BRATTLEBORO >> Eleven teenagers and six adults of the Brattleboro Area Interfaith Youth Group will spend the Fourth of July holiday at the Cheyenne River Reservation working with Simply Smiles, an organization that is building community in the impoverished town of Laplante, South Dakota. The group will depart this Friday, July 1, and fly to Minneapolis before renting vehicles to journey on to volunteer at the reservation, working on projects to improve housing and provide a week of summer camp for the Lakota Indian tribe that lives there. They will return August 11.
Many members of the Guilford Community Church, Newfane Congregational Church, Dummerston Congregational Church, and Brattleboro Area Jewish Community, and family and friends of those going have contributed funds to make the trip possible. Lise Sparrow, the pastor at Guilford Church, provides leadership for the trip, along with other adult volunteers.
"The fact that all the teenagers and adults are returning this year speaks for itself," said JoEllen Tarallo-Falk, one of the adult leaders. Everyone agrees the experience last year was transformative.
The group will work with Simply Smiles, rehabbing the interior of a home for a Lakota family, building sheds to store wood pellets for economical heating, and concrete pathways to the community center which was built several years ago. The volunteers will also help work in the greenhouse and carry out activities they have planned for an afternoon summer camp for Lakota kids. The Brattleboro teens have a chance to enjoy time with the Lakota kids and are looking forward to seeing some of the friends they made last year.
There is a movement afoot to address the grave socio-economic conditions and significant mental health problems on the reservation.
"Simply Smiles has built credibility with the Lakota Tribe over many years and has been able to have a positive impact through home improvements and establishment of a Community Center where there were no resources," the pastor said. "We are bringing our hearts, minds and hands to help with this effort. Through it we fully expect the youth and adults alike to experience important intercultural awareness."
The group prepared by learning about events in American history that devastated the native culture.
Anyone interested in following the trip can do so at the Facebook page for Guilford Community Church where the teens will post photos and a blog daily.