Shay, a certified nursing assistant (CNA) at a veteran’s hospital, was working a night shift when she heard an alarm sound. The alarm was to signal that a patient was in need of help, so she quickly went to assist.
Shay said, while the male patient who needed help is typically independent, he had just been moved into a different section of the hospital and hadn’t quite gotten situated yet. After she assisted him and was getting him settled, she noticed some mail sitting on a nearby wheelchair.
“There was this envelope and under it was a birthday card. I picked it up and was like, ‘Hey! It has the St. Joseph’s Indian School logo on it,’ which I immediately recognized but hadn’t seen in years,” said Shay.
Shay picked up the card and asked the veteran patient, who is not named to protect his privacy, if he was a donor of the school. She said he responded, “Yes, I’ve donated for years. It was my birthday last week and I received the card.”
The serendipitous moment had Shay’s mind racing. What were the odds that this patient was a donor of St. Joseph’s Indian School, and she an alumna? What were the odds they would both be in the same place, at the same time, after two very different walks of life? What were the odds that she, and not another CNA, would be the one to answer this veteran’s alarm?
“I was kind of in shock. I looked at him and I said, ‘I actually went to this school for 12 years of my life,” said Shay. “I then said, ‘Thank you for being a part of my upbringing.’”
She said he was as surprised as she.
“He told me he was glad to have met me,” said Shay.
Shay described the chance connection as the universe bringing the two of them together. When she returned to the nurses’ station, she said, “You’re not going to believe this!” and quickly told the other nurses the events that had just taken place.
“While I’m so thankful for St. Joe’s, I don’t too often go around talking about my school years. But, we had been having a conversation about school before I answered the patient call. I had told them I went to a residential school so when I got back I was like, “He is a donor to my school!” said Shay. “It was all just really crazy and made me nostalgic.”
Shay attended St. Joseph’s Indian School for 12 years before graduating from high school in 2011. After graduation she held various jobs before falling in love with the nursing field. She is now a traveling certified nursing assistant, stationed in the southwest. The job provides her the ability to help others, while also providing for her family, which includes children Liam and Arthur and nephew Ashton — something that sounds so simple in nature, but means so much.
Shay’s grandmother raised Shay and her sister full time before the siblings came to St. Joseph’s. Knowing she wanted the best education and opportunities for her grandchildren, her grandmother made the decision to enroll the girls at St. Joseph’s. She knew the school would provide everything the young girls needed — clothing, food, a top-notch education, the opportunity to travel, and a safe place to grow-up, away from the negative side effects of poverty that can plague reservation communities in South Dakota.
“I loved my time at St. Joe’s and it will always be my little safe place and this light in my memories,” said Shay. “But I’m really proud that I was able to graduate and I’m in a position where I don’t have to send my kids away to school. I can be the mom who packs their lunches, or takes them to basketball practice, and do all the normal things that I wouldn’t necessarily have had if I would’ve grown-up on the reservation.”
What Shay describes is essentially the living embodiment of St. Joseph’s mission — the mission for children to grow-up into adults with the tools they need to achieve their goals, big or small.
And it is all possible because of donors, like the veteran Shay helped that night.
Shay still visits the veteran from time to time. The birthday card now sits atop his desk, on display with a birthday message inside, and the St. Joseph’s logo on the back — the logo that connected two strangers and put them on common ground.
“I’m not sure if he will always remember our conversation,” said Shay. “But, I know I’ll never forget it.”
To this veteran donor and all of our donors, we say philámayaye — thank you — for providing Native American children the opportunity at a brighter future at St. Joseph’s Indian School!