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Simply Smiles provides bright futures for children, families, and communities. The organization partners with populations in need to create physical and emotional environments where suffering is alleviated and from which local leaders can emerge.

Simply Smiles blog

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

Farmington Valley Association on the Reservation: May 3-10, 2014

Timothy Nurnberger

Sunday, May 4, 2014 There are twenty two of us from the Farmington Valley Association representing a variety of churches in the Avon-Granby-Bristol-Terryville (Connecticut) area.  Anyone who has not seen Simply Smiles in action in person must come to La Plant, South Dakota.  The staff are amazing people with hearts of gold.  And the people of La Plant are a blessing; simply being with the people warms your soul.

The needs here are huge.  The needs are ongoing.  The needs are hard.

And yet there is hope… because when you spend one moment with a child here, you see God at work… you see light and you see warmth and you see embrace and you see love.  And this is only our first day here!  More to come…

- Rev. Zachary Mabe, Terryville Congregational Church, UCC

Thursday, May 8 2014 - Kite Day!

What a wonderful, moving, engaging, and productive week we have had in La Plant!  We are the Farmington Valley Association group, with representatives from Connecticut churches in Granby, Avon, Bristol, Terryville, Farmington & Simsbury.  There are twenty two of us, all adults.

We’ve had many highlights this week:  completing the big patio project, installing two new garage sheds, fixing outhouses and installing new outhouses, building shelves and racks (one for the garage shed, and one for a library in the community room), cleaning up the community garden (to make way for the new greenhouse), participating in the “walk on” and cooking class programs, organizing the supplies in the community room, and generally getting this place ready for all the groups that will follow this summer.  The patio is especially impressive.

But the greatest highlight this week has been spending precious moments with the people of La Plant.  Our daily after-school camps have been awesome!  We’ve called our camp “Countdown to Summer” and it’s had a “Space Camp” theme.  We have offered rotating stations which the students have loved:  rocket building, t-shirt making, moon rocks, stars and planets, bracelet making, bean-bag toss, fingernail painting “moon manicures”, basketball, kickball, lego building, puzzles, board games, coloring, trail mix making “space mix,” huge bubble blowing, and kites.

Kite day was something we will never forget.  First, the students got to build and decorate their own kites.  Then they got to take the kites outside! The awe and wonder in the eyes of the children (and us adults) in seeing the kites rise in the South Dakota wind was moving and inspiring.  Many of the students let their string unwind to full extension, rising their kites high in the sky and giggling with joy as they watched their kites remain in flight for the duration of the camp day. What a blessing to be part of such a moment!

Another highlight has been to experience the community taking pride in their community center. Many times throughout this week, residents have stopped by just to say hi, to have a bite to eat and conversation with us, to check out the progress on the patio, to help pitch in with our work projects, and to play horseshoes and basketball.  Every event has been well attended and you can see that the people of La Plant love the Simply Smiles staff and all of us volunteers.  We are  honored to have been able to be here and to partner with these wonderful people.

- Rev. Zack Mabe, Terryville Congregational Church, UCC

Thursday, May 8, 2014

This is my second trip to La Plant; I was here exactly a year ago.  The folks in La Plant seem more comfortable with Simply Smiles volunteers.  We remember many of them and they remember some of us - adults and children alike.  People like to be remembered and I think the children are especially pleased.

Last year we built a pole barn behind the community center.  The “pavilion” is about 30’ by 56’ and provides a gathering place for the community throughout the summer.  People gathered to play and watch games - baseball, basketball and horseshoes are most popular - and the extended opportunities for conversation led to a stronger and more empowered community.  This led to changes in town governance and taking over responsibility for the local school from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  The Pavilion was not sufficient by itself to bring about these changes, but it was necessary.  These are very significant changes and It is amazing to think we had a small part in this.

This year we are installing pavers under the pavilion and adding a gravel apron around the structure.  If this seems like a luxury, I have just one word for you, and that word is “mud.”  The soil here is nothing like at home in Connecticut.  When dry, it is very hard.  Shovels don’t work, you need pick axes.  When it is wet, it is sticky goo. Again, shovels don’t work, because the soil sticks to the shovel until you rub it off.  (BTW, plows don’t work, either, so farming here is not an option.  Gardening requires raised beds and soil brought in from someplace else.)  In addition to being practical, the patio looks really nice, with patterns in the pavers and La Plant spelled out in four foot high letters right down the middle.  We hope that this continues to feed community pride.

When I told people about my trip last year, I always commented on the the hopelessness I sensed in La Plant.  Life here is still very, very hard and there has been no magical transformation.  But when I tell people about my trip this year, I will talk about the glimmers of hope that are springing up like seedlings.  It will take a lot of care and some luck too, but some of these tender shoots may grow.  May it be so!

- Charlie Kuchenbrod