Varied and generous gifts

Some of our donors generously remember St. Joseph’s Indian school in their estate planning. A couple of times since I’ve been here we’ve actually been willed a home, which we then sell and put the funds toward our endowment.

We recently received word that we were left a house in Germany! I’m sure there will be a few more complications selling that property than we’re used to, but the gift is greatly appreciated and will go to a good cause – helping the Lakota (Sioux) children.

Our network of support continues to astound and amaze me.

Shooting hoops after school is a favorite pastime of the Lakota boys and girls at St. Joseph’s.
The Lakota children will love a new outdoor basketball court!

Our newest staff members from our Donor Care Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, were recently on campus for orientation. While some people who work phones and answer email have high turnover rates, my hope is that they stay for the long term like so many other staff. Though they won’t work directly with the Lakota (Sioux) children and will be more in touch with our donors, they are very much an important part of our mission at St. Joseph’s. I look forward to getting to know them as we work together to accomplish great things.

Later in the day, I spoke to a donor who found out we are planning to build an outdoor basketball court this summer. He offered to pay for the whole thing as a memorial to his brother. I know our Native American students will love it when that goes up next to the junior high homes! Our Planned Giving office frequently helps people who want to give memorial gifts.

Wopila tankamany thanks – for sharing so generously with the Lakota children!

Donor Appreciate Events in Sarasota, Florida

The Lakota youngsters get to see the ocean for the first time.
Elijah and Shawn take their first dip in the ocean!

Very early last Friday morning, Fr. Steve picked up Maria, Elijah, Shawn and myself and off to the Sioux Falls airport we went! Sarasota, Florida was our destination. Our objective was to host two afternoons of appreciation luncheons for those who hold St. Joseph’s Indian School near to their hearts.

After an hour of driving and letting the boys catch a little more sleep, Fr.  Steve began to interview them in preparation for the weekend that lay ahead. As I listened and was able to participate, I knew in my heart these guys were going to do great!

After checking in with the airline and going through security, we all had a quick bite to eat, knowing it was going to be a long day of travel. After all, between shuffling through different airports and making all of our connections we may not get another chance for food until later on that night! So before we ate, we all bowed our heads and asked the Lord’s blessing on our day and the days ahead.

Fr.  Steve began each luncheon by thanking everyone for their part in St. Joseph’s success in helping Lakota children. Introductions were made and lunch was served, followed by a slide presentation and a short video giving everyone a taste of what life is like at St. Joseph’s Indian School.

The boys did a great job of not only representing St. Joseph’s Indian School and the nurturing they have received here, but they also did a great job of representing themselves. Though they may not have felt like it, they stood out as very confident young men. I, along with all those in attendance, was impressed and very proud of them.

Everyone received a picture of themselves taken with Elijah and Shawn; a little take-home memory representing all the Lakota (Sioux) students here at St. Joseph’s Indian School. I personally met people who traveled four and five hours to attend this event!

And oh… by the way, the Lord certainly did answer the prayer we made on that Friday morning at the Sioux Falls airport because before you knew it, it was time to head back home!

The trip and luncheons were more than beneficial to all. We were a blessing to all we met and they in turn were a blessing to us. We didn’t have much time to do a lot of sightseeing. Sarasota certainly is a beautiful place.  The people we met were extremely nice.  Each of us came back with very fond memories; I for one will never forget the Italian priest we met Saturday evening at St. Martha’s.  “Mamma Mia…”

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!


Listening to our Native American families

A lot of visitors stayed over and joined us for our regular Sunday mass. Some of our students wore their dance regalia and led the opening procession down the aisle, and later presented the gifts of bread and wine. After communion, our drum group sang a “pilamaya thank you” song, addressed to God, in appreciation of our donors who make our programs possible.

I stayed around after mass and answered final questions from folks before they hit the road to all parts of the country. I counted people from at least 25 different states who made the pilgrimage to Chamberlain to share these joyful days with us.

Our Parents Advisory Committee spent all day with us discussing a host of issues. We’ve been working with a group called Child Trends to survey students and parents, and reviewed their findings via a webinar. What the students want (fewer rules and fewer people watching over them) are some of the things parents are most comforted by with the St. Joseph programs. Still, we don’t want to keep doing things like we’ve always done them without reviewing to see if they are still accomplishing what we hoped they would. Our phone rules and children’s ability to call home haven’t kept in touch with cell phone and computer/Skype technology and are in need of serious revision. We reviewed some of our admissions criteria, and the interview questions that Family Service Counselors ask families on their initial visits. For safety we have lots of security cameras around campus, and we informed the parents how those are used.

We also made time to tour the new alumni/historical center that is part of the Akta Lakota Museum addition. While that is nearing completion, they seemed more enthralled by the gutted old grocery store that is in the process of becoming our expanded thrift store.

New teachers, scholarships and fall sports

I met our two newest staff who rounded out our teaching roster. I heard sixth grader Jacquelyn playing the piano in the music room, and followed the melody until I met Tanya, our part-time music teacher. She comes each Tuesday and has 22 students signed up for various lessons. I’m looking forward to a student recital sometime down the road.

David is our new Native American Cultural associate. Besides strong Lakota language skills he knows lots about ceremony and history. He wants to get some Lakota Hand Game teams started and try their skill against other schools.

While some paperwork is tedious, I found great meaning in the signatures I put to paper today. I signed off on the alumni college scholarships we are awarding this semester.

The list of the programs our college and vocational tech students are enrolled in is quite varied:

  • Nursing/ Medical Assistant
  • Graphic Design
  • Pharmacy
  • Automotive Technology
  • Cosmetology
  • Business Administration and Management
  • Chemical Dependency Counselor
  • Early Childhood
  • Health Information Management
  • Transpiration Technology
  • Health & PE
  • Lakota Studies
  • Human Services
  • Electrical Construction

We keep in touch with our alumni, offering encouragement to hang in there and pursue a meaningful career.

Fall sports practices are in full swing. The cross-country runners and going over hill and dale. We see then training on the hill that runs by our house. The volleyball players are learning to set, spike and serve. The football players are hitting blocking dummies, and dreaming of a quarterback sack. Just practices for now, but competitive games will soon begin and we’ll hope the practice and training pay off.

Guest Blogger: Julie S.

A Circle of Courage School works to meet the belonging, mastery, independence and generosity needs of the students.


Research shows that the quality of human relationships in schools may be more influential than the specific techniques or interventions employed. Every child needs at least one adult who is irrationally crazy about him or her!


St. Joseph’s provides a summer home to approximately 13 students (in grades 1-8).  Summer home acceptance is based on family need.  While students attend school each weekday morning (approximately 2.5 hours), they are provided with many opportunities for social and emotional growth through the program as well.

The local swimming pool and beach have provided hours of fun and social interaction with peers from St. Joseph’s and the local community.  Students have additional opportunities for one-on-one time with staff, assisting with home chores, such as cooking or just visiting.  Given the varied ages of students in the home, natural opportunities for mentoring and role modeling have been captured as well.

We’ve been blessed with another wonderful summer!  As the program concludes on July 11, the students look forward to returning home for a few weeks before the school year begins.  Many memories have been made, leaving unforgettable smiles … but most of all, these students have been provided with a safe environment with numerous opportunities for academic, social and emotional growth because of your support – thank you!

Guest Blogger: Melissa

Hi, my name is Melissa and I work in Human Resources (HR) at St. Joseph’s Indian School.  I recently returned from the national SHRM (Society for Human Resources Management) convention in Atlanta, Georgia.  We had amazing keynote speakers such as Condoleezza Rice, Malcolm Gladwell, Jim Collins and South Dakota’s very own Tom Brokaw, who were all inspiring.  It was a wonderful opportunity to learn about the direction that HR is going.  But most important was the idea that no matter where you work, it is employees who are the heart of the organization.

Of course, St. Joseph’s is all about people.  We serve children.  Our impact not only directly affects the children that attend our school, but also their families.  This in turn affects their communities.  The influence people have on others is an incredible idea.  At St. Joseph’s, we are fortunate to have some extraordinary people who are committed to changing lives of others for the better.

The work done at St. Joseph’s truly takes cooperation from everyone to progress in our mission.   One of my responsibilities in HR is to conduct exit interviews when employees leave St. Joseph’s.  One question that is asked of everyone during the exit is, “What did you like best about working at St. Joseph’s?”

The overwhelming response I get, even from employees who don’t work directly with the children is, “The kids.”

We couldn’t do it without the employees and donors who are paying it forward and helping make this world a little better for someone else.

This week at camp …

Native American kids running together!
Look at the excitement on the kids’ face!

This week marked the start of day camp with children from the Lower Brule Sioux Indian Reservation.

Monday – The day began with meeting kids and parents at our pick-up spot, St. Mary’s Church in Lower Brule. Fifty students attended camp today.

After breakfast, we visited about camp expectations with all our campers. Everyone was very well-behaved and ready for a great day!

With two weeks of camp already under their belts, camp staff was ready for anything.

Tuesday was a beautiful sunny day with 58 children attending camp, 27 of which were new.

Janeen had Arts & Crafts going strong today, and Mark had a great game of kickball underway. All in all, camp is going well.

Wednesday turned sunny day after a nice rainfall in the very early morning.

We had 60 children in today’s camp for the water safety course presented by South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks and the Army Corps of Engineers, complete with the small boats for the kids to ride around in. Back on campus, we had Arts & Crafts and brick coloring.

The afternoon brought swimming and snacks.

It was another exciting week at the Rising Eagle Summer Day Camp!!!

Guest Blogger: Karla

Fr. Steve stopped in my office and asked if I would perform #13 on my job description – be a guest blogger and write today’s blog.  And of course, without thinking, I said “sure.”

To explain, #13 on my job description reads ‘Performs other responsibilities as required by the Executive Director.’  🙂

Then all I thought was “yikes!”

A little anxiety set in as I thought “I am not a blogger … and besides, my job might seem boring for people to read about …”

All that aside – Hi! I am Karla, the Executive Assistant.

First, I must say that I love my job and have been doing it for almost 19 years.   My work includes more ‘behind the scenes’ kind of detail.  Working with the Executive Director of Child Services (Mike, my boss), I have the opportunity to assist Child Services with all the different programming taking place on campus for our students.  My job consists of the usual duties like taking notes, setting up meetings, filing student information, etc.  In a nutshell, it’s kind of like a jack-of-all-trades.  I do enjoy multi-tasking, however, and the busier our office is the better I like it.  Currently I am getting the calendar together for the 2012-2013 school year, as well as filing end-of-year student information.

St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus is a different kind of busy now that school is out.  Summer day camp is taking place; the high school summer program is up and running, as well as activities for the students in grades 1-8 staying in the summer home.  Construction, cleaning, moving and general maintenance are in full gear in preparation for the new school year.  Keeping the office organized some days can be quite eventful, as you never know what might come up, or who may show up, so we never expect a humdrum kind of day.

I just heard some little people laughing and walking outside my office going to the playground.  That means the summer day camp bunch has arrived …  seeing the smiles and hearing the laughter … that is what brings satisfaction to my job and warmth to my heart.

Thanks to all of you that support our mission and give us the opportunity to provide for the students and families we serve.  If you get to Chamberlain, visit our campus, visit our Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center and see for yourself why St. Joseph’s Indian School is an awesome place!

Gotta go … my boss is calling!

Expectations and sore muscles

Today was “Step Up Day” at school, which means students spend the last hour of the day in the classroom they will move up to next year. Teachers spoke to their soon-to-be students about expectations and answered questions to help students feel more comfortable with the move.

The first graders were excited about the desk configuration in second grade, where they will each have a free-standing desk instead of being grouped together on a table. The fourth graders learned they will get an assignment book – and have to take responsibility for writing down their homework instead of the primary teachers handing it to the houseparents. Fifth graders physically move up, going from the middle to the top floor. They also get their own locker in the hall. Eighth graders – instead of stepping up – stepped out and got to spend an extra hour on the playground. Life is full of transitions. In preparing for them we find talking through them helps reduce some of the anxiety.

Another day, another cook out! Tonight the Lakota Homes (6th-8th graders) got together for a pre-game picnic. This was something like a pot luck as each of the homes brought something different as they use up all that’s in their cupboards and freezers as we approach the end of the year. Even if the front of the line emptied a few of the offerings, there were still many scrumptious dishes to satisfy the taste buds.

Fortified with a good meal, we loaded up the school bus and headed up to the local high school softball field for the annual staff vs. 8th grade showdown. The staff had to hit a bigger ball that didn’t travel as far, and the 8th graders got 5 outs per inning to try to even up things a bit. It might have given a talented 8th grade much of an advantage. The students jumped out to an early lead, and never trailed, prevailing 14-11.

I pitched; my earned run average may not be something to be proud of, but my main goal was to throw strikes and give the students – especially the less athletic ones – a good chance to hit the ball. Everyone had fun, though tomorrow I know that after trying to recapture the game of our youth, this veteran player and a few others will have some sore muscles.