The last time Zach or I wrote a blog post was when we were on the Reservation for the month of February. Since then, so many great things have happened. For starters, just a week after we got back from La Plant, Zach and I flew down to Mexico to prepare for our first volunteer group of the year with Choate high school. After February on the Rez, the Mexican sunshine felt ah-mazing. The week in March was the first time in a few years that we stayed in Oaxaca City to focus on our urban initiatives, and it turned out to be an unbelievable week. The Choate group brought so much energy and compassion to everything they did- from making great friends at Casa Hogar, to finishing the very last outside wall at the Center of Operations, and even helping our friend Lula kill all 35 chickens for the community meal, the Choaties (plus our two from Hotchkiss!) helped us further all of our relationships in Oaxaca CIty. And we got to host our very first Oaxaca City community meal! The group helped Zach, Kristen and I invite our neighbors who surround the Center of Operations in Coyotopec (our little suburb of Oaxaca), as well as our friends from the Oaxaca City garbage dump to our home-cooked traditional Oaxacan chicken barbecue. This was the first time we were able to reach out to our neighbors surrounding our Center of Operations, as our weeks in Oaxaca were focused on construction work and our jungle project in Santa María Tepexipana over the last few years. For this reason, we were a little apprehensive about knocking on people’s doors with invitations in our hands, but everyone was so nice and welcoming when we told them our plans. And then on Friday night, over 150 people came to our very first community meal! It was absolutely incredible. The Choaties served a chicken dinner to every person who came in, and we were able to meet, sit, and talk with so many families and make a bunch of new friends. Although I absolutely love every day at both of our projects, this first community meal was one of my favorite Simply Smiles moments. It was awesome to see our friends from the dump at our camp, and so humbling to meet our neighbors for the first time and start brand new friendships. It was a great week in Oaxaca, and a fantastic way to start off the volunteer season.
When we got back from Oaxaca, we had our three Keep Hope Alive events to prepare for. Zach and I talk often about how crazy our lives are; like how we are killing a chicken to serve a family in Oaxaca one day, and preparing for our biggest fundraiser of the year in the office the next. Never a boring day with Simply Smiles, and more than that, it is just so awesome to be part of every aspect of the organization.
So after working alongside Bryan on the intro video, the presentation, figuring out every detail of each event, they all went great! We were all so excited about the outcome. Through the three Keep Hope Alive events, we raised over $215,000! We can hardly put into words how grateful and humbled we all are to be a part of this strong Simply Smiles community that can create true positive change for our friends in Oaxaca and on the Reservation, in just a few nights.
After our three weeks and three Keep Hope Alive events in Connecticut, Zach, Kristen and I returned to Mexico to lead the Silver Lake volunteer group, and we had another great week! The group embodied the definition of “Flexibility is Fun,” worked so hard every day (in the 100 degree sun) to help us build the majority of the walls of the second floor of our bodega building, and made lasting friendships both at Casa Hogar and at the park with our friends from the dump. During that week we also invited two families from Santa María Tepexipana to visit our Center of Operations in Oaxaca, which was incredible. We got to hang out with Ana Cristina, Mari Cruz, Chucho, Gilberto, Martín, Yaretzi, and even Abuelita, Juan’s grandmother! Kristen, Zach and I have missed our friends from Santa María very much, so it was so great to catch up, and so much fun to have them interact with the group.
The best part of the week though by far was our second-ever community meal. It was a little surreal to host our friends from the village, our friends from the dump, and more of our new friends from around Coyotopec at our Center of Operations. This time we helped Lula cook chicken mole, a traditional Oaxacan dish (and my favorite food of all time, which every Mexican thinks is hysterical), and our friend brought a mariachi band to play throughout the night, which was a game-changer. I made countless jokes with all the families who came about how they can turn the dinner into a dance party if they wanted (although they didn’t want to see me attempt to show my moves). And then, as many of the families had finished their meals and were headed out, the Silver Lake crew actually started a dance party! It was ridiculous. We all started dancing with all the little kids that were still there, and then the families started to join in- even Juan’s 80-year-old grandma started dancing with Kristen! It was so much fun. Our dance party included families from Santa María, the dump and our new friends from Coyotopec. It’s still funny to try to describe our epic dance party at our Center of Operations. I am sure that the memory of dancing ridiculously and laughing until it hurt with a bunch of gringos for an hour is not one that many of our friends in Oaxaca will soon forget. Again, it turned out to be one of my favorite Simply Smiles moments ever.
And now, Zach, Jamie, Josh, Bryan and I are headed West on the Big Red Bus to the Cheyenne River Reservation to start our spring and summer season. We are all so excited to see all our friends in La Plant - to hang out with Juanita, Kobey, Alexis, Teigan, Aden, Edward, and everyone else for four straight months!
The first group arrives next week, and we will be hitting the ground running with building our greenhouses, starting our season of summer camp, repairing homes, and starting the initial steps to building Ford’s new home! It is going to be so incredibly great, and I’m sure, filled with many new Simply Smiles favorite moments.
From somewhere in Indiana,