Lakota Students Give To Others

The Lakota children practice generosity by giving food to the poor.
St. Joseph’s fourth and fifth graders delivered food and toiletries to St. James to share with those in need.

During Catholic Schools Week in January, St. Joseph’s fourth and fifth grade students collected food and toiletries for St. James Catholic Church.  The church has a pantry that is open to the Chamberlain community.  Tubs were placed around campus to collect a variety of useful items.  Many students also brought items they picked up.

At the end of the week, all fourth and fifth graders went to St. James to deliver the goods in person.  We collected four tubs of toiletries and food items!

We got to see the pantry and Fr. Guy explained to the students how it works.  Fr. Guy was very grateful for the donation.  St. Joseph’s students were excited about the project and hope to do it again sometime.

Statistics tell us we feel happier or better about ourselves when we are able to give to others.  I feel projects like these give our Native American students the opportunities to get such a feeling.  Many were excited to go with their houseparents or counselors to pick out items to put in the tubs.

Fr. Guy’s excitement about our gifts made it even better!

I hope each of you who are benefactors feel the same joy in giving to the Lakota (Sioux) children.  Like Fr. Guy, we are very thankful and I hope you get a sense of how excited we are by your generosity.  In this season that expresses the kindest and biggest gift of all, Christ’s sacrifice, may we all be motivated to give of ourselves for others.

Basketball games, one-act plays, and cold weather

Dear Friends of St. Joseph’s,

I have the privilege of sharing some insights as to what has happened here at St. Joseph’s over the weekend since Fr. Steve and some students and staff have been at a donor luncheon in Florida.

The weekend began with the Chamberlain High School’s boys’ basketball teams taking on the Mt. Vernon/Plankinton Titans.  The schedule offered the chance for the “C” team, junior varsity and varsity to play.  The Cubs were able to win all three games with the help of the 11 St. Joseph’s students on the “C” and junior varsity teams, plus two more on the varsity.  High school games highlight the impact the inter-city basketball program, sponsored by St. Joseph’s.  You can see the interaction that took place in younger grades paying off as the St. Joseph’s and local Chamberlain students now play together.

This was also the opening weekend for the girls’ inter-city basketball program on St. Joseph’s campus.  Again, a good mixture of St. Joseph’s students and players from the Chamberlain area played some good games before a good-sized crowd of spectators.

Chamberlain High School also presented its one act play, Mark Twain’s “Is He Dead?,” which will be their entry in the state competition this coming Wednesday.  One of St. Joseph’s students, Christopher, had one of the lead roles and several other students were active behind the scenes.  The performance lasted about an hour, but we were told at the start that the rules of state competition require that a one-act play must be completed within 45 minutes.  They will have to do some further cuts, but they wanted the local public to see the ‘full’ performance, which brought laughter and enjoyment as we watched the play unfold and deal with trying to make an artist ‘famous’ and thus his paintings more expensive by faking his death.

This coming week, the Lakota children in grade school will continue to benefit from the continued presence of our Artist in Residence, Mr. Markus Tracy, who completes his two-week commitment to St. Joseph’s this Friday.  He is working with our students to produce a mural in the school.

This past Saturday was the second week of our bowling season.  The sixth, seventh and eighth graders sign up and then are assigned to teams headed by various staff members, several of whom are on bowling teams in Chamberlain.  We bowl two games and try to help the students learn and improve their bowling skills.  It is a popular event.

The weather let us down a bit in that it was forecast to be very cold (single digits and below zero!), which is one reason why I think Fr. Steve scheduled the donor luncheon for Florida (Ha!), but it has not been as bad as predicted, nor did we get any more snow.

What snow we had at Christmas is mostly gone now, which has been frustrating for our Native American students since many of them received snow boards from Santa and our benefactors, but have not been able to use them. During recess, many of the younger students have been sliding down the hill on their stomachs looking like a bunch of seals!

In closing, I would like to say pilamayathank you – for your generosity towards the Lakota boys and girls at Christmas.  It was a joy to go from home to home to witness the students opening their gifts.  There was lots of excitement and many ooh’s and aah’s.

May the Great Spirit continue to bless and reward you as the new year unfolds.


Fr. Anthony Kluckman, SCJ


Christmas blessings for the Lakota children

The Lakota boys and girls were blessed to receive wonderful Christmas gifts.
No matter how old they are, the Lakota boys and girls are so excited to receive Christmas presents!

Christmas continues into January at St. Joseph’s!  The excitement gets to linger for at least a week after break, extending the students’ excitement about presents to come.  It’s always fun to experience the Christmas holiday through the eyes of a child. No matter how old they are, or how much they may try to hide it, they are excited!  The first week after break brings excitement and anticipation for Sunday’s big event!

If there is one thing I would wish for in life, it would be that all kids would wake up to at least one present on Christmas Day. 

I no longer ask my students what they got for Christmas when they come back… I haven’t for years.  It breaks my heart that some experience no family time, or no gifts for this holiday.

It’s so exciting for our students that they have a Christmas to return to and presents to put the sparkle in their eyes!

Over the years, Christmas has changed at St. Joseph’s, not just the date.  I remember when I first started working at St. Joseph’s, we looked through used toys to try and find enough to give each of the kids a present.

Sometimes, it was a real stretch.

Many times, the toys had someone else’s name on it.  Often, the students were given games with missing pieces. Everyone got socks and gloves and were very happy to receive those items.

I remember one year my dad arranged for a company to send Nerf footballs for all the boys.  For the girls he made each their own tablets with their names printed on them (he owned a print shop)!  It was something new and exciting.

The Lakota children are so excited to open their gifts!
Ethan peeks into his gift a little early.

Thanks to very generous donors, Christmas gifts are awesome and definitely appreciated.

After the celebration, kids come to school sporting a new sweatshirt or talking about different toys they received.  We are blessed to have great donors!  One home got rollerblades and went skating Sunday afternoon.  They had great stories and, more importantly, great smiles!

This is a time I often spend reflecting on the true blessings I have.  Sometimes we forget how good we really have it.  I hope part of Christmas at St. Joseph’s and everywhere helps you reflect on what’s important too.  I have too many to name here, but my granddaughter, children, husband, job, relationship with God, and living in America would top my list!

May the New Year bring you peace and God’s blessings!  May the excitement of a new toy from your childhood spread into the joy of giving and sharing this New Year.

Christmas with the Lakota children

Girls in the Dennis Home received dolls for Christmas.
The Lakota children were excited to receive gifts from their wish list.

While most people took their Christmas decorations down long ago, today was our big day to celebrate with the Lakota students at St. Joseph’s Indian School. At liturgy, one of our fifth grade classes volunteered to act out the Nativity Story.  The cast included the Holy Family, Magi, Kings and even a Star to help it come more alive. We try to encourage (exhort, plead!) students to fully participate each Sunday by singing with some gusto. Because our songs today were all well-known and loved Christmas classics, it was not a problem.

After mass, students returned to their homes for a family-like Christmas celebration that included opening the presents that our donors so generously provided. Our kids received a good mix of fun items, toys and games, and clothing they need for school or sports. I was able to spend a little time in each of our homes.

William (4th-5th grade girls) – I was invited to pass out presents, and see the smiles as the girls saw colorful winter hats and fuzzy animal slippers.

Rooney (6th–8th grade boys) – A giant Christmas stocking held the presents as each boy dug deep for presents like footballs and basketballs.

Speyer (6th-8th grade boys) – The boys sat in a circle around the Christmas tree as Sue, their houseparent,  gave them instructions on keeping track of gift tags so they would be able to properly thank those who sent them gifts.

Matthias (6th – 8th grade girls) – The girls were opening their presents one at a time, while houseparent Daniel took lots of pictures. They were most excited about clothing and lotions.

Stevens (6th– 8th grade girls) – Presents were all opened by the time I arrived. One of our athletes was so excited with a new volleyball she received, that she talked her roommate into going outside to practice – and the temperature was a chilly 9 degrees!

Pinger (6th– 8th grade girls) – These girls were also finished by the time I stopped by. The girls were doing their homework and getting ready for Monday classes. They were already wearing some of the sweatshirts they’d received.

Fisher (6th– 8th grade boys) – One smaller present the boys all received in their stockings was a wooden paddle with rubber ball and string attached. Carol and Dick, their houseparents, were organizing a competition to see who could keep theirs going the longest.

Cyr (4th-5th grade boys) – The boys had the contents of their stockings laid on the kitchen counter before them. They were most fascinated by the plastic pencil sharpeners and were all busy trying them out on a pile of pencils, and capping the end of with Angry Bird erasers. To create atmosphere, the TV screen carried a video of a roaring fireplace.

Perky (4th and 5th grade boys) – These boys opened part of their presents and were preparing to eat. They had attractive platters of cookies and other goodies that Wendy, their houseparent, had helped them create.

Summerlee (4th and 5th grade girls) – The girls took turns showing me their mood rings and asking me to guess what it said about how they were feeling. I also had to answer quiz book challenges about presidents and the states. They were very excited about roller blades they received and had plans to break them in later in the afternoon.

Afra (1st-3rd grade girls) – The girls were gathered around the dining room table with houseparent Luisa, who was teaching them how to paint Christmas cookies with different colored frosting. Some looked like works of art (but not too good to be spared eventual eating).

Raphael (1st-3rd grade boys) – The boys were enamored with the play action figures of wrestlers, and were staging bouts with sound effects all across the playroom.

Ambrose (1st-3rd grade boys) – The boys received legos and a few mechanical toys with “some assembly required”– if they could only concentrate that well on their schoolwork, they would receive many scholarships!

Dennis – (1st-3rd grade girls) – These young ladies were engaged in introducing their new dolls to one another.

Crane (HS girls) – Our older students are mostly into music and many had scooted off to their rooms to play new CD’s. While I was there, a call came from the upstairs boys’ home asking them to tone it down a little!

The Lakota children thank you for your generosity!
Girls from the Crane home say pilamayathank you – for the Christmas gifts!

Giles (HS boys) – The guys received a set of drums as a big group present. I came across them running around campus looking for clues in a scavenger hunt as to where to find it.

Carola (HS boys) – This home was quiet as many of the guys were watching NFL playoffs or getting in a weekend nap.

Hogebach (HS girls) – Besides individual presents, these ladies showed off some of their home presents when I stopped in – a new waffle maker and other kitchen supplies.

Sheehy (HS boys) – These guys are into sports and music, and showed off some new jerseys, balls and posters they received.

Some homes had sit-down meals, others had fancy snacks and finger foods to share as different staff members stopped by to share in the festivities. While each home had their own unique traditions of celebrating, it was a festive and fun day all around.

Staff who love their jobs

I got an email from one of our new houseparents:

“Dear Father Steve,

I am working the Carola Home and just received a call from a donor.  It was a little awkward at first but turned out to be a good one.  He asked if this was St. Joseph’s Indian School.  I said yes and asked how I could help him.  He just started sending money to the Lakota children and wanted to check to see if it was the real deal.  I told him yes, in fact, I was a houseparent, that I loved my job and that it was a wonderful program.  I told him that it was the weekend, but if he called on Monday, he would have a better chance of speaking with someone that could put his mind at ease.  He said that he just wanted to make sure that his money was going to a real and good cause. I am not sure how donations work, but I think that if you were able to follow up with him he would feel better. . .”

It’s great to have staff that love their jobs, which makes it so much easier to tell people about the programs we have.  Of course, I also complimented her on making a donor feel appreciated and part of something worthwhile.

Starting a New Semester

All our homes opened at noon yesterday and we welcomed our younger Lakota students back to campus yesterday. When I started the rounds to the homes right after lunch I only saw a few kids in each home, which gave them a good chance to visit with houseparents about their Christmas break.

As students arrived, houseparents checked bags and helped younger students mark their names on new clothes or toys they brought back. Some received a fair amount at Christmas; others came back with very little. Next weekend, we’ll try to make it nice for everyone when we pass out the presents people have so generously sent us for the children.

After the initial check in, it was off to the health center to see about any bumps or scrapes or medical needs. The houseparents were especially pleased if the nurses sent a blue pass back with the child meaning all clear. By suppertime, our homes were mostly full. We’re glad to have the kids back, excited about what the new semester will hold!

Today I made the rounds at school. I met three of our new students and started working to engrave their names and faces in my memory. We do admissions throughout the year and expect a few more to join us in the next few days.

The sixth graders were practicing for the upcoming spelling bee. I took the list and asked them to spell words that even I didn’t know the meaning of! I sat in with the third graders as they learned about Neptune’s larger than earth moon, “Triton,” with its ice spewing volcanoes. It’s good for us adults to get refresher courses on all we’ve forgotten over the years, and learn a few new things as well.

At the end of the school day we held an all school prayer service to start the third quarter. Several students were recognized for their efforts and attitude over the past quarter and came forward to receive a certificate. As always, we asked God’s help and blessing on the New Year and new semester.

Christmas is still coming!

I heard tell of a Lakota tribal official visiting the Apache Tribe in Arizona. They teased him “in the mountains we’re much closer to the Great Spirit.”

He replied, “Yes, I understand, but on the vast South Dakota prairie we can see God coming for three days, and have time to get ready!”

Renovation of the William home is moving along.
Sheetrock is up in the William Home! The facilities crew is now working on outlets and ventilation.

While other folks are taking down their Christmas decorations, we’re still getting ready to celebrate when all our students return. Last weekend two school groups, one from Barrington, Illinois and one from Watertown, South Dakota brought out some wonderful clothes and toys they’ve been collecting. As the houseparents return, we’ll check sizes and wish lists to find good matches for our students’ needs.

While many of our child services staff have had vacation time, staff in the development office have been faithfully answering mail and phone requests. The facilities crew has used this quieter time for projects like touch-up paint jobs and preventative spraying for bed bugs, which are jobs best done when the homes are empty.

They’ve been moving full speed ahead on several projects. The Summerlee Home renovation is almost complete, and those fourth and fifth grade girls should be moving back in a couple of weeks. The William Home will take a few more months, but the dry wall is up and the crew is working on the behind the scenes (and walls) items like electrical outlets and ventilation.

Fewer students means fewer vehicle trips over break. The school bus was in the garage getting a check up to make sure it’s fit for ball games and school trips once the semester gets going next week.

St. Joseph’s bus is in the shop for a tune up.
St. Joseph’s bus gets a tune up before second semester begins.

We have had a half dozen high school students on campus this past week taking part in basketball practices. Today, the rest of the crew of 42 filtered in. Cars pulled up to one of our five high school homes and kids carried suitcases or slung plastic bags full of clothes over their shoulder and started getting ready for second semester.

I spent a little time at each of the homes, welcoming students back. I always hope for happy news. Many of the students had good memories of their time with family, but a few had family struggles and drama over the break. Our houseparents and counselors will help them talk it out and process the disappointments and hurts, and hopefully get them off to a good start here.

Guest Blogger: Julie

Christ Tunpi – Merry Christmas!
Christ Tunpi – Merry Christmas!
Greetings friends!!

My name is Julie and I am a Family Service Counselor here at St. Joseph’s Indian School. I hope this wonderful time of year finds you all doing well! Things here at St. Joseph’s Indian School have been very busy over the last few days! The students are getting ready to head home for Christmas break. The weather looks good for their travel, which is truly a blessing.

This past weekend was the annual “Christmas Store.” This is a time when students can pick out gifts for their family members. The items available for gifts come from your generous donations; the students really enjoy being able to pick out gifts for their families! The students also get a chance to see Santa Clause and have their gifts wrapped. It is a fun-filled day that both students and staff enjoy!

Other things that have been happening at St. Joseph’s Indian School include the conclusion of the girls’ basketball season, the students’ Christmas program and a new ceremony called the “Tears Ceremony.” The Tears Ceremony is held at St. Joseph’s when a student loses a loved one. This is a time for the students to remember their loved one and be supported by friends and staff.

Our first Tears Ceremony was held this week and was a beautiful tribute to the students’ loved one. Still in its beginning stages, the Tears Ceremony gives the students one more way to remember and grieve the loved one they have lost. The student who has lost the loved one is an integral part of the planning process for the ceremony. We hope that the Tears Ceremony will assist the students with the grief process and let them know they are supported and cared for while they traverse the grief process.

Houseparents help students choose gifts for their families.
Houseparents help students choose gifts for their families.

At this time of year, I always think of the generosity of our benefactors. St. Joseph’s Indian School offers so many great things to our students… but without your kindness and generosity, we would be unable to do the great things we do. So at this time I say Thank You for all you do for St. Joseph’s Indian School. May you have a wonderful and blessed Christmas and New Year!


Guest Blogger: Robin

Hi, my name is Robin and I am the Special Education Department Chair here at St. Joseph’s Indian School. I have a Bachelor of Science in Education/Special Education and a Master’s in Reading and Literature. I just have to say that I really LOVE it here at St. Joseph’s Indian School! There is so much to do and to volunteer for.

My story is a continuation. I started here in 2002 and was only able to stay for two years. During one of those two years I was the Director of Special Education. I had the awesome opportunity to mentor a beautiful young lady, who is now at her home in Lower Brule.

I also had the opportunity to tutor in the high school homes three times per week. One of the students I tutored back then has gone on to graduate with honors, earning her Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing. I am so proud of Savannah!

My day job was Special Education for those students needing a little more help to be successful. Not only did I schedule meetings, plan lessons and file reports, I was able to teach some remarkable young people. I had small groups of students in grades 1-4. The stories of some of our students are heart wrenching to say the least. I am just glad the Lord put me here to work with them and pray for them. They have blessed me in immeasurable ways.

I then had to go to Georgia to help take care of my elderly in-laws. We were gone for seven years. My in-laws passed away and we stayed a few more years because of the economy.

But, my heart was always here at St. Joseph’s.

I decided not to renew my contract with the school system I was at and began calling St. Joseph’s to see if there were any positions available.  Then came that wonderful September morning I got a call from Melissa in Human Resources asking me to come for an interview. OF COURSE I JUMPED ON THE OFFER!

So, the last week in September 2011, I was back at St. Joseph’s interviewing for Special Education Teacher. I was so excited, I was in tears!

Well, they accepted me back here and I was elated. They asked when I could start and without thinking I said any time! They told me to think about it and get things settled there in Georgia!

So I thought about it… My grandson was to be born October 13, 2011 and my granddaughter was turning 5 on October 13 as well. I stayed for Dakota’s party and left the following morning, leaving behind my son and my husband to “finish up” down there.

I also left my daughter and two of my five granddaughters there in Georgia.  Before that, we were inseparable!

I drove all by myself (I’ve NEVER done that before) all across this country to get to Iowa to see my grandson and then on to South Dakota to come to St. Joseph’s. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE my family – but I was going “home” to St. Joe’s!

You may be wondering why I am telling this story. I want you all to know what a wonderful, caring, and dedicated staff there is here at St. Joseph’s Indian School.

The students are awesome as well! They are people you will never forget. The school is always evolving. In the following picture are the Tiny Tot jingle dress dancers. One of the girls is my granddaughter, Dakota (blue dress with bows). Another is a houseparent’s daughter, the little one and the one with her back to the camera is from a neighboring reservation, and one is the daughter of a St. Joseph’s teacher.

St. Joe’s takes the term Tiyospayeextended family full circle. Not only do we serve the students and their families, we remember to serve our own families as well.

As in many jobs, we dedicate much of our time and energy to our work and forget family is just as important. Here at St. Joseph’s, our “work family” is important, but our own families are as well. The students here love to meet our families and play with them at various activities.

The Special Education program is unique here at St. Joseph’s.

We follow all Federal guidelines when testing and supporting our students. We try to keep the students in the classroom and modify or accommodate as needed there.

Our program is more the resource type, as we have limited staff in this area. Our Family Service Counselors help us with behaviors and other concerns that the special education teachers deal with daily in public schools. Although I do have a lot of paper work, I also get to work with my team and with many students individually or in small groups. As I said, we are unique. We have a lot of support people here who help with groups, interventions and any other requests to help a student be successful.

Why do I love it here? Well, the beginning of the school year is amazing. When the students see that you are here again for another year, and you have not left them, they are so thrilled and excited to see you!

I am fortunate to be able to work in the homes as a substitute as well. This is where you see the awesomeness of our structure. The kids begin to feel as though you really want to help them succeed. They are responsible for doing their charges (chores). This includes doing their laundry, keeping their rooms clean, helping clean the home and helping with the meals and snacks.

They go on family trips and outings, do things in town, do things for others in the community and around school. The students take their “jobs’’ very seriously and are proud of what they know how to do. As a mentor I get to do activities with my mentee, whether it is on campus or in town. We learn about each other and get to teach each other things we didn’t know how to do. It is always great when she sees me and gives me a hug!

Did I tell y’all how much I love St. Joe’s????

Children’s laughter

Today was the last day of school for Chamberlain High School. Our four high school homes emptied out quickly once the school day was over. Many of the students will be back in a couple of weeks for driver’s ed, transitional living classes or summer work experiences. Kudos to all the staff who work with these students and saw them through to another successful year!

The ten 1st-3rd graders who have made honor roll all year were treated to a movie and supper in Mitchell. I joined Jennie (Student Coordinator) and Celia (Residential Coordinator) to chaperone the students and had a delightful time. The Pirates: Band of Misfits was not exactly a classic that I’ll never forget, but what I will always remember and treasure were the kids’ giggles and laughs at the silly humor. We ate supper at Culver’s, where everyone got to chose from one of 5 children’s meals, and end the outing with a scoop of frozen custard.

Children’s laughter has a magical quality that heals and strengthens the heart.

We have a small bus that was just the right size for our group. The trip takes about a hour each way. Videos entertained for a while, but mostly we started playing guessing games, talking and telling stories. I sat next to first grader, Nevaeh. Spending a couple of hours talking to a seven-year-old grounded me more solidly in the world view of a child. They have more questions than I have answers, but that’s why young minds can soak up so many things so quickly. Hopefully these Native American students will work hard throughout their many years of study, and learn how to enjoy learning.