Belly slides and Christmas gifts

Native American youth sledding down a hill.
Sledding in full force at St. Joseph’s Indian School.

The past few days our Lakota students have been out sledding in force, but today the sun came out and began melting our snowfall into the dry and thirsty ground. They’ll have to wait until the next storm before the hills again allow for good sledding. But that didn’t deter kids from having fun at recess.

Today’s winter coats are warm indeed, but the plastic outer material is slick enough to make sleds optional. I watched the children belly slide head first down the gentle slopes leading to the playground, laughing all the way! I’m sure the teachers don’t mind the students burning off a little excess energy before coming back to the classroom to focus on reading, writing and arithmetic.

I had to pick up a package a friend sent for Christmas, so I wandered over to Central Receiving, where all the boxes that come to St. Joseph’s Indian School’s campus wind up. Glenda and Cathy have worked as a team for many years. This time of year gets a little hectic for them, but they seemed in good cheer as they opened and sorted piles of clothes, toiletries, toys and games, books and school supplies and knick-knacks  of all kinds.

Central Receiving at St. Joseph's Indian School.
Glenda and Cathy sorting piles of clothes, toiletries, toys and games, books and school supplies, and knick-knacks of all kinds.

Some of the boxes are from people who are taking part in our Holiday Wishes Christmas program. Those presents will be distributed after Christmas break when the students return in January. Items like hair conditioner, socks and basketballs are always in demand, and go onto the shelves so our houseparents have easy access to them. We have several requests for help with Christmas presents for needy children on nearby Indian reservations and are putting aside hats and gloves, stuffed animals, coloring books and crayons to brighten their holiday.

Glenda and Cathy have also put aside a lot of nice things for our Christmas store on Saturday. There, our children shop for presents to take home to their families. I saw a stack of five crock pots sent in by one generous donor who specified they go reservation families. Baby and toddler clothes are also very popular as kids think about younger brothers and sisters back home. We are blessed with many generous donations that we in turn can share so they are put to good use.

Smiles and happy memories from our Lakota youth

One routine the junior high youth look forward to as the weekend begins is Friday Night Canteen. Our students earn a few dollars of allowance, depending on how they’ve done helping with their assigned home charges, or chores, during the week. Friday is payday, and a chance to buy a pop or sports drink, some popcorn or treat at the Rec Center concession stand. The 6th-8th graders have the gym to themselves from 8:00 until 9:00, and I stopped by to see what they were up to. A high percentage were playing basketball, which is the favorite sport here at St. Joseph’s Indian School. Some were in the game room, playing pool and table tennis. A few sat in the bleachers, talking with friends. All relaxing and having a good time.

Saturday was a day to “supercharge” the homes, with a deep cleaning and straightening up of bedrooms and common rooms. In the afternoon our bowling league began.  Staff supervise teams of four students and teach them the basics, then give them a chance to roll a few games at the Chamberlain Bowling Alley. Bowling is one of those equal opportunity sports that doesn’t depend just on size or speed, but accuracy and consistency. Lots of our students take part and enjoy the activity.

I usually make the post office run on Saturdays, and while sorting the mail came across a letter to one of our brand new students. Figuring she might be just a little homesick and appreciate it sooner rather than later, I delivered it to Matthias Home (6th– 8th grade girls) and got invited to stay for supper. It was simple weekend fare, chili dogs and fruit. Sometimes houseparents apologize when I stop by and the meal isn’t fancy. But I’m reminded of Dorothy Day’s line,

Life is a banquet, even with crumbs, where there is a community of love.

We sat and talked a while until it was time for them to walk downtown to go to the movies.

Today we celebrated mass of the Epiphany. Students from Peggy’s 4th grade class dressed as shepherds, kings, angels and the holy family and acted out the holy night and season. I chuckled when the three wise men were pointing to the east and I saw fingers pointing in three different directions. Somehow they managed to find their way to Bethlehem! In my homily I urged them not to be afraid to let their light shine, and develop their God-given talents and abilities. While the Christmas season may be ending, it’s important for us to have that spirit of generosity and good will throughout the year and for a lifetime.

Kass and the gift she received this year for Christmas.
Kass and the gift she received this year for Christmas.

If Advent is a season of waiting with patient expectation, today was the day of fulfilled expectations for our students. Today the students opened up Christmas presents in each of the homes. After church, I joined the Dennis Home (1st-3rd grade girls) for brunch and helped pass out the brightly wrapped packages. The big hit our donors sent for the girls were Pillow Pets – nighttime pillows shaped like an elephant, frog, butterfly or giraffe. Those were a nice complement to the soft fleece blankets that houseparent, Alice sewed for each of the girls. You can watch a video and read about this fun day on St. Joseph’s Indian School’s website. 

I stopped in at each of our  18 homes for a few minutes, which added up to the entire afternoon. In the Raphael (1st-3rd grade boys) home, houseparent Peter had a screwdriver in hand, surrounded by four boys vying for his help with “some assembly required.” The Summerlee (4th-5th grade girls) Home was fascinated by the furry battery operated ZuZu Pets buzzing around a track. The Perky boys (4th-5th grade) had radio controlled trucks zipping around furniture and underneath the kitchen table.

Lots of excitement and smiles and happy memories.