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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!

Filtering by Tag: big red bus

Witness: Final Reflections from the Reservation, Summer 2012

Timothy Nurnberger

This summer, we spent almost three months working, living, eating, crying, and laughing in this community – a community that, even though it is physically located in the domestic United States, is a sovereign third-world country inhabited by a people systematically annihilated since the spread of Manifest Destiny.

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The #bigredbus Arrives in La Plant

Timothy Nurnberger

Hello, loyal bloggers! Today I'm writing to you from the Rapid City airport, waiting on my flight back to Connecticut. Unfortunately, today I head back to CT for two weeks to take care of some general office work before going back to La Plant and the Cheyenne River Sioux Valley Reservation. We arrived in La Plant on Monday afternoon and it has been a heck of a few days. The first thing we did upon arrival was look at the area. As this was my first time on the Reservation, I needed a pretty in-depth tour. The landscape of La Plant is pretty spectacular: rolling fields as far as the eye can see, dotted by the occasional house, barn, and herd of cattle. As soon as we crossed the Missouri River, which is the dividing line between the Reservation and South Dakota proper, we stopped for a quick dip in the river and a discussion of what the week would have in store for us. Over an hour of driving later, we arrived at the community center in La Plant to begin our tremendous summer.

We arrived and were quickly greeted by some of our friends. When we went up to town to get a key for our water spigot, about 15 kids ran out of their houses to meet us. With permission, they climbed into the back of the truck to come back to the community center with us - a huge change in their relationship with us since last summer, when we struggled for trust with the children at camp. They laughed and climbed into the truck, all yelling with excitement, as we drove back to the center with some strong helping hands.

The first major task at hand was to unload the bus, and this was not a small job. It took the five of us (Bryan, Josh, Haley, Gaby, and Christiana) plus about 15 helpful kids several hours to unload all of the awesome donations. The kids, of course, took periodic breaks to play with the water squirters (to the great dismay of Chip and Maddie... and Josh) and to ask, "What's in this box? What's in here?" They're really pumped for all of the summer camp stuff, and all of the clothing and blanket donations we put in storage to be given out at Christmas and other exciting times of the year.

The kids absolutely LOVE the bus as well. As soon as they came to visit us, they were jumping on it, playing with the door, and running up and down the aisles. Unfortunately, that curious nature quickly led them to the horn, which honked ceaselessly for about an hour. To bring them home that night, Bryan explained the rules of the bus and gave the kids their first ride on the #bigredbus. They all listened to the rules, and kept asking when camp was going to start so that they could be picked up again. Looks like Operation Big Red Bus was a success!



Yesterday was spent readying the community center for our first set of volunteers - East Haddam Congregational Church, who arrive on Saturday. We cleaned the building from top to bottom, emptied out an old storage room that was stacked floor-to-ceiling with old boxes and mouse nests, and mowed and weed whacked the lawn. We also went to measure for the first construction project of the summer: roofing! An inventory was made of all of our food and supplies and today, while I sit in airports, Bryan, Josh, Christiana, and Gaby will be on a huge shopping trip for food, construction materials, and, of course, dog food. We also picked up our other truck and trailer to haul everything that gets bought today back to the Reservation.

As you can see, we've been busy over here! We're really excited to get started with the first round of volunteers; we have a lot of really awesome stuff in store. Building projects, summer camps, THREE community meals a week plus a movie night - things are all falling into place for the summer of the #bigredbus.

Have a great week, everyone! I'm looking forward to getting back to the Reservation the first week of July. Until then, keep looking for updates on the first two groups and be sure to look for pictures on our Facebook page!

Your loyal blogger,


#bigredbus - The Bus Chronicles, Pt 2

Timothy Nurnberger

The title of this post should really be "Misawaka, IN and Other Things that Are Surprisingly Unsafe", but for the sake of consistency I'll keep with the "Chronicles".



This morning, I'm writing from a lovely motel in Granger, IN, right outside of South Bend and Notre Dame's campus. Yesterday was... an adventure, to say the least. It started fairly normally: continental breakfast, make-your-own waffles, Fox News, and an innocuous drive through the rest of Pennsylvania and into Ohio. We stopped at what may or may not be the World's Largest Truck Stop around noon and had our first taste of real trucker culture. This place looked like a full-sized shopping mall that catered to all trucking needs: they sold practical trucking equipment like floor mats and spare lights, as well as some less practical items of the chrome-nude-woman variety and the inappropriate-body-part-for-your-trailer-hitch variety. We stopped for lunch once we hit Ohio, Chip and Maddie made a dog friend, and we continued for Indiana with a motel plan and determination under our belts.

That's when the fun started, but first, let me give you a sneak peek at life on the #bigredbus (the hashtag is for our Twitter fans).



Contrary to popular belief, because we have so many donations (which is awesome), there is not a lot of room in the 48 seats for the bus's passengers. With 5 adults and 2 rambunctious dogs, it's a bit of a squeeze, especially since the dogs we have like to cuddle. Here's an example of Gaby with Chip:

Chip likes to cuddle, as you can tell. There's also no air conditioning on the bus, so the puppy puddles of love get a little sweaty after awhile. And, by cruising at a maximum speed of 55mph (although we DID hit 56 that one time down a hill!), this cramped, hot, #bigredbus really rivals those big mansion RVs who've been passing us.

But now onto the good stuff. We stopped for then night at a motel that will not be named in Misawaka, IN. Let me paint a picture of Misawaka for you: about 5 miles down the highway, Misawaka, IN sports a Taco Bell, a Burger King, a Hollywood Video, and a 1970's ghost-town diner called Cafe Curve. We walked into our hotel, through what appeared to be renovation construction, with high hopes. Josh even said of the orange safety cones and dirt parking lot, "Oh good! It's new!"

How wrong he was.

Apart from the exposed wiring and the lack of motion sensor in the elevator that almost led to Bryan's flattening, when we opened the doors to our rooms, it was like something from a bad horror movie. Ancient wooden bed frames held sagging mattresses that were, I'm sure, already hiding this hotel's main guests. The pillows were ancient yellowed, every plush surface was stained with mucusy splatters - there was even an unflushed surprise in Josh and Bryan's toilet. It was also apparent that this was the kind of hotel where people never checked out of, a place where people ended up living because they had nowhere else to go. After a run to clear our heads, it was apparent that the bus (never mind us) was not going to be safe there, and we decided to leave.

Fortunately for us, we DID have somewhere else to go, and that was to Granger, where we were greeted by an awesome hotel staff, 24-hour parking lot surveillance, and an Applebee's. Today's plan is to take Chicago by storm, after some strong coffee. Hopefully tonight we will have a less exciting hotel experience, but who knows? It's not an adventure until something goes wrong, right?

Until next time, I remain your #bigredbus reporter. Have a great Saturday!

- Haley

#bigredbus - The Bus Chronicles 2012, Pt. 1

Timothy Nurnberger

Hi all! Today, the big red Simply Smiles bus left its cozy home of Fairfield, CT for its maiden voyage to the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation in South Dakota. I write to you from the Super 8 Motel in Clearfield, PA, about 340 miles from Fairfield.

It's been an awesome day. After a 9 am departure (okay, 9:15), we hit the road with Bryan finally putting to use that CDL he worked so hard for. The weather was beautiful, the tunes were rockin' (we had a great 90's mix tape going for most of the trip, with some Bruce Springsteen thrown in for good measure), and the bus was truckin'.

As far as the bus's loyal crew is concerned, there are 5 humans and 2 dogs: Bryan, Gaby, myself (Haley Brown), Josh Dufresne, and Christiana Whitcomb - joined by the unfailingly energetic Chip and Josh's dog, Maddie. It's a great group of people and we've had a lot of laughs already. We stopped for a quick stretch at a lake in Pennsylvania (a lake that's name is now escaping me) and the dogs went wild, swimming and playing fetch. Those of us dumb enough to accompany the dogs on the dock were soaked almost immediately; Gaby watched from a rock and laughed at our poor judgement.

After we set up camp at the motel, Bryan, Christiana, Chip, and I decided to go for a run and had our courage truly tested when we had an almost near-death experience with some wildlife. We were all running and Chip, as it were, made a sudden dart to the left directly into my running path. I quickly hopped out of the way, only to have my foot land not three inches from the belly of a woodchuck. Startled, we both stared at each other and decided the best course of action to get away. Running away was the best option for both parties, but unfortunately we ran in the same directly. Woody (that's his name) made a break for it right into my sneaker and I almost died of a heart attack.

We stopped in for grub at the Dutch Pantry, an awesome space sporting hand-woven baskets and antique tools for decoration and mason jars for drinking. There were shelves of jams and jellies for sale and the whole place smelled like cinnamon. Truly a unique spot that one can only find on the road.

Tomorrow, we hope to make it to Indiana. That's as far west as I've been!

Make sure to watch our Twitter page at @simplysmilesinc for real-time updates on the progress of the #bigredbus. You never know what tomorrow will bring.


- Haley