Carola Home- Spotlight

Every Tuesday for the next few months, we will be highlighting one of our 20 homes on St. Joseph’s campus.

Here at St. Joseph’s, we provide nationally-accredited home-away-from-homes for Native American children in grades one through twelve.

There are no dorms at St. Joseph’s. Children live in one of our campus homes with two specially-trained houseparents. They live and play together as any family would. The boys and girls learn life skills and enjoy spending time with their ‘St. Joseph’s family’.

St. Joseph’s Carola Home is one of our High School Boys Homes on campus.

Continue reading “Carola Home- Spotlight”

Hope and support

Four of our houseparents and I traveled two hours to Parmelee on the Rosebud Indian Reservation for the funeral of the mom of four of our students. All night wakes are still a tradition, and the boys spent most of Saturday and Sunday in the church hall keeping vigil with their mom, who was only 37 years old.

The pastor who led the services knew the family well, and was able to personalize his remarks. He was honest about the tough life and issues the family faced, yet offered hope and support. An elder in the community offered prayers in Lakota, and sang a traditional song. I offered my condolences and spoke about the Lakota concept Mitakuye Oyasin – We are all related and how in facing the loss of a mother how important the other relationships in life become.

We drove 10 miles out into the country, mostly on gravel roads, to reach the cemetery. Pall bearers used leather straps to lower the coffin into a rough wooden box at the bottom of the hand-dug opening.

The hammering of the nails echoed across the prairie as the box was closed and then the pallbearers began filling in the grave with shovelfuls of dirt. When I noticed the men tiring  I tapped one of them on the shoulder and helped for a while until I was relieved. When the grave was filled in, the family lovingly placed all the flowers on top of the dirt, and we headed back to the hall for a meal.

The soup pots were about 3 feet high and about as round as a circle with my arms. They were filled with delicious homemade soup on a chilly November day. The star quilts that decorated the walls around the room were taken down and gifted to people who had helped the family through these sad days. One of the boys lives in Speyer Home (6th– 8th grade) and since the whole home came in a show of support on Sunday the family wanted to make sure we took home a quilt for them. I was also honored with the gift of a quilt.

Talking over supper, the pastor told of a retired teacher in the community. He and his wife always have a big pot of soup on the stove, and if youngsters in the community don’t have anything to eat, or just need a safe or quiet place to be for a while, that was a place of refuge. Those are the kind of folks that so inspire me. Hopefully our work at St. Joseph’s can provide a respite and shelter for Lakota students when their lives at home get tough.

The aunts who are the boys’ guardians had been working nonstop three days to get everything ready for the wakes and funeral. They asked if we had room to take the boys back with us and we were glad to be able to help. On the trip back there were more tears, and alternating times of quiet. After we stopped half way for gas and a break, the boys seemed to put the grief on hold for a while and talk about sports and other things. Our staff will try to be especially attentive and supportive of their needs in the difficult days and times to come.

Guest Blogger: Geri

Hello!  My name is Geri and I joined St. Joseph’s Indian School on August 20.  I’m delighted to be a ‘guest blogger’ and hope to share with you my ‘new to St. Joseph’s’ impressions!

What a warm, welcoming atmosphere!  I’ve had a variety of past work experiences, but none can compare to how welcome and comfortable I’ve been made to feel in the month since I’ve started.  I live in Mitchell and carpool with other St. Joseph’s employees Monday-Thursday and telecommute on Fridays.

Friends and family have asked me how the hour-long commute is going and I’ve honestly responded,

“It goes by remarkably fast, as we’re usually deep in conversation and surprised to see our exit sign.”

I’m amazed by how many people have worked at St. Joseph’s for 20, 25 or 30 years and very outwardly admit,

“I love working here – it’s a great place to work.”

I’ve had an opportunity to meet some of our Native American children and travel to the two reservations that 40% of our students come from, Lower Brule and Crow Creek.   The children are beautiful – and from the two times I’ve dined with them, amazingly polite and well-behaved.

The houseparents I met over dinner recently, Aleece and Leonard, are wonderfully kind and patient and have been at St. Joseph’s since 1988.  Their 1st-3rd grade boys were a joy to be around –proudly showing their regalia for the powwow and honestly remarking on my height (I’m north of 5’10”).

You may be wondering what my job at St. Joseph’s entails – let me tell you about that.  My title is Director of Major Gift Services and currently I’m working to gain an understanding of all that is happening in our development program while working towards the development of a major gifts program.

I have so much to learn, but it’s exciting!  I am looking forward to getting to know our supporters better and finding out what specifically they are passionate about and why they support St. Joseph’s, while at the same time learning all that I can about St. Joseph’s.

Feel free to share your thoughts with me!  My e-mail address is

Group sessions and spiritual efforts

Staff continue to ready the campus and themselves for our students’ arrival. Teachers have been in classrooms, hanging posters and setting out books and supplies on each desk, which now have student names on them. Houseparents are setting out bedding and making progress charts and decorating homes with signs of welcome. Orientation week is a combination of group sessions to go over important policies like fire safety or pastoral care support. It is also a time for each person to attend to their own area and make sure they have the materials and resources they will need.

I stopped by the school, and found all the 6th-8th grade teachers in the conference room with Scott, one of our family service counselors. One by one, he was doing a file review of each of the 30 boys that he counsels. He tried to visit each one at their home over the summer, and gave updates on how they have been doing. Many of the teachers know the students well already, and could give the new teachers insights into student issues and behavior. We work hard at communicating with each other so we can have a common, helpful approach and plan for each of our students. Later in the year, parents and guardians will be invited to join the group and discuss the needs and progress of their children.

We have two new pastoral care staff, Clare and Joe, that will be teaching religious education and helping with spiritual efforts  on campus. Fr. Anthony, our campus chaplain and I met with them to begin discussion of immediate needs and long term considerations. I look forward to seeing what we can develop for both staff and students.

I drove the two SCJ novices to Fort Thompson for evening mass. The church is on the Crow Creek Indian Reservation, 25 miles north of Chamberlain. This is James’ very first time in South Dakota, and he gazed out the window at the magnificent view of the Mighty Mo (Missouri River) as it swept through the wide valley far below. Both guys took a lot of pictures along the way. I suggested to the staff here, and the parishioners there, that some day one of these two young men might be working side by side with them.

Get your 25% off coupon today

Sixteen staff members who have been hired over the past year started their week of New Staff Orientation. Some have been here as long as eleven months and seem like old pros, but nine are brand new. Mike, our Director of Child Services, gave a fitting welcome. He and his wife started here as houseparents 27 years ago. He identified with people’s initial excitement, but also fears. Some days working with students in a residential situation can try anyone’s patience. Other days are so rewarding. The first year is such a learning experience and he urged people to be realistic about the ups and downs and to look to other staff for help through the stressful times. As our supervisors introduced themselves, the youngest has been here 5 years, but others from 15 to 35 years. Mike said that when you keep the mission in mind, this work really becomes part of you and St. Joseph’s is a special place. And we have great staff longevity. Yet new people always bring us their gifts and keep things fresh.

I started to work on the names of our new staff. The 1st and 2nd grade teachers are Annie and Mary, easy enough to remember since I have twin sisters by those two names. I look forward to getting to know each of the houseparents, teachers and support staff who bring enthusiasm and a desire to make a difference.

Kathleen, our principal, was invited to attend a conference in Germany. Many different schools run by the Priests of the Sacred Heart participated, and the cultural exchange was enlightening. She came back excited with ideas and materials about what it means to be an SCJ educator and how to pass Dehonian values on to our students.

The offices surrounding mine have been fairly quiet the past couple of weeks. In comparison, today seemed like a beehive of activity. All of our Family Service Counselors (FSC) were back on the job, taking care of admissions. We are already close to capacity, but as school gets closer to starting, many families have made inquiries to see if there are any openings for their children. The FSCs are making sure all the consent forms were in, and getting all the student files ready so teachers and houseparents can review them next week.

Macy's Shop for a Cause event logo.
Get your 25% off coupon today!

Speaking of back to school, for all you who are putting your shopping lists together, Macy’s has again partnered with St. Joseph’s Indian School in a “Shop for a Cause” promotion. If a donor purchases a $5 Macy’s coupon, they receive 25% off at Macy’s stores and at on Saturday, August 25th. 

The great news is that St. Joseph’s gets to keep 100% of the proceeds!

You can learn more about this promotion on St. Joseph’s Indian School’s website.

 Get your 25% off coupon now!

Good camaraderie and collaboration

Houseparents are beginning the end of the year clean up in the homes. The Summerlee and William Home (both 4th-5th grade girls) are packing as much as they can into storage pods so that extensive remodeling can begin as soon as school is out.

Frank, our Residential Coordinator for the junior high homes gathered all his staff together and, as a way of saying thanks, cooked them all breakfast in the Speyer Home. There’s good camaraderie and collaboration between the homes for each particular age group.

This evening after supper in the Perky Home (4th-5th grade boys) one of the students got very upset and started into something of a temper tantrum that demanded the houseparents full attention. Since it was homework time I stayed and worked with the other boys in math, reading and spelling. Helping Anthony memorize a few new Lakota words for his Native American Studies class helped refresh some of my limited vocabulary.

New recipes and new ideas

Houseparents work for a six day shift and then get three days off, which gives them personal time to recharge their batteries and keeps them fresh over the long haul. Every three days, a third of our houseparents start a break and a fresh group takes over. Each home has one set of six day houseparents, and two homes share a set of three-day houseparents. Changeover days like today, are one occasion when all of the houseparents are here at the same time, and have a chance to exchange information about the students in the homes. It’s also a day when we can do staff training once in a while.

As the school year winds down, today’s changeover featured a fun gathering – a healthy recipe exchange. About a dozen staff created platters of healthy snacks they’ve found the students in their homes enjoy. Everyone could sample them for themselves, and pick up recipes and new ideas. I enjoyed the time to wander and chat, as people start to make their end of the school year summer plans. When the votes were tabulated, Wanda from the Stevens Home (6th – 8th grade girls) was awarded Best Tasting, Daniel from the Matthias Home (6th – 8th grade girls) was proclaimed Most Creative and Theresa from Cyr Home (4th-5th grade boys) had the Most Student Involvement.

While stopping by the Akta Lakota Museum, I ran into Sally and Matt from Wisconsin. Their parish priest, Fr. Pat used to be our chaplain and recommended they visit. I had some time to show them around. Sally is the parish Director of Religious Education, so I made sure she got to hear from our Religious Education teacher. When we stopped in the Art room we got to see some beautiful creations. Bob Miller is our Artist in Residence for the week and he is working with our students to make art that glows fluorescently under black lights. Our students generally like art, but have gone at this work with a real passion. Some are using highlighters or paint, and the work definitely jumps out and make a favorable impression. After school, we stopped by the Afra Home (1st-3rd grade girls) where the students proudly showed our guests around the home before they hit the road with many memories.

Faculty vs. 8th grade

St. Joseph's Indian School had a "staff vs 8th graders" basketball game!
Nice drive JR!

The highlight of my day was our annual faculty versus the 8th grade basketball game. We played a double-header after school. First the girls against our female staff, then the boys against the men.  Everyone saw lots of playing time, and had good fun. The staff prevailed in two close games, but I think we had some extra help from the referees and scorekeepers.

While it’s hard to run with 14 year olds, we have some tall and athletic houseparents and coaches who carried the day for us. I’m a Hoosier and love my basketball, but my 52-year-old body doesn’t always cooperate in making the moves I used to make. A couple of times, I jumped to get a ball I’d normally grasp, but my vertical leap is higher in my memory than in today’s reality.  Since it’s less than 3 weeks since I got out of the hospital, I limited my playing time to a few minutes here and there to give others a breather. But it definitely felt great to be on the court with students again.


Welcome back everyone

After a two-week vacation, our Native American students returned to St. Joseph’s campus shortly after noon when our homes opened.

Today, was still the legal holiday for our year round staff, so morning was very quiet in the office. I’m going to miss the uninterrupted times to work on projects. But, I missed the students and child services staff being away even more, and was delighted to welcome them back.

I made rounds of most of the homes. Early in the afternoon, when only a handful of students were back, proved to be a good time to check in with houseparents about their holiday break. Closer to supper time, more of the children were around. Some were unpacking or doing laundry. Since our students come from across the state, they may not get to see each other when they are home. Many were checking in with the friends they hadn’t seen in a while.

All of the kids were so happy to be back at St. Joseph's Indian School.
All of the kids were so happy to be back at St. Joseph's Indian School.

Twenty-six degrees seems cold, but when I came by the football field,  the Ambrose boys (1st-3rd grade) were out under the lights and were having a great time tossing a ball around and dreaming of one day playing in a Bowl game. I’m glad that our students are more likely to play games outside than watch them on TV. I am concerned that when like most kids, they have a tendency to overdo the video games.

The health center was a hub of activity. After each student dropped their belongings at their homes, they came to see our nurses for a brief examination, a screening for head lice and a check on medications, cuts, bruises or injuries needing attention. We try to keep a close check on health issues, fully buying into the maxim that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Semester breaks are also times of student transitions. I met Kayla and Anthony, two of the new students we accepted from our waiting list once we had an opening. They are both excited about the opportunities here and scared about how they will fit in. I tried to learn their names right away. It’s important as a child when adults know you as an individual and can call you by name. (Something biblical about that as well!)

School starts tomorrow. Welcome back everyone!

Good food and good company

Activities continued at the Lakota Nation Invitational Tournament (LNI) in Rapid City, South Dakota. After the Knowledge Bowl concluded, our Lakota (Sioux) students took individual tests in their strongest school subjects. They competed against other gifted and talented Native American youth from across the state of South Dakota, but mostly, I emphasized, they were competing against themselves, as they try to grow in knowledge. Not winning, not being the best or brightest can be a powerful incentive to study harder and learn more.

True wisdom begins when we know what we don’t know.

Our high school team will stay on another day, but I had to get back to Chamberlain for our end-of-the-year staff Christmas party. On the first part of the drive, I turned the radio on to hear how some of the basketball games were going and head a ballgame broadcast entirely  in Lakota! That’s a creative way to spark interest and keep the Lakota language alive. It wasn’t too long before the reception faded, I turned off the radio, and appreciated the silence on the three-hour drive home. With little traffic, traveling in South Dakota can be very meditative and a good time for taking stock of blessings, and things I need to work on.

Jodee won the shiniest sweater! She looked great!
Jodee won the shiniest sweater! She looked great!

Many of our staff, including the maintenance crew and the development office people who are still answering all the mail and donor requests work year round. Our teachers and most houseparents are on a school schedule and will have the next two weeks off. Tonight was a night to relax and celebrate the successful completion of the first semester.

The planning committee threw in a new wrinkle this year and awarded prizes for the best Christmas sweaters – shiniest, most beautiful and most creative. We had some characters with lights and bulbs and tinsel which let to lots of laughter. Good food and good company. Thanks to all who worked so hard to make the evening a fun success!