, eight weeks flies here. In the time we've been on the Reservation, we've hosted 24 community meals, worked on three huge home construction projects, played for 40 days of summer camp, and worked with 6 AWESOME groups of volunteers. It it so humbling to think about all of the time, effort, and sacrifice that has happened on the part of our volunteers, and the hard work and fun times that have been had.
So, the community center. While the roof didn't ACTUALLY collapse (don't worry, things aren't THAT dramatic around here), we did help it a bit to come down. During the re-roofing that Kristen wrote about in her last blog post, we realized that the ceiling and walls of the community center in La Plant weren't living up to the standard of excellence that the roof was conveying. So, our volunteers bravely donned masks, gloves, and goggles to begin a deconstruction project (a fun change from the usual construction projects). We tore down the ceiling and
walls, removed all of the gross mousey insulation, and the community center is now down to its bare stud bones. We have big plans for its renovation, including beautiful wood paneling and Josh (our photographer and BFF)'s portraits of the kids on the Reservation. It's very exciting living on a construction site, but Gaby might say differently, as she was without a kitchen for the better part of last week. Now, our kitchen is all plugged in, we have full electrical and Internet capabilities, and we await the next group with high hopes for the building. We're also making great progress with our other projects, winterizing and renovating trailer homes. Commando-crawling under a trailer was not something I expected to do with my college degree, nor was it something I thought I would enjoy. However, if anyone needs someone to drag heavy plastic sheeting and spread it neatly in a 10'x100' patch of dirt with 2' of crawling space, you've got your girl - I loved it! And the groups did too, overcoming fears and really ratcheting up their awesomeness in the process.Another really cool and exciting update about the summer is the overall community feeling here. Last summer, one of the struggles that the Simply Smiles staff faced was the town-wide meal. Getting people to attend was a struggle, but the staff really believed that perseverance was the way to go, and so they pushed through to provide meals all summer. This year, we decided to triple our efforts, increasing the meals from one a week to THREE meals a week, and this seems to have been the key. On our last community meal on Friday, we served stuffed fry bread (a Lakota favorite) and cherry wojapi (MY favorite). We had over 100 people from town attend, eat, talk and catch up with each other under the pole barn. They've played huge town-wide games of baseball, met volunteers from all over the country (and the world!), and ate some really delicious food prepared by the unstoppable Gaby.
We've also had the honor this summer of being the audience for traditional Lakota drumming. Some of our friends on the Reservation have worked hard to preserve the musical culture of the Lakota, and we are lucky enough to be invited to hear it. We were also so, so lucky to, when the old drum was taken from La Plant, to receive enough donations in just a few hours to buy a brand new drum for the community. It is made of a hollowed out cottonwood tree and tanned buffalo hide and sounds amazing - the booming sound, we're told, is because the hair is still intact on the inside of the buffalo skin. Christiana painted the town's name on the surface of the drum and a medicine wheel, completed by the outline of Bryan's hand and the Simply Smiles colors. What an honor to be remembered in this way! Truly humbling.
Next week, our Mixed Group is arriving in La Plant for a week of hard work and strong friendships. Afterward, we look forward to the group from Woodmont Congregational Church to help us wrap up the summer. It's going to be an awesome few weeks; I can't wait.
Until next time,