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East Norwalk, CT
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Dedicated to building bright futures for impoverished children, their families, and their communities.

Field Notes from the Reservation: Insights from a first-time visitor to the Reservation

Simply Smiles blog

Follow our blog and read insights from Simply Smiles staff, volunteers and other individuals whose lives are affected by our work!

Field Notes from the Reservation: Insights from a first-time visitor to the Reservation

Alex Gross

Today's Field Note is brought to you by Rachel Westby, a first-time volunteer with Simply Smiles and first-time visitor to the Cheyenne River Reservation. This week, she joins her mother, Rev. Laura Westby from First Congregational Church of Bethel.

This is my first year out on a Simply Smiles trip. So far, it has exceeded my expectations. The people I’ve met possess more self-awareness and pride than I have ever seen. Their ability to recall their history back through the generations is staggering. 

This especially resonates with me as a person very interested in history. One woman in particular has touched my soul. Saying her life has been difficult is a gross understatement. Despite her hardships, she has maintained a deep, profound sense of faith and self-worth. She is one of those people who emits positive energy through her pores and anyone who meets her is better for it.

Garden fun: The kids plant potatoes during garden class in the new raised beds!

Garden fun: The kids plant potatoes during garden class in the new raised beds!

My main service project for this week has been expanding the community garden just outside the Community Center: constructing raised beds and then hauling the soil to fill them with. It has been a labor-intensive, sweat-producing, dirty job, but the gratification I’ve felt has been immense. I also helped get the hydroponic growing tower up and running inside the Community Center. Just today, the little sprouts have emerged over the dirt!

Being able to interact with the kids on the reservation has been so rewarding for me.

Today, I worked with a small group of campers to bake cookies for the community meal tomorrow night. As anyone who has worked with the combination of children and kitchen activities can attest, the success rate is dubious at best. The possible pitfalls are numerous and the potential for at least one child to be covered head to toe in flour is highly likely. However, this is not what happened. 

Fun with food: The kids make chocolate chip cookies with Rachel and Laura Westby for the town-wide meal on Friday!

Fun with food: The kids make chocolate chip cookies with Rachel and Laura Westby for the town-wide meal on Friday!

I was not anticipating the generally good behavior that the kids exhibited. There was sharing, turn taking, and we all emerged with minimal flour transferred onto our clothes. Not a single cookie disappeared or was unaccounted for, minus the one I swiped for strict quality control purposes. Every child contributed to the dough making process, everyone got an opportunity to put the dough onto the baking sheets, there was only minimal grumbling when they were told they had to wait until tomorrow (an eternity) to enjoy the cookies they made. One girl even offered to help me after all the others had moved on to other activities. Not only that, but each child contributed to the cleaning up, which is rare for most kids without some form of dramatic protesting. It’s been great to experience the universal nature of kids to want a little bit of love and praise.

Overall, this experience has been absolutely incredible.

I know that what our group has done this week will resonate for both myself and the community here in La Plant.

I am already planning to return next year and see wha else has been done, and maybe even rekindle relationships with the kids who I’ve connected with from the summer camp.