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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.

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Simply Smiles blog

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

Filtering by Tag: Bethel

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.

Field Notes from the Reservation: Overcoming obstacles

Alex Gross

This latest Field Note is brought to you by Dave Shaw, a loyal volunteer from Naugatuck, Connecticut. Dave shares his insights into his first few days here in La Plant...including some weather-related obstacles!

We are touring the area in and around the Sam D. Horse Community Center in La Plant, South Dakota on the Cheyenne River Lakota Reservation. Zach Gross is reviewing the 10 principles abided by the Simply Smiles staff and community.

The first: The need always trumps the obstacles.

The wind is howling outside. The precipitation is changing from snow to sleet. It is May 10, 2015.

Our friends from Naugatuck and Bethel arrive to a snowy Rapid City. (May 2015)

Our friends from Naugatuck and Bethel arrive to a snowy Rapid City. (May 2015)

We came here to do service projects and to just be with the people. The weather alone tells us of the need of the Lakota, living on un-farmable land far from the amenities we are used to. Farmable land is a need. Raised bed growing of vegetables and hydroponic gardening overcomes that obstacle.

Some volunteers like myself brought no boots. A small obstacle is overcome with plastic bags over the sneakers. We all help with the needs here on the Reservation through our presence.

Two days ago, our team of four from Naugatuck and four from Bethel left the warm spring weather of Connecticut. We arrived in Rapid City, South Dakota, to snow. The Big Red Bus was not running, so the obstacle was overcome by picking us up in the van and the pickup truck.

On the road trip to the Reservation, we made our usual stops at the Call of the Wild gas station, Wall Drug, the Midland Store, and re-fueled in Eagle Butte. The distances from the Reservation to amenities pose yet another obstacle.

After being welcomed, and having dinner, we had a round of introductions, and slept. Going to the outhouse at night in windy sleeting conditions was an obstacle to overcome.

Sunday morning, as the storm continued, we learned of the back-history of the place and some of the systemic problems that created the need of the area. We started on a few projects and held the town-wide Mother’s Day dinner. Many ventured out in the storm. We readied the Community Center and the energetic entrance of the children and a few mothers got the dinnertime going. Eager chaos! 

Getting reacquainted with friends. Meeting new friends.

“You were here last year.” “Have the frogs started singing?” “Not yet.” Gifts of homemade goat milk soap, handmade quilts and take-out dinners are sent home to the moms and their families.

The week has begun. We’ll work on a house, hydroponic gardening, green houses, run after-school camp, for which we’ll build a large jenga game.

A week’s worth of tasks and special times with our friends in La Plant lies before us.  


The Ten Principles of Simply Smiles:

  1. The need always trumps the obstacles.

  2. A high standard of excellence in all we do.

  3. Preserve and build dignity.

  4. Perception matters.

  5. We are all ambassadors.

  6. Always explain why.

  7. No one is above any task or person.

  8. Under promise, over deliver.

  9. Always have fun.

  10. No busy work ever.