Fr. Steve’s updates

Our H.R. Director came for our weekly meeting. She’s swamped with getting updated health plans and employee handbooks out, so she employed some of our high school students to sort, collate and staple. Students were grateful help and to earn some spending money.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Our Human Resources Director came in today for our weekly meeting. She’s swamped with getting updated health plans and employee handbooks out, so she employed some of our high school students to sort, collate and staple. The students were grateful both to help out and to earn some spending money.

We recently hired a new Family Service Counselor, who hopes to start in a month or so.

By starting before the close of the school year, she will be able to meet students before summer break and do some job shadowing before fall rolls around.

Now, we’re advertising for several houseparents to replace the ones who are retiring or moving on to other things.

One of St. Joseph’s strengths is that our houseparents stay far longer than the national average of a couple of years.

Steve in the Dennis Home, for instance, is in his 14th year here and his 11th year in the same home. To celebrate his birthday, he has the tradition of cooking up a big batch of his famous ribs and inviting all the students at St. Joseph’s that he’s had in his home to come to the feast.

While he works with 1st – 3rd grades now, 36 of his “alumni” from 1st through 11th grade gathered in the skate room to eat, laugh, and share stories. Steve told the juniors that next year he’ll have someone represented in all 12 grades.

I had it easy at the party – didn’t even have to lead the meal grace, since the eldest student was asked to do that honor.

All of the kids crowded around Steve for a group picture afterwards. Our staff form some lasting relationships with the children they’re entrusted to care for.

One of the staff made me grin by saying that with my new hairdo, (or lack-of-hair-do) I now look like Captain Jean-Luc Picard from Star Trek. I always admired his leadership abilities anyway. Make it so!

Steve's group photo

Fr. Steve’s updates

The next cycle of treatments is going to cause me to be away from school for several weeks, so this week has included lots of wrap up meetings and contingency planning.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The next cycle of treatments is going to cause me to be away from school for several weeks, so this week has included lots of wrap up meetings and contingency planning.

At our Child Service Team meeting all the department heads went around the table to give updates – School, Residential, Clinical, Pastoral Care, High School and Admissions/ Alumni. There are always setbacks and student issues, but together we find ways to meet these challenges. These team members do a great job working together to keep our programs running, if not always smoothly, at least in the right direction.

The health care center on campus takes care of the children’s daily needs, but our students also come down with illnesses that require hospital care from time to time.

Erin, one of our high school students, had surgery today to remove gall stones. When I stopped in to see how she was doing, Erin’s grandmother held up a jar with gall stones the size of shooter marbles. Erin will have to take it easy for a few days but says she feels a lot better already.

Leahanna and Angela are the two junior high girls selected to represent St. Joseph’s at the April donor luncheons in Scranton, PA. To start their preparation, we met in the chapel to get used to speaking in a larger space with a microphone. They talked of their daily routines in the school and homes and shared about their culture and their goals for the future.

The winter sports awards were handed out after school at the rec center. It’s usually obvious who’s going to get the Team Leader/ MVP award, but just as important to me are the awards for Best Attitude and Most Improved.

In life, those are the qualities you need to keep trying to better yourself and find ways to encourage and bring out the best in your teammates.

Our first through third graders are all invited to take part in Pep Club, almost everyone joins. Our youngest students enthusiastically lead cheers and add lots of spirit to the games. After the awards, they showed off the Pep Club medallions they proudly wore around their necks during the year.

First grader Pearl got most improved since she didn’t know any of the cheers at the beginning of the year and has since learned them all. Not too many students get rewarded for being loud and boisterous, but those qualities earned Devon the spirit award, as you could definitely hear his cheers.

The junior high Fisher boys moved into their newly remodeled home ahead of schedule. When I stopped in, they were at the dining room tables, doing their homework. The new floor plan brings much more light into the rooms and brightens up the common areas. They still have some unpacking and settling in to do, but are well on their way to making the house their home.

Fr. Steve’s updates

Monday, March 8, 2010

Today was a Day of Recollection for our local SCJ priests and brothers.

To help us enter into this season of Lent more deeply, we invited Fr. John, one of our confreres from Milwaukee, to give us a series of reflections.

He chose the beatitudes as found in Matthew’s gospel to remind us how we’re supposed to model our lives.

In the places he’s lived and worked, Fr. John showed a poverty of spirit by taking time with people who were poor and overlooked. We lived and worked together in Eagle Butte on the Cheyenne River Reservation.

When hungry people came to the door asking for a sandwich, he fed them, but also gave them some quality time and tried to get to know them as people. He’s still very fondly remembered there and in the other places he’s been.

I can get busy with many activities and accomplish many things. But, it’s still so important not to lose sight of the people whose path crosses mine.

Those I meet might be struggling, mourning, sick or afraid. I won’t know that unless I’m willing to give them my time, and listen and get to know who they really are.

Having a day to pray, and leave work behind, is always a blessing, but often a mixed blessing. I say that because sometimes keeping busy helps me to forget about the cancer, and I don’t want to be thinking about it constantly.

The times of quiet prayer increased my awareness of the fear and anxiety that is still within me. But prayer is also a place to find strength and trust and the invitation by God to turn it all over.

… prayer is also a place to find strength and trust
and the invitation by God to turn it all over

That’s an ongoing process I keep working at.

Fr. Steve’s updates

Sunday, March 7, 2010

We had a smaller than usual crowd in church today.

Each of the homes has enough recreation money budgeted to take an occasional trip to one of the bigger cities in South Dakota like Sioux Falls or Rapid City. The children and houseparents attend church somewhere along the way and take part in fun, educational activities.

With a hint of spring in the air, a few homes took advantage of the improved weather and hit the road.

One of the homes still had some gift cards they got for Christmas, and the girls were looking forward to shopping for clothes and toys.

I spent the afternoon with Robert, the student I’m matched with as a mentor.

First, we went to the gym to cheer on our 7th and 8th grade girls who were playing in the championship weekend of our inter-city basketball league. About half the girls involved are St. Joseph’s students; the other half of the girls are from Chamberlain. It’s good seeing them play together while building trust and friendships.

Then, we went to Chamberlain’s bowling alley to join with others in the mentor program for a couple of hours on the lanes. At such gatherings there’s a lot more cheering on than competing. There’s little pressure and just a good time to be had by all. Maybe when I have the surgery I will see if the doctor can adjust my hook so I get more strikes instead of my usual 8 or 9 on the first ball!

On the weekends, I don’t have to get up as early as on school days. With the chance to sleep longer, my energy level has improved.

I’ve made it through the last couple of days without needing any naps. I have a few minor side effects from the medications, but for now, I’m feeling closer to normal. I start back up with treatments in about a week.

Fr. Steve’s updates

Saturday is a good day for me to be in the office, with few calls or interruptions. I spent the afternoon finishing up the weekend homily and lining up things for church tomorrow.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

A former houseparent is now working at a school in Wisconsin, and led a group with eight sixth grade girls to St. Joseph’s for a cultural exchange.

Yesterday, they shadowed our sixth graders to see what a day at St. Joseph’s is like in school. I watched them learning how to make dream catchers. The girls ate supper in the homes and over the dinner table could talk about the differences and similarities in their lives.

Today, the Wisconsin visitors played in a four team basketball tourney at our Rec Center. We must have shown good hospitality, because they were relaxed and fresh and beat our St. Joseph’s team quite handily. But, they left definitely more friends than rivals.

Saturday is a good day for me to be in the office, with few calls or interruptions. I spent the afternoon finishing up the weekend homily and lining up things for church tomorrow.

Fr. Steve’s updates

Friday, March 5, 2010

Each Friday during Lent, different classes have been leading the stations of the cross.

Today, Peggy’s fourth grade class did a Living Stations of the Cross. The students dressed up as Pilate and King Herod, Jesus, Mary, Simon and Veronica and helped us imagine what happened on Good Friday on the way to Calvary.

King Herod made an impression on me, with a very stern finger wagging in Jesus’ face. Every time Jesus fell and was on the ground I could see the smaller kids craning their necks or standing up to look down and see what was going on. The visuals are a good learning tool and engaged the other students well.

This evening was the first weekend of our spring FAST (Families And Schools Together) program. My only official duty was to lead a meal prayer, but it gave me a chance to visit each of the seven families and help welcome them.

Most families live one to two hours away,  yet have committed to the four weekend program, which includes structured activities designed to help them communicate with their children.

Some of the activities are lively and loud and done with the whole group. We sang songs and circled around to learn everyone’s names. Other times are structured so parents or grandparents can spend quality one-on-one times with the children to talk and listen without interruptions.

A residential school where many of the families cannot be very involved in the day-to-day life of their children presents unique challenges. We believe the more we can strengthen families, the more we can help our students in the long run.

Fr. Steve’s updates

Thursday, March 4, 2010

A doctor came to see me today – but not because anything was wrong.

Doctor C from North Dakota is one of our donors who was passing through and stopped at our Museum to pick up some books on Native American culture. He wanted to say hi and see how I’m doing.

I’d just finished a meeting and had some time, so I was delighted to be able to meet him, chat for a while and thank him for his many years of generosity to the school. We get lots of donors stopping by over the summer months, but not so many while the snow is still flying. When I’m available, I enjoy showing folks the campus and programs they help make possible.

I’ve heard from many other donors as the get well cards come flooding in. I’m not attempting to answer them all, but I have read each one, and the thoughts and prayers are heartfelt and touching. One 87 year old woman sent along a lap rug that came with “a prayer for every stitch.” One man thanked me for the “honor of asking me to pray for you.”

Today was a busy day with staff birthdays – four sharing the same day. I visited Marina and Jona in the Development Office during break time, and co-workers provided treats to celebrate. I stopped in the classroom to wish our Special Ed teacher Erin a good day. Robb, a houseparent, wasn’t  on duty until evening, and I didn’t make it to see him.

The sun was out, snow continues to melt and it’s good just to get around campus and check on projects and people. Somebody told me that I belong to the “management by walking around” school of thought.

It’s true – I find out both what’s going well and what needs attention when I’m not bound by my office walls.

Fr. Steve’s updates

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

After several days of feeling stronger each day, I felt very tired today all through morning meetings.

After lunch, I hit one of those walls where the only response was to sleep for a couple of hours. I still dragged after that, but know there are going to be those kinds of days and hope for more energy tomorrow.

I joined our freshmen girls for supper in the Giles Home. Now that basketball season is complete, the discussion at the table turned to who might try out for the track team, and a few might try their hand at golf.

Many of the girls will forego spring sports and try to concentrate on keeping up on their homework and bringing their grades up.

The girls studied after we ate, and I was able to recall enough High School science to help Kelly figure out some questions about density.

We have a High School Learning Center on campus to help our students. Tutors are available after school and in the evening hours. Math and science are the subjects where our students seek the most help.

The Learning Center is also a resource room for information about college and vocational training, as we want all our students setting goals and having some dreams that go beyond high school.

The Learning Center is now in temporary quarters, housed in what used to be the rec room in the basement of the Kateri Homes.

After finishing the Fisher Home renovation, we can’t rest on our accomplishment, but will get ready to remodel the Carola Home, which necessitated the Learning Center move.

The new space is not as ideal as the old, but we have to make due for the rest of the school year, until we can get back to the usual space in the fall.

I stopped in for a while to see how staff and students were adjusting, and offer encouragement.

Fr. Steve’s updates

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

I spent much of the day in my pajamas, but not because I’m feeling poorly or overly tired.

Today was Doctor Seuss’ birthday. To celebrate “Read Across America Day,” it’s our tradition at St. Joseph’s to make it “Wear pajamas to school day,” which makes it fun and different.

After my morning of meetings where I needed to dress a bit more formally, I put on my wildest PJs for the afternoon and made the rounds at school. I got lots of giggles and smiles when the kids saw me.

For 45 minutes toward the end of the day, teachers brought out armloads of Doctor Seuss books and students sat on the hallway floor to read aloud. The older students partnered up with younger ones and took turns reading and listening.

I enjoyed watching older siblings proud to spend time with a younger brother or sister. One of the core values we try to instill is generosity, and having older students invest themselves in the lives of the littlest ones on campus is rewarding for everyone involved.

As far as my health goes, I feel about 85% of normal. I’m getting spoiled with a nap right after lunch, but really need one.

In the evenings, I no longer schedule many activities. I mostly slow down and read. Maybe not Doctor Seuss books, but texts that nurture my spirit and imagination. If it’s good for kids, then we adults probably need it even more.

Fr. Steve’s updates

Monday, March 1, 2010

It’s not exactly a heat wave, but after many gray days, the sun shone brightly and the temperatures climbed into the mid 30’s. You could hear the sound of water gently running towards the Missouri River as the melting slowly begins.

I ditched the car and walked around campus for meetings.

Sunshine not only brightens the day, but is good for the soul.

Sunshine not only brightens the day, but is good for the soul.

I made the rounds at school today. There were no big events, just the daily learning that develops skills students will need for later. Our second graders were working on vocabulary words relating to government.

Macey was having difficulty recognizing the  word “allegiance” until I hinted that she says the word every morning at the start of the school day! “Oh yeah,” she said. “I pledge allegiance. . .” 

The other second grade class was learning about pronouns and sixth grade about suffixes, while the fourth grade class was in the kitchen learning how to make popcorn balls for their Personal Living Skills class.

In the office I ran into Amber’s mom, who lives over two hours away. She was here for a Case Service Plan meeting.

Each quarter, every student and their family meets with their teacher, a houseparent and their counselor to talk about how they are doing, making sure everyone has the same goals for helping the student learn and succeed. It’s best when families can come in and join in person, but sometimes they join the conference by phone. We work hard to find ways to network with families, even at a distance.

After school the students were outside in force, shooting baskets, sledding, making snowmen from the slushy wet mix. One of our houseparents, Frank, remarked that when the students are able to spend more time outside, the incidents of arguing and conflict go down proportionally.

A little sunshine goes a long way!