Preparing students for their sacred day

Richard and his Lakota (Sioux) students.
Richard reading a book to the kids!

In a little over two weeks, on Sunday April 15, we will be having 21 students receiving the sacraments of Baptism, First Communion and Confirmation.

It is an exciting time in their lives and a somewhat sad time for me as this will be the last time I prepare students for this sacred day. I will be leaving St. Joseph’s Indian School at the end of the school term.

I have been here for almost ten years and in those years have served in various roles, including teacher and houseparent. I have tried to bring passion, dignity and laughter to each different job I have done, but the time has come to bring in new blood and new ideas.

I have always believed in going out when you are on top and not clinging to a job because it is safe and secure. We see that often in sports, where athletes hold on for dear life to their career, even when they can no longer be an asset to the team. I am proud of the work I have accomplished here at St. Joseph’s and walk away with my head held high and, most importantly, with the love and respect of our students.

I will be moving to sunny Palm Springs, California where an earthquake lasts only thirty seconds, as opposed the three day blizzards we have here!

As I let the Spirit guide me, please keep me in your thoughts and prayers. I must say, I have enjoyed doing this blog and am glad so many of you have responded so positively to what I have written.

God Bless you all – Richard

Region Champions

Ahhh!  Basketball playoffs!  They are the best!  Tuesday we got to watch the Chamberlain Cubs pull off an exciting upset win over the Eagle Butte Braves to take home the Regional Championship.  St. Joseph’s took a fan bus to Pierre, South Dakota to support the Cubs, and several staff and homes caravanned along as well.

Everyone seems to like something different about going to a basketball game.  Some of our kids just like to hang out and socialize with friends.  They don’t even seem to know that a game is going on.  As long as they get their giant dill pickle and blue Powerade from the concession stand, they are set.

Some of our kids (and staff/parents) watch the game but still don’t know what is going on.  They like to make helpful suggestions like, “Put in [insert kid’s name]!!”  Or, if the kid is already in the game, “Go!  Score! Win!”

It doesn’t really matter that he is playing defense, after all.

In every crowd there are people who actually know what is going on.  They know the difference between a block and a charge.  They know a steal from a foul and whether that pivot foot travelled.  They keep stats and holler out useful suggestions,

“Watch your follow through!  Keep your head up!”

Of course, sometimes there is a debate as to whether the people “in the know” are the ones in the stands, or the men in the stripes out on the floor.   This is a good time to go to the concession stand.

I personally like to join the cheerleaders.  I have three in my home.  Most days I see them wandering the halls, swinging their arms and muttering cryptic phrases like “Eat ‘em up Cubs.”  Or beat ‘em up?  Team ‘em up?

You would think I would have figured out the cheers by now … but no.  The Cub Mascot is also a St. Joseph’s student, and his houseparent shares my confusion.  For now, we have decided that the words to the fight song are simply “Na na na na nanana,” at high volume.

Chamberlain Cubs team pictures.
Who doesn't love basketball? Congratulations!

The best part of this game?   Several of our St. Joseph’s students are from Eagle Butte, so visiting with friends and family was wonderful.  Somebody got to play with an adorable baby niece with big pink cheeks.  Sigh.

Oh, and watching our 6 foot senior go up and get his Regional medal.

And our junior forward, injured in a game last week, getting carried out on his teammate’s shoulders so he could cut down the game net.  Priceless.

Did I mention that we won?  And that we’re going to state?

What’s your favorite part about high school basketball?  

Inspired at their courage

A Native American girl knitting.
Abbi loves her new hobby: knitting.

I sometimes hold the mistaken belief that I am teaching something.  A few weeks ago, I sat down on the couch with a ball of yarn and my knitting needles, trying to make a cable knit scarf.  Within minutes, several girls were sitting with me watching.

“Oooooh!  Can you teach me to knit?”

We spent that evening, and many evenings after, sitting in the living room with donated yarn and needles, working on the basics.  Knitting usually involves two kinds of stitches—either wrapping the yarn towards or away.  Moving back and forth – between towards and away – creates patterns that are both beautiful and elastic.  We spent our time focusing on just one direction, repeating it over and over again.   The girls were surprised at how fast I could stitch, and I had to remind them that I had many years of practice.  They settled in happily with their projects, slowly working their needles.

It turns out that I had a lot to learn from these girls.  They had no trouble at all asking for help.  Our knitting times were punctuated with,

“Help!  I think I messed up!  Did I do this right?  Can you help me fix this?”

They weren’t always sure what “right” looked like.  Often enough, they hadn’t actually made a mistake.  We’d look together, count the stitches, examine the loops, and make a few tugs.  Then they were right back to work.   In order to master a skill, sometimes you have to rely on someone more skillful than yourself to show you the way.

They were also much better at handling unraveling.  If they made a big mistake or got tangled up or things fell apart, they happily came back to me with empty needles and a skein and said,

“Can you start me over again?”  And again?  And again?

Lakota (Sioux) child knitting in a rocking chair.
Dakota, and the girls did a great job!

Because sometimes the process is much more important than the product.  Sometimes we really don’t need to get something “done,” we just need to do it.   No need to get attached to an outcome.  No need to freak out when that cable pattern gets turned inside out and it can’t be fixed and you have to give up and undo 6 hours of work (ahem). Unraveling is not the end of the world.

And sometimes we don’t need to “do” something as much as we need to be with someone while we’re doing it.   If we’re sitting in the living room together – stitching and unraveling, moving towards and away, mastering and forgetting and re-mastering – then the real skill is one of belonging.

In these past few weeks I have learned so much from these girls.  They set an example of how to recover from a mistake with grace.  Whether on the basketball court, on the playground or in the knitting circle, they demonstrate the power of admitting a mistake and setting it right.  They trust their houseparents to hold them accountable, help them course-correct, and then celebrate their success when they get it right.   I’ve been inspired at their courage in the face of so much unraveling.

Perhaps the girls will come away from this experience with a scarf or a new hobby.  I’m hoping that their time knitting will provide them with a sense of Mastery and Belonging.  Learning, after all, will show up in rather unexpected places.

Claire, courtesy of Pinger Home

Greetings from the William Home

Four of the girls in the William Home.
Greetings from the William Home!!

Hello everyone!

This is Mike from the William Home, (4th and 5th grade girls).  We have been keeping busy since the Christmas season and have started on some new activities.  Six of our girls are participating in cheerleading now and they are excited to provide some school spirit for our 4th and 5th grade boys’ teams during home games.

We have also started a new fitness program with our girls and they have really taken pride in their accomplishments.  We set a goal to walk 10,000 laps (500 miles) in the rec center by March 6th.  We are getting up in the mornings and off to the rec center by 6:30 am and walk for 30 minutes.

The girls enjoy keeping track on our sign at the rec center. We will be going over 5,000 laps this week! Hopefully, our next update will let you know that we have reached our goal.

We hope you all had a safe and merry holiday season!

Making these kids feel special

The Fisher Home after opening their presents … notice the smiles.
The Fisher Home after opening their presents … notice the smiles.

Christmas time is always a blast if you are a houseparent at St. Joseph’s Indian School. You get to be there as the students open their presents and see the joy on their faces.  While some students don’t get exactly what they want, most get what they want and more.

These boys are the current eighth grade boys in the Fisher Home. They got basketballs which was a big hit because each one of these boys is convinced they are the next, Lebron James … which in relation to my basketball skills, they might be!

The day in the Fisher Home started off with church, which was hard for the students to sit through. The fact that they were opening presents immediately following church did not escape their minds.

After the boys opened their presents they played bingo which was a big hit for the young gentlemen. They had a chance to win hacky-sacks, quarters, soda and basketball cards. For the evening activity, the boys went swimming and got to have various treats the houseparents brought from their own homes.

The day was an awesome opportunity for me to remember why Christmas is special. It was a chance for us to show the important people in our life feel special.

Thanks to all the donors who helped us make these kids feel special.

‘Tis the Season

Hello again from April and the Carola Home!

It’s holiday time in the Carola Home. The boys have returned from eating turkey, dressing and other favorites with their families and now they are excitedly waiting to go home for the Christmas break. This weekend the homes are starting to decorate, putting up the trees, lights and ornaments. Although the homes have their Christmas dinner and party in January, we still discuss family traditions and holiday activities. One of our favorite things to do is look around town at the lights and decorations. Our homes tradition is to say, “Ooooh, aaaah” at the homes that are decorated.

What are some of your favorite traditions?

A picture one of my boys took.
A picture one of my boys took.

This can be a hard time of the year for our American Indian youth to be apart from their families and focus on school. Our boys are doing amazingly well. Keeping their missing assignments low and their grades up. Preparing for the end of the semester, finishing up projects and studying for final exams. It is very good to keep them busy to help the time fly by.

Winter activities help with this. A few of the boys went to the elementary Christmas concert and one of them showed his talent by taking pictures. One of our boys is a referee for the girls inter-city basketball program. Six of our boys are on the CHS basketball team and eight boys are in the St. Joseph’s high school bowling league. Also, two of our boys were chosen to go to Rapid City, South Dakota for an alumni gathering. They will be able to see friends who have graduated and be encouraged of their stories of success.

Of course, with all these activities and keeping up with their school work they have very little down time. So on the weekends when there are no scheduled events, they make the most of their free time. Watching a favorite sports game on tv, playing videos game or going to the movies at the local theatre.

It is a very exciting time of the year and there is much more to look forward to after the holidays. With our Christmas party, trip home and more.

Must be doing something right

St. Joseph's Indian School's Hogebach girls.
St. Joseph's Indian School's Hogebach girls.

Hello!  My name is Claire, and I work in both high school girls’ homes.  One question people often ask me is, “How can you do it?”  As a houseparent for 21 teenage girls, I used to ask myself that question a lot.  Literally.

My first year here my houseparent key was marked YB1, so every time I went to open the door to work, I was confronted with the question, “Why be one?”  Apparently after three and a half years, I have answered that question sufficiently well.  My key now reads YA1.  I figure if I can say, “Yay I’m one!” every day, I must be doing something right.

So how do I/we do it?  In some ways, we do what most parents do— we’re there when the kids get up in the morning and again when they go to bed at night.   We have to tell them they are beautiful enough, so please get out of the bathroom before they miss the bus.  We’re super fans, chauffeurs, cooks and coaches.  We share their prayers, troubles and triumphs.  Of course, most parents don’t have 10 teenage girls.  Then again, most parents don’t co-parent with 4-6 other people who get regularly breaks and who meet every week to talk about what we are doing and why.

The first step to houseparenting is to care.  Usually, that’s easy because we have such wonderful kids to work with.  Sometimes caring is hard—we have to care enough to let a kid be really angry in our presence, especially when it is not our fault and even when it is.  We have to care enough to swallow our pride and admit when we make mistakes.   We have to care enough to be curious when we don’t know what is going on with a kid.  We’ve have to care enough to let kids make mistakes and pay the price sometimes.

As houseparents, we have to get creative.  Whether that’s figuring out what to make for supper—knowing that this one hates onions and that one hates cheese—or finding a way to cook dinner, cheer on the basketball team, get homework done and have everyone into bed at a decent hour.  Sometimes, it’s just a matter of knowing that this kid doesn’t want hugs but will accept a mug of tea (only one sugar, thank you).

What really makes houseparenting possible is our ability to really focus on our kids.  By this I mean, we don’t have to worry about medical bills, leaky faucets or running out of groceries.  As houseparents, we are supported by thousands of donors and an incredible staff that makes sure these needs are met every day.  We are careful stewards of course, and we track our budgets to make sure we are making wise use of our resources.  OK, so when we are WAY OVER budget for allowance because our kids are getting fantastic grades, we are all secretly gleeful.  And I don’t think donors will mind one bit.

So, thank you to all the people who make it possible for me to do the job I love.

Helping boys becoming men

Mike and April's philosophy, "don't give fish, but rather come along side them and teach them to fish."
Mike and April's philosophy, "don't give fish, but rather come along side them and teach them to fish."


My name is Mike. I have been a houseparent at St. Joseph’s Indian School for three and a half years. My wife April also writes on this blog. We currently work as six-day houseparents in the Carola Home with 10 high school boys, as well as our two youngest children Miranda (6th grade) and Seth (5th grade). When we first came to St. Joseph’s we worked three days in the Rooney Home with 6th-8th grade boys and then three days in the Pinger Home with 6th -8th grade girls. Needless to say, life changed drastically every three days. 🙂

Almost every time I tell someone what I do, they ask just what is a houseparent? My typical response is, it’s the greatest job in the world. Artist mold and shape clay, doctors help mend broken bones,  but we mold and shape lives, we help mend hearts and minds.  We get the privilege to watch boys become men. My philosophy as a houseparent isn’t to give fish, but rather come along side them and teach them to fish.

We began working in the Carola Home last year with 10 freshman boys. Three of the boys were with us in the Rooney Home during their 7th and 8th grade years. The others, I coached in football their 8th grade year. We ended the year with eight boys. All eight boys are back with us this year as sophomores and we have  added two freshman. One of the freshman was with us his 6th and 7th grade years in the Rooney Home. It truly is a privilege to watch as these boys work towards becoming men.

An example of our boys working to become men is the following. Our typical day starts at 6:30 am. While I’m getting breakfast ready, the boys wake up on their own, clean their rooms,  bathrooms and come downstairs by 7:00 am. While they’re eating, I check their rooms and bathrooms. Once they have eaten, they do various chores such as: cleaning the kitchen, living room, game room or sweeping the stairwells. I drive the school bus to the high school for all the homes, so I leave around 7:25 am to get the bus ready. The boys finish their chores and Ms. April checks them. They get on the bus by 7:40 and arrive at school around 8:00 am.

Last year, I went up stairs and went to each room waking each one. I discovered not everyone is a morning person like me. 🙂  I then watched as they cleaned their rooms and bathrooms. After several reminders we made it down stairs, however not everyone was on time. At the beginning of this year, I asked them  if they wanted me to wake them or use an alarm clock. They all agreed to the alarm clock. I asked if they could get their cleaning done on their own or did I need to come and watch. They all agreed they could do it on their own. They even set the consequence for anyone who wasn’t downstairs on time. To date, we have had far fewertardies and fewer reminders about their cleaning . One of my favorite posters in our home is a quote from the 1 Corithians 13:11:

When I was a child I spoke, thought and behaved like a child, but as I became a man I put away childish things.

Thank you for all your support. Please pray for us as we encourage our young men on their journey. Also, if you have a favorite quote about becoming a man we would love to hear it. We have many posters on our walls encouraging our guys to become the man their families and communities need them to be.

Until next time,


Things have really picked up lately

Greetings to all!  My name is Mike and I am a houseparent in the William Home here at St. Joseph’s Indian School.  We are home to ten 4th and 5th grade girls.  This is my ninth year in the William Home.  This has been a very quick and exciting start to our school year.  We have been very active and have had some very fun moments here at St. Joseph’s.  We took the girls to Custer, South Dakota in September and went to the Buffalo Round-up in Custer State Park as well as taking in Crazy Horse Monument.  The laser light show at Crazy Horse was awesome and the tour of the facility is very educational for our Native American youth.  The round-up is an experience as almost 15,000 people sit on the hills and wait for the cowboys to bring the tatankabuffalo to the corrals!

The girls at St. Joseph's Indian School have done a great job in basketball this year!
The girls at St. Joseph's Indian School have done a great job in basketball this year!

Things have really picked up lately.  We had five of our girls make the first quarter honor roll and we are very proud of them.  The girls are involved in dancing dolls with the Chamberlain community and have their performance in December and our 5th graders are in band.  I also have the pleasure to help coach our 4th and 5th grade girls basketball team which is always an enjoyable time of the year.  We have played four games so far and have five left before Christmas break.  It’s a good fit for me since this time of year in my off time I referee college basketball and will soon start working high school games for the 27th year.


It is hard to believe that we are on the door of Thanksgiving break and Christmas is right around the corner.  We would love to have you stop and see the great things St. Josephs has to offer.  Hope you have a blessed and safe holiday season!!

Welcome to the Carola Home

Hey everyone, this is April. I am a 6 day houseparent for high school boys here at St. Joseph’s Indian School. I work  with my husband Mike. This is my fourth year at St. Joseph’s Indian School. I have been a houseparent previously for 10 years in Tennessee, Texas and Oklahoma.

Birthday parties are fun within the Carola Home!
Birthday parties are fun within the Carola Home!

I’m a first time blogger! We have 8 sophomores and 2 freshmen, as well as two of our own children staying with us in the Carola Home.

The year began with the football season where two of our boys, Shawn and Wyatt played for the Chamberlain Cubs. Our home went to many games to support their fellow classmates.

A typical day for the boys is waking up at 6:30 am, getting ready for school, having breakfast and completing their household contributions. Then their off for a full day at Chamberlain High School. Following school some are involved in various school activities while others have free time. After dinner is homework time. Some go to the learning center where they get help with their assignments. Most nights they go to the rec center to play basketball or work out in the weight room.

On the weekends, they do various activities such as going to the LifeLight Christan Music Festival and camping in Sioux Falls, traveling to Mitchell for dinner and the movies, walking along the beach and going hiking. On Sundays we attend Mass here on campus at the Lady of the Sioux Chapel.

The Carola Home GPA average is a 3.0!!
The Carola Home GPA average is a 3.0!!

One of my duties as a houseparent, is to check the school website to check the boys’ grades and missing assignments. When the boys come home from school, I talk with them about where they may need to improve or how they have progressed. I truly enjoy watching the boys’ faces as they learn that they can make good grades, or even make the honor roll. Some of the sophomores really struggled their freshman year, but this year it is so exciting to see how much they have matured and improved. The boys have worked very hard this year on their grades with 5 boys making the honor roll and the others 5 closely behind.

I am so proud to say our home GPA for the first quarter is 3.0!

Much more is in store with our boys.  We have 3 learning to drive, some seeking out a job and basketball season is around the corner. We are planning a home trip in February to go skiing at Terry Peak.