Twelve hours after leaving Wapping, the four of us arrived in La Plant, sharing thoughts of how South Dakota, and more specifically the CRST Reservation, matched our anticipations. The green rolling hills reminded us of “Dances With Wolves” and when we actually drove into the community center that was to be our home for this week, we were greeted by several dogs, one of which was the spitting image of “Two Socks.” Sunday morning we toured the main village of La Plant and got our first impression of the folks we came here to befriend.
The Simply Smiles staff wasted no time getting us into the groove, assigning us to teams, each of which had a task – either to continue projects already begun or start new ones – some in preparation for the Pow Wow that is starting this Friday. Last night we had a community meal with several residents, focusing on learning names of our hosts. This morning we shared a few laps around the field with some of the Lakota who joined us. I walked with Barbara, a La Plant town leader and got to ask questions and share ideas with an elder. It was interesting to find that as a town committee member, she had many of the same experiences I had had when I served on our town council.
After continuing our work projects this morning we got to meet and share with the children at the community playground. Shane joined me at one point as he, a friend, and I constructed “pin wheels.” He shared his school stories (he is going into ninth grade) – it was much like some of the talks I shared with my students at home over the years. I look forward to continuing the discussions with Shane and the others during each playground this week. LAB – Monday night
The long trip out from CT culminated Saturday evening as we drove the red bus off Highway 212 onto the grounds of the Community Building here in La Plant, SD. Here is the summer home of the Simply Smiles staff, where they work together with the Lakota community and the volunteers who come weekly during these summer months to help them improve the La Plant community and bring new hopes for a better life for these people. We were warmly greeted and after introductions all around, we were briefed on the upcoming week and assigned our first tasks. I was placed on a team who were to build and paint more benches and generally fix up the grounds for the Pow Wow arena already on the property. This coming weekend there will be the annual La Plant Pow Wow and up to 200 Lakota are expected to arrive for this important celebration.
Meanwhile, others were building handrails for the new steps and ramp to the front door of the Community Center building, erecting a greenhouse-like structure which will serve as a shelter for a vegetable garden for the locals to grow some of their own food, and constructing a giant signboard/windbreak for the greenhouse. After a tour Sunday morning of the community by members of the Simply Smiles staff and stories to help us understand the difficulties these people have experienced, we began our work for the afternoon. Monday morning before breakfast we drove the Red Bus to the school track to walk four laps with some of the Lakota community members as a morning exercise activity which is held daily throughout the week. Then we ate breakfast. In the early afternoon and finished working again on our projects and then at about 2:30 p.m. we put our tools down to hold our first afternoon camp for the Lakota children of the La Plant community. Today’s group brought 20 to 25 children and our 11 volunteers met them with a variety of games and activities that the children enjoyed as we interacted with them. One of the fun moments for me was building a “tower” of bean bag chairs that LuLu and Thea would run across the room and crash into, causing them to be half-buried in the pile of giant bean bags as they giggled and laughed while these soft chairs tumbled all over them “again, again”, they implored. I asked if they would like me to take their pictures in the piles of giant bean-bags, and soon they were asking to take my picture to under the chairs after they stacked them onto me. Soon, they were tired of this activity and they moved on to something else. Our first experience with these children was a memorable time. - JWB, Monday night, June 16, 2014