Five from St. Joseph’s Indian School Receive National Honors

(From left): Tom Robinson, President, Milton Hershey School; Kory Christianson, Executive Director Development, St. Joseph’s Indian School; Mike Tyrell, President, St. Joseph’s Indian School; Don Forrester, Executive Director, CORE; Jennifer Renner-Meyer, Executive Director of Child Services, St. Joseph’s Indian School

Caring for community is a value of five from St. Joseph’s Indian School that made them standouts to win Catherine Hershey National Awards. The awards were announced at the Coalition of Residential Excellence (CORE) Luncheon at Arrowwood Resort and Conference Center in Oacoma, S.D. on Tuesday, September 19. They were among 13 honored with awards nationally. St. Joseph’s Indian School hosted the national conference this year.

The school’s President Mike Tyrell received the “Lifetime Achievement Award.” Robbie and Stephen Chatman were named “Houseparents of the Year.” Librarian Claire Nehring was honored as “Educator of the Year,” and recent graduate Mariah was awarded “Student of the Year.”

Tyrell was originally nominated for Administrator of the Year, but the selection committee upon receiving two outstanding nominations in that category, bestowed Lifetime Achievement Awards to acknowledge excellence in both nominees. Also receiving the award was Bill Frye of Florida Sherriff’s Youth Ranch.

Tyrell’s nomination drew on the two narratives that tell the story of his career at the school. The first, Detour Home, is a semi-fictional account written and published by Tyrell in 2022 about his and wife, Kim’s, first year as houseparents at St. Joseph’s Indian School. The other is the 10-year strategic plan created by Tyrell and staff during the pandemic. The plan demonstrates the organization’s solid standing and path into the future. Its goals illustrate Tyrell’s dedication to the school and larger community, and how the school shares its expertise with a national audience to improve residential education.

(From left): Tom Robinson, President, Milton Hershey School; Mariah Quigley; Don Forrester, Executive Director, CORE; Julie Lepkowski, Admissions Coordinator, St. Joseph’s Indian School

Mariah’s nomination describes the young woman as a student of life who foremost understands the elegance in simplicity. In a world that hasn’t always come easy, Quigley keeps it simple, and in doing so has a unique aspect that touches everyone around her. For example, as a junior, after years of listening to how other students disliked doing dishes, Quigley volunteered to do the chore every night. She knew how the negativity brought the mood down in the home community, and said she had learned to enjoy this simple task.

Julie Lepkowski, Quigley’s mentor, describes her as “a quiet leader who smiles and responds naturally to any situation.” She adds, “She is not a shrinking violet, though,” noting that Quigley doesn’t stand for things she disapproves of and doesn’t go with the crowd or cave into temptation. During her 13 years at St. Joseph’s, she never had an incident that resulted in a restriction of privileges. Quigley is now working toward an IT degree.

(From left): Tom Robinson, President, Milton Hershey School; Don Forrester, Executive Director, CORE; Stephan and Robbie Chatman; Sean Johnson, 4-6 Residential Coordinator, St. Joseph’s Indian School

The Chatman’s nomination described the couple’s “Lessez les bon temps rouler”* vibe that turns any circumstance into a good time because of their ability to make it so. Their approach brings a sense of community to their work with students and other staff.

Always brimming with Louisiana-bred hospitality, the Chatmans host an annual Thanksgiving event for other houseparents and include support staff and teachers. They understand that connection is “king” when developing a positive environment for the home they shepherd, and extend this to include the parents and guardians who are part of their students’ lives. Residential Coordinator Sean Johnson regularly receives comments from families that they feel welcome.

And when the times aren’t so good, the Chatmans find ways to step in with goodness that buoys spirits and fills gaps. When one student’s grandfather was in long-term hospital care, they made sure the child had weekly visits with him. Whether it is subbing in various roles across campus, volunteering on the school’s bookmobile outreach or helping out in their church or neighborhood, the couple steps up to build community in countless ways.

(From left): Tom Robinson, President, Milton Hershey School; Claire Nehring; Don Forrester, Executive Director, CORE; Jennie Schilling, Student Coordinator, St. Joseph’s Indian School

Nehring’s nomination for “Educator of the Year” notes the imaginative spirit she brings to making the library a community of learning. She incorporates large stuffed animals – an alligator, bee, lion, elephant shark and more –  for fidgety students to cuddle while drifting into the world between book covers. Tea parties and sushi days amp up the energy she uses to unlock the power of young minds. Her students even write and publish their own books, which Nehring dutifully catalogs and has on the shelves for other students to read.

As a faculty member, Nehring is valued for her willingness to support other staff in any capacity and collaborate for the greater good. No less generous off-the-clock, she sews, knits and weaves with interested students. During the summer months, she applies her love of books by working more than half of the routes on the school’s bookmobile, helping stock, organize and shelve books, and assisting visitors to pick out books that match their reading level and interests.

St. Joseph’s Indian School salutes these five remarkable people who build up the school community and community at large.

*Let the good times roll is an oft-used Louisiana expression.

Author: St. Joseph's Indian School

At St. Joseph's Indian School, our privately-funded programs for Lakota (Sioux) children in need have evolved over 90 years of family partnership, experience and education. Because of generous friends who share tax-deductible donations, Native American youth receive a safe, stable home life; individual counseling and guidance; carefully planned curriculum based on Lakota culture and individual student needs and tools to help build confidence, boost self-esteem and improve cultural awareness. All of this helps children to live a bright, productive, possibility-filled future.

10 thoughts on “Five from St. Joseph’s Indian School Receive National Honors”

  1. Bless you all always, watch St, Jiseph’s group for many years, even before my daughter Toni McGinley did an internship at St. Joseph’s many years ago,
    Grateful for the way you have grown in your devotion to help the people, Cannot praise and be grateful for all you do,, Blessings always around you all,,,,,,,,,❤️

  2. Hello..I have given money in the past to your school. Can you tell me what percentage of the money is actually used for the students. I would be more inclined to give without the gifts you send me. Thank you for answering this inquirery. Ren’e Rotzenberg

    1. Hi Rene! Of each dollar raised, 66 cents goes to the children in our care and for future planned program growth. These funds help provide a loving, safe, living and learning environment for the Lakota children. Our program and supporting funds also provide needed services for the Lakota people on three reservations. These services include a domestic violence shelter, licensed adolescent group care center and counseling services. A critical performance measure is not the amount of money it costs to raise a dollar … it is the number of children we can help!

  3. refreshing sense of family and community. What is the endowment of St Joe’s?
    What % of graduates go on to college? How are they helped once they leave the St Joe’s campus/reservation?
    Besides construction $$$ what is the most pressing need for the school?
    Do the older kids have laptops?
    How did and does COVID affect students, families, and faculty?

    thank you in advance for your responses.

    1. Hi there! You have so many good questions. We think it would be best to get you in touch with someone from our Mission Advocacy Center who can answer all those questions and more for you. We will pass along your email address to them or you can feel free to call 1-800-341-2235. Thank you!

  4. Impressive! And the Lakota Sioux children deserve the best in leaders/teachers in their schools. Great new pathways for their future successes are, with these excellent leaders/teachers, so much more available to them. Love and Light to one and all there!

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