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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: Naugatuck

Field Notes from the Reservation: Flexibility is fun!

Alex Gross

Today's Field Note is brought to you by Jennifer Dupont, a long-time volunteer of Simply Smiles from Naugatuck, Connecticut. Her message: Learning that flexibility can be - and is - fun!

Good afternoon from sunny La Plant, South Dakota! What a difference a day makes! We went from freezing rain and snow to sun and wind in just a 24-hour period. As the Simply Smiles motto goes, "flexibility is fun."

This is my third trip to the Reservation, and I almost didn’t recognize it when we drove up.

There have been so many changes and improvements in just one year: the impressive horseshoe pits, the huge garden and high tunnel, the full size basketball court, the beautiful pow wow grounds and the incredible tipis. 

It is certainly a welcoming place for the children and adults and these features are now a prominent part of their community.

Yesterday was our first day of camp, and the big hit this year is Gordon and Elliott’s Giant Jenga game! They were only half way completed with it and the kids were already having a blast playing. There was coloring, crafting and game playing, but my favorite was the snowball fight with the kids. My only regret was not having brought gloves with me - they would have really been in trouble then!

Balancing act:  The life-size Jenga game required concentration...and lots of deep breaths from participating campers!

Balancing act: The life-size Jenga game required concentration...and lots of deep breaths from participating campers!

We have been working on the garden, getting more beds ready for planting and finishing work on the new house. Not enough hours in the day to get it all in! I am sad when we have to stop working, and I haven’t completed my project but then I realize I get to play with the kids. I am sad when the kids all go home but then I realize how exhausted I am.

I wish I could put into words how much this place and everyone here means to me. I am so grateful and blessed to be able to have this opportunity to be a part of something as special as this.

Thank you Simply Smiles staff and interns for always taking such great care of us!

Now, back to work!

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.

Naugatuck on the Reservation: Thursday, May 15, 2014

Timothy Nurnberger

Tomorrow will be the last day for me working on the reservation. I have had ample time to reflect on my experience and what I will take from working with the resilient people of the Lakota Nation. Resilient is an interesting choice of words for me to use. As a helping professional, I have dedicated my life to working with people from different backgrounds and stories, but I have never worked with people that have a history quite like the Lakota.

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