Last night I met with Elijah and Shawn, two of our high school boys who were excited to be chosen to represent St. Joseph at an upcoming donor appreciation luncheon in Sarasota Florida come January. They were also a little worn out, since they are trying out for the Chamberlain Cubs basketball team, and just came home from practice. In fact, this week they’ve had two practices daily, one at 6 a.m. and one right after school.
I caught them in between supper and their Sons of Tradition meeting, where they meet with their Family Service Counselors to learn more about Lakota culture and take part in a talking circle to share issues that face them in their awkward adolescent years. The Daughters of Tradition group took part in an inipi – sweat lodge which I heard was well received.
Once the boys left for their session, I had time for conversation with Tim and Jessica, who started as houseparents in August. It is a big adjustment, and they work in two different homes for three days each. Another huge adjustment is raising a new baby – Lilya is now three months old. I’m around children all the time, but not that often lately with one so young. While the parents ate, I held the baby on my knee, and got along quite well. Every child deserves to be loved and nurtured, and that’s a main goal with all our students. Some need some extra care and attention, especially if they weren’t fortunate to have a stable and nurturing early childhood.
Our Pastoral Care group met today to finalize some details about Advent, which starts on Sunday. It seems odd when it doesn’t begin right after Thanksgiving. With many Christmas decorations already up, we still want to create an atmosphere of hopeful, patient waiting. We also looked ahead to our sacramental preparation. We expect to have about 25 students, a good number of whom are also preparing for baptism and confirmation.
Tonight was the last home game for our fifth and sixth grade girls basketball teams. Our opponents were from the Pierre Indian Learning Center. The fifth grade girls had the fast break going, and the game was never close, with a 31-12 final. Both Justina and Kendra scored in double figures. The sixth grade game was a low scoring defensive struggle. When the PILC Warriors tied the game at 11 with two minutes to go, some of us were thinking it might take an overtime or two before somebody scored again. But Mary got fouled on the drive and made both ends of a one and one free throw chance, and our Braves prevailed.
With girls ages 10 – 12, the improvement you see over a short time is remarkable. Looking back over the first few games, many weren’t sure where to stand or what to do with the ball once they got it. I noticed little things that start to make a difference – how to move without the ball, how to box out for a rebound. Our coaches’ patience and persistence is paying off. I hope our kids learn that lesson in all of life.
Early last Friday, November 16, two of our middle school boys, Elliot (8th Grade) and Jay (7th Grade), along with Fr. Steve, Adria (Social Strategist), and myself, Brock (5th Grade teacher and chaperone for the boys) boarded a plane for Minneapolis/St. Paul where we would then board our connecting flight to New York City.
This was the start of many “firsts” for the boys, as they had never flown before. Thankfully, we had smooth sailing, giving the boys a positive flying experience.
We landed as scheduled in New York City and the adventures began! We were not able to get a taxi for all five of us so we split up and took separate taxis to the hotel. This was also the boy’s first taxi ride. The boys and I were in one and Fr. Steve and Adria were in the other.
After arriving at the hotel, we unloaded our luggage into one of our rooms on the 26th floor and headed out to see the city. This was also the first time the boys had been so high up in a building. We grabbed a hot dog from a street vendor (another first) outside our hotel and headed for the subway to Times Square.
From this point forward, the boys were able to experience numerous other “firsts” ranging from tasting new foods to seeing all of the sights of New York City throughout the remainder of the three days in New York.
After the subway ride to Times Square, Fr. Steve led us to the Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, where we purchased our City Sights New York City bus tour tickets.
We proceeded with the Uptown Tour, seeing a variety of sights for much of the afternoon, including Time Square South, the Theatre District North, Columbus Circle/Time Warner Center, Lincoln Center, Central Park, the American Museum of Natural History/New York Historical Society, Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Grant’s Tomb and Riverside Church, the Apollo Theatre, Harlem, the Museum of the City of New York, the Guggenheim & Jewish Museums, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Central Park Zoo to name a few.
We exited our bus to walk around Central Park for a few minutes and took several pictures. We also were on parts of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade route throughout the tour, and saw preparations for the parade. This made us more interested in watching the parade this year, having just recently been on part of it.
We then returned to the bus tour and started part of the Downtown Tour of New York. We were able to see many more magnificent sights!
Some of them were The Empire State Building, Macy’s, the Flatiron District, Union Square, SoHo, China Town and the World Trade Center.
We exited the tour again at the World Trade Center stop and went to meet up with the rest of our group who had arrived a day earlier. We settled into our rooms and met up for a wonderful Oriental supper not far from our hotel.
After supper, we went back to Times Square to take in more of the New York City experience. We walked through St. Patrick Cathedral and walked by Rockefeller Center, taking a group shot in front of the still-being-decorated Christmas tree.
We continued our foot tour walking by Radio City Music Hall, eventually returning to Times Square. We then boarded our City Sights tour bus for more as we drove by Madison Square Garden and saw the lit up Empire State Building on our way back to our hotel. We exited the tour to return to our hotel rooms for some much-needed rest.
On Saturday morning, we embarked on a short tour of Battery Park seeing the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island from a distance. After pictures with Lady Liberty in the background, we continued to tour the Financial District, seeing the “Bull” on Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange.
We returned to the hotel to freshen up for one of the main reasons for the trip: to meet with our donors and thank them for their generous contributions to St. Joseph’s Indian School! The boys graciously took pictures with all the donors attending and, although admittedly nervous, gave their individual accounts of life at St. Joseph’s Indian School. They both did a fine job and represented St. Joseph’s Indian School well.
After the donor appreciation luncheon, we ventured out again to see more of the city, getting the most out of our City Sights Tour tickets. We boarded a bus in Battery Park and continued with the Downtown Tour seeing the skyline of Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Bridge, South Street Seaport and Pier 17 before heading by China Town, the Ladies Mile, the United Nations and the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, to name a few.
We again departed the bus tour at Times Square and attended Mass at St. Malachy Roman Catholic Church before going to eat supper at Ellen’s Stardust Diner, home of the world-famous singing wait staff. After supper, we continued to walk around Times Square taking numerous pictures to show friends back home. A “short” subway ride back toward our hotel ended the day, retiring for the night to rest up for another day.
On Sunday, the second of our main reasons for being in New York took place. We had another donor appreciation luncheon in Melville Long Island. The boys again graciously took pictures with all the donors attending and were still admittedly nervous speaking in front of the group; but were able to represent St. Joseph’s Indian School in a positive manner as they answered questions from the audience about their experiences here at St. Joseph’s Indian School.
With both donor appreciation lunches completed, we had one more night to explore the Big Apple. We did some shopping in the SoHo area before heading one last time to Times Square where we ate at John’s Pizzeria. After supper, we took in more of the sights and sounds Times Square had to offer before entering the subway to venture back toward our hotel. After a couple “extra” subway rides, we were back to our hotel to pack for our return flight to South Dakota to see our family and friends waiting for us back at home.
Although it was an awesome experience of many “firsts” for several involved, no one hesitated to state that they would be interested in making many other “firsts” and a few “seconds” experiences in the future.
Daylon and Erica, two Freshmen in our high school program traveled to Miami, Florida for a donor appreciation luncheon. On Saturday we had such a lively and question filled group that to finish by the appointed time, our students had to cut part of their presentation short. Sunday’s group was smaller and quieter, but just as engaged and caring. The time together gives donors a fuller sense of the programs we run here at St. Joseph’s Indian School, and the chance to ask questions that people wonder about when they get our literature in the mail. People want to know where their donations go and if they are really making a difference.
As I meet people for whom I know even a small donation is a real sacrifice, I am humbled. Folks often bring along gifts to welcome us to their part of the world and to take home to share. We received necklaces, a conch shell, books and toys to share with the other Native American students and even a guitar. One family gave us a generous Walmart gift card for the girls and their home to get something they need. Along with some souvenirs, the students’ suitcases were much fuller going back.
I have relatives in the area, and after the luncheons my Uncle Ed and Aunt Mary Lou, and cousins Chris and Chuck served as our tour guides. The Port of Miami wasn’t far from our hotel, and besides the shops, it was amazing to see the size of the cruise ships as they docked in Port and prepared for adventures of their own. We spent Saturday evening in Miami Beach. The girls got their toes wet in the ocean, then explored the loud and colorful, neon lights and art deco buildings, crowds and crowds of people in the world of South Beach, a far cry from South Dakota.
Sunday after the luncheon my cousin Chris arranged for us to take an airboat tour in the Everglades. Our guide was an Apache man raised by the Miccosukee tribe in Florida. He was full of wisdom and humor, and knowledgeable about the colorful plants and birds we saw. He could tell us lots about each individual alligator we passed as though they were his pets. When one came towards the boat looking for food he grasped her by the throat and pulled her closer so we could have a good look.
Not something I would be brave enough to attempt!
Half way through the ride, he asked the girls if they would like to drive the boat. Daylon was adventurous enough. The look on her face was a mixture of surprise, the tentativeness of I-don’t-know-if- I- can–do-this to sheer delight. With the rudder in one hand and the wind flowing through her long black hair, and the biggest smile I’ve ever seen was a definite highlight of the trip.
Back in the city my cousins knew of a lively, reasonably priced waterfront restaurant, complete with acoustic guitar music. We had a relaxing evening reliving the memories of good friends and new experiences.
We met with the architect and contractors on the Akta Lakota Museum project today. They were planning to start pouring floors, but we got a heavy thunderstorm and the area is a muddy mess so they decided to wait for a drier day. They’re perhaps even a little ahead of schedule anyway, due to an unusually warm and dry spell since mid February. The rain was actually very appreciated, as area farmers and ranchers have worried about the low water table, and have been praying for moisture. Next week, crews plan to start the outside brick and masonry work, after which the project will really start coming to life.
In a short while, four staff and two students will start our journey for a donor appreciation luncheon to Miami, Florida to meet with and thank our donors in that part of the country. You’ll get a few guest blogs until I get back, and I’m sure I’ll have a story or two to tell of the adventure.
For those of you who support St. Joseph Indian School from a distance, I hope we are able to one day meet at a luncheon or one of our powwows.