Overcoming Fear and Obstacles

When I was a little girl, I was terrified of speaking in front of a big group of people. I would panic and feel so self-conscious. My palms would sweat and my heart would beat so fast – to the point I had to listen closely because it was so fast I couldn’t hear the pitter-patter at all.  This fear was magnified at the age of 10 when my family immigrated to the U.S. and I had to learn to speak English.

The truth is, most children are afraid something. Often times the first step to overcome a fear or obstacle is to face it in a safe setting with people you trust. This can help you realize you have what it takes to overcome it.

Recently, the Native American kids we work with at St. Joseph’s Indian School did just that! We were on duty in the Afra Home with the Lakota girls (grades 1-3) and Dave, our fellow houseparent, invited us to be a part of his kid-friendly version of “Fear Factor”.  Does the title make it sound dangerous? I thought so too at first.

About 17 boys and girls were split into teams of two and faced a series of secret challenges. After finding out what a particular challenge entailed, each team could make a decision to either pass or try. The amount of points they could earn depended on whether they performed a partial or full completion of the challenge.  The teams with the most points could win first or second place. There were also special awards for Best Heart and Best Sportsmanship. That way, their perseverance and attitude while either trying a challenge or cheering for other teams might qualify them to win a prize.

It sounded like fun and the girls were up for it.  I joked that if all the girls had nightmares I was going to come and wake Jachin up so he could help me comfort them. To Dave’s credit, this activity was so awesome that I not-so-secretly wished it had been my idea. Haha. It was so successful!

Some of the challenges included:

Fear the Peer-Teams had to face their fear by choosing to sing a song, tell a story, dance, or read a poem in front of their peers. They could give a speech, teach a lesson, come up with a skit, or do pretty much anything else that would require them to do it in front of our crowd. We had some time to brain storm and then the show began. I do have to make a special shout out to my really nice husband, Jachin. In real life, he HATES to dance with a passion, but one of our boys said he would only do it if Jachin did it with him. I have never seen him dance like that before. What a trooper!

Fear the Dark- Each person could choose to sit in a dark room alone for 60 seconds to get points of their team. If they indicated they wanted to come out, we would immediately open the door.

Fear the Burn- Challengers would hang from the monkey bars and endure the burn of their muscles for as long as possible.

Fear the Food- Teams could eat “Monster Guts” and drink “Lizard Pee.” Obviously, we didn’t feed them the real stuff. There were no monsters around.  : )

Here’s a video of some of our day to prove it!

Our “Fear the Peer” activity reminded me of my own fears. It reminded me that it took one person to make me believe I could actually try to stand in front of my class without freezing or feeling like I could burst into tears. That person was my 6th grade Language Arts teacher. That year, I slowly improved because of her. I remember our final project was a speech.  I did okay. After that, she signed me up for a county-wide speech competition. The speech had to be about the meaning of optimism.  With a lot of practice, I went on to win second place overall. I couldn’t believe it!

It took a few other people to help me grow and polish the bit of skill I had. In high school, it was a retired lawyer who volunteered with youth in after school activities. He not only convinced me that I was a good public speaker, but he helped me believe I could be anything I wanted in life. While in college, it was a professor; he helped and encouraged me to further my skills by getting rid of verbal pauses such as “um” and “like” to hide my nervousness while I spoke.

Although their presence in my life was brief, those are a few of the people I can thank for being able to do the things I do today. Just yesterday, I had to do a presentation for a Staff Development Meeting. Even after all these years, their faces and names came to mind.

I say all that to say the following:

I believe in the combined power of relationships, encouragement, trusting God, resilience, and hard work. This power can help people overcome fears and obstacles.  I hope every child can experience it at least once in their lifetime. I also wish all adults could play a role in that powerful combination for a child at least once in their lifetime.

Did you ever experience that power as a child? Have you played a role in empowering a child? I’d love to hear your story and our kids would too!

Drumbeats and Chokecherries

I hear a drumbeat in the distance, and no it’s not because I am going crazy. It’s because St. Joseph’s powwow is just around the corner! I’ve been playing Native American music in the homes and the kids have been practicing. Many of the Lakota children have received their regalia and the anticipation is building up.

We are all very excited. Check out this video if you don’t believe me. : )

Aside from preparing for the powwow, we have kept ourselves busy with plenty of activities. One of the most memorable for us was going chokecherry picking. LaRayne (our Native American Studies teacher) got in touch with a local farmer who was very generous by sharing his crop.

Chokecherry picking was traditionally a female’s responsibility in the Lakota (Sioux) culture, so we took the girls along. Jachin (my husband) was a champ and drove us there. He’s the tallest, so he picked high up in the bushes where we couldn’t reach. Sometimes he would grab branches and pull them down for the girls to pick from.

It was a very hot but beautiful Monday after school. Upon arriving, we unloaded the bus and prayed together. After we were done picking, we enjoyed a picnic dinner. The girls also had fun spraying each other with water to cool down.

Occasionally, one of the girls would run up to me – drops of sweat on the forehead, sun in the hair, a big smile and flushed cheeks – just to show me how much was in her bag. They were all so proud of the amount they were able to gather! I was proud of them too. As we picked, I couldn’t help but think of all the women who picked Chokecherries under different circumstances long before us.

Picking chokecherries took a lot of energy and some of the girls fell asleep on the ride home. When we got home, we spent time cleaning and sorting.  We felt tired but accomplished. Our fingers were lovely, purple, and wrinkly. Bedtime for the girls quickly approached, so I stayed up finishing on my own.  It was a messy and long evening. I’m not exaggerating when I say the tips of my fingers were sore for a few days!

We froze the fruit and will use it to make wojapi, jam, and juice in the winter. The girls are looking forward to it and so am I! However, Jachin is a typical guy, so he is only looking forward to the eating part. We don’t blame him. Until the time comes, he’ll just have to daydream of fluffy fry-bread dipped in wojapi.

Overall, it was a great time of fellowship. I believe it was therapeutic for some of the girls who struggle with managing their emotions. The next day, the girls drew pictures and thank you cards for LaRayne and the farmer.

Here’s a video with highlights of our day:

Stay tuned for wojapi and fry bread recipes in future blogs!

Quality Time and Positive Risk-Taking

Can I just say I love working on the weekend? I know most people would hate to come to work on the weekend, so I don’t want to make anyone jealous of my job.  But really– I LOVE WORKING ON THE WEEKEND! This is because weekends are full of quality time.  I find that, the more quality time we spend with the kids, the less conflict they have and the more positive their attitude is when they have to take care of their daily responsibilities.

This past weekend we were on duty in the Afra Home (1st – 3rd grade girls) and got to bond with our sweet Lakota girlies. We had SO much fun!  American Island Days was a little festival in Chamberlain at the American Creek Campground, which is just a few blocks from St. Joseph’s Indian School. We took advantage of all the events taking place. The best part is that they were FREE! With 12 kids, costs are always high when going out. It was such a blessing to have so much fun at no cost. The girls had a blast on the inflatables, zip line, and on the boat rides provided by the South Dakota National Guard.

It was interesting to see our girls’ little personalities. Leave any stereotypes at the door if you come to St. Joseph’s! Our kids are not all the same, that’s for sure. Although, one thing I have noticed since coming here is that many of them fear trying new things. In fact, research shows troubled or at-risk youth can be afraid of the unknown and the new.

Most of them had never been on a boat or had no idea what a zip line was. Jachin and I had our “encouragement switches” on the whole time. The girls needed lots of reassurance and were rather apprehensive. As we waited in line, I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone would back out at the last minute. I am delighted to tell you that all girls participated in the boat ride and all but two got on the zip line!

I’ve been doing some reading on positive risk taking.  Studies also reveal that young people who take positive risks are more likely to avoid destructive behaviors than are those who do not. They are also more likely to describe themselves in positive terms and to say they often feel happy. This is why this weekend I was especially proud of our girls. I was really proud that they were able to step outside of their comfort zones to take positive risks.

Here’s a video and some pictures highlighting some of the fun we had:

At dinner, we always go around the table and we each share what the best part of our day was as well as the worst part. On that day, nearly all the girls said their best part was the zip line and the boat ride (what they were originally most afraid of). Go figure! They also loved when Jachin was wearing a velcro suit (seen on the video) and he made us laugh.  I have to agree. I laughed obnoxiously hard.

P.S: the girls are so excited about our upcoming annual powwow! More on their dancing next time : )

Getting ready for the Lakota students to return

It’s hard to believe that in less than a week I will be seeing 24 adorable little faces! Some will be familiar and others will be new.  Either way, it doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out that there will be 48 little eyes watching every move I make. It is a REALLY good thing that I don’t suffer from any form of social anxiety.

As 3-day houseparents, my husband Jachin and I have the privilege of working in both the Afra and Ambrose Homes.  This will be our second year serving the Lakota children in the 1st-3rd grade community at St. Joseph’s Indian School. After seeing the progress our kiddos made last year, I can’t help but be excited about what is to come. Among other things, it was so rewarding to witness their academic, emotional, social, and spiritual development.

We don’t just love being a part of the mission at St. Joseph’s Indian School, we believe in it!

Although the kids aren’t back yet, staff members across many departments have been preparing for their return for quite some time.  I could write a book about all that has been accomplished by my colleagues, but for now I’ll stick to what I’ve been involved with.

In July, I went to Colorado for a Love and Logic conference and just a couple weeks ago, we were certified in a counseling technique known as Life Space Crisis Intervention (LSCI). Then, all last week, was New Staff Orientation.  I had the pleasure of meeting most of the newcomers on campus.  My hat goes off to Human Resources – they did a wonderful job at finding lots of really wonderful people from all over the country.

2)One of St. Joseph’s new houseparents hails from South Africa.
Z, as she is known, is a new houseparent. Her cultural roots are in South Africa.

It’s great that St. Joseph’s continues to become more diverse. I happen to be half Chilean-Colombian and I also happen to be a bit of a nerd when it comes to learning about various cultures. I love listening to stories about traditions and listening to people speak foreign languages. I also think it’s valuable for our Native American students to have role models that look like them and others that are very different from them. Over the last couple of weeks, I have especially enjoyed getting to know Z (a new houseparent from South Africa), Nancy (a returning third grade teacher who is from the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe), and Jeshua (our new Native American Studies associate from Lower Brule).  We are excited to have them with us!

Aside from learning about the ins and outs of the organization and their respective positions, our new staff took First Aid and CPR, and were also certified in CPI Nonviolent Crisis Intervention.

1)Two of St. Joseph’s newest teachers are Native American.
Nancy and Jeshua are new teachers at St. Joseph’s and are both Native American.

As you can see, we have been keeping ourselves busy. In addition to all of the above, we have to freshen up on policies, procedures, new programs, and goals for this coming year.  We have also listened to various presentations on topics ranging from Fire Safety and Preventing Child Abuse to Professionalism. My personal favorite so far was a presentation on the correlation and bridges between the Christian/Catholic faith and Lakota traditions.

In total, I have about 20lbs of material I’ve read and reviewed so far and we’re still not done! We also have to prep the homes, make beds, and stock supplies and groceries. Devoting so many hours to preparing for the start of the school year could seem really monotonous to some, but being able to positively affect the life of just one child makes all time and effort worth it.

I ask that you keep the children, their families, and us in your prayers. Fr. Steve will definitely be missed by all this year. With that said, I’m beginning to thank God for the work He is doing, for those He is leading into a new season, for the people He has purposefully placed here, and for the generosity of all those who make our day to day blessings possible.  I am hopeful that 2013-2014 school year will be a great one! Please stand in faith with me! 🙂

3)Jachin and Luisa have fun at orientation.
There’s lots to learn, but staff orientation is also a lot of fun!

I’ll leave you with a silly picture of Jachin and me from All Staff Orientation.

Inquisitive Minds

The other day while I was cooking I felt a tap on my arm. I looked down and saw Arthur (one of our first graders).
“Right Luisa that humans can’t walk on water?” he asked.

“Right!” I responded.  Before I could say anything else he hurried away back into the toy room.

[3 minutes later]

“Luisaaaaaa!!! Tell Uriah to stop lying to me. He keeps saying he can walk on water. Tell him he can’t!”

Arthur was back in the kitchen clearly upset that Uriah was making false claims. Uriah trailed in right behind him.

“Yes huh, I can walk on water!”

I asked Uriah why he was lying to Arthur.

“Only Jesus can walk on water, please don’t lie to Arthur anymore ok?”

“Nuh uh!” he responded.  “What about lizards?!?!”

That’s when it hit me. I was so busy being a logical and reasoning adult who does important adult things that I couldn’t think like a child. It never crossed my mind that Uriah might have been playing a game.

“You’re right! I’m sorry. Arthur. Uriah is just pretending to be a little lizard.”

I knew about basilisk lizards, but what’s striking is that little Uriah learned about them somewhere and did not forget.

The Lakota (Sioux) children take field trips on weekends.
Uriah tries out the space suit at the museum the Lakota boys visited on a weekend trip.

Boys: one moment they are superheroes and another they are basilisk lizards! Their minds are so inquisitive. They inspire me on a daily basis to keep creating, trusting, exploring, believing, learning, and of course: to not turn into a grumpy adult.

This past weekend during our three days off, Jachin and I tagged along with the other set of house parents on a home trip with the boys.  The destination was Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which is only about two hours away.

They took a St. Joseph’s mini bus and we drove behind them in our car. We took them to Falls Park, they swam their hearts out at the hotel’s pool, and we visited Chuckie Cheese as well as the Washington Pavilion. Needless to say, the boys had a blast.

One of my favorite parts of the trip was going to the Washington Pavilion of Arts and Sciences. There, we visited the Kirby Science Discovery Center, which has more than 100 interactive, hands-on exhibits. I was amazed by how interested and entertained the boys were. They looked like little explorers on a mission!

Here’s a video clip from part of their adventure:


Music & Sweet Snacks

Have you ever seen those colorful commercials begging you to order a Kids Bop CD? You know, the ones with a bunch of kids singing, jumping, and dancing? Well, that pretty much sums up what the Lakota girls in the Afra Home consider an ideal day. They love music!  They love singing, dancing, playing instruments, and making their own choreography; they could literally do it for hours.

Imagine having 10 little girls (grades 1-3) who all want to take a turn at “playing” one keyboard. Sure, I have a massive headache by the time it’s all over, but it makes me happy to see them happy, so that’s what we do.

All the kids at St. Joseph’s have to tidy up their rooms every morning as well as take care of their chores and responsibilities. As an incentive, the order in which the girls finish determines the order in which we pick songs to dance to later in the day.

Here is a homemade music video of one of their recent and awesome picks:

The differences between what motivates our girls versus what motivates our boys are really interesting. Among other things, the boys LOVE food. I really enjoy cooking for them. Here at St. Joseph’s we never withhold food as a punishment or give them food as a reward. Obviously, food should be something all children should have no matter what. However, sometimes I will cook things that take extra work in the kitchen if the boys have had a good day.

On Sundays after church, if the boys were good, I won’t make a “boring” lunch. I make brunch, which includes homemade chocolate chip pancakes and a special peanut butter sauce to go with them rather than syrup. I love seeing Jachin and the boys sitting at the table waiting in anticipation. They get so smiley and excited. I can’t explain it but my heart does a little dance when they exclaim “Thank you for cooking Luleisa!!!”

We are also doing a health challenge, which entails eating lots of fresh fruits and veggies with every meal. The word “challenge” is an understatement. Sometimes the boys just don’t want to eat vegetables. However, if they don’t eat their fruits and veggies at supper, then they don’t get “sweet snack” in the evening.

Fridays are a very important day for the Ambrose Home boys. Everyone has only one goal in mind: I. MUST. MAKE. SWEET. SNACK.

Dinner is their mission. They take it very seriously because on Fridays we give them a can of pop and a full sized candy bar. Of course, if you don’t eat your supper, you’ll chomp on fruit as you watch everyone else guzzle down their pop.

Ladies and gentlemen, if this video doesn’t inspire you to eat your veggies, there is no hope for you! Here’s Paite vs. Food: Friday Green Bean Challenge

Meet Luisa, new houseparent

It’s hard to believe we have been in Chamberlain, South Dakota, for almost six months.  The memories of being welcomed by the bright green rolling plains are quite vivid—it truly feels like yesterday!

Of course, it doesn’t take much for me to snap back to rationality and know it was in fact, not yesterday. One look down at my boots (encrusted with snow) or the sound of my husband yelling out in frustration from the shower “Luisa our pipes are frozen!” and I think to myself:  Nope.  It is definitely not August anymore.

As newcomers to the state and new houseparents at St. Joseph’s Indian School, the people we come in contact with often ask us where we come from.  When we say Florida people’s eyes get wide and the next question is “WHY are you here?”

Not only that, but when we called banks and other places in Florida to verify they had our new address, most of the strangers on the other line would outright chuckle and say something like “South Dakota? Wow, interesting…”

Ironically, what Jachin (my husband) and I both still wonder is why we never thought about coming here before.

We have both traveled to experience and study various cultures. We are both passionate about intercultural studies, helping the marginalized, and how God works through different people groups. Being a part of the work here at St. Joseph’s captures that and so much more.

In August we did more than just make an impulsive move across the country.

We committed to improving the lives and influencing the future of 12 Lakota boys and 12 Lakota girls.

Through these blog entries, I hope to share with you our adventures, their development, our laughter, our quest to help them reclaim their culture, and the lessons these incredible little ones have taught me.

Finally, I hope to give you a sneak peak of what life is really like at St. Joseph’s Indian School. Oh and I will definitely be sharing lots and lots of photos and videos! You may be far away but it will be nearly impossible for you not to feel the joy these kiddos bring to our life.

Let’s get started with some of my recent favorites.

Luisa and the Native American girls in the Afra Home.
The girls and me being silly.

The girls in the Afra Home have fun with Luisa.
Fun with Photoshop!

Jachin and the boys in the Ambrose Home take on the sledding hill.
All my boys sledding.

And the one that makes me laugh so hard it hurts, a video of the boys and I playing our animal game:

Psalm 127:3-5
 Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.