This post was written by Karen Moore, board member and Native American team volunteer.

In September 2017, Carol Fanelli and I made a weeklong trip to the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation. It was a fact-finding trip as well as a chance for us to see what we could do to come along side two organizations and one small school that are already doing amazing things!

Cheyenne Youth Project

Karen (left), Carol (right), Cheyenne Youth Project contact Tammy (center)

Our first stop was in Eagle Butte, where for two days, we were privileged to be able to participate in a time of preparation for the Harvest Festival to be held at the Cheyenne River Youth Project facility. It was a very exciting time, and Carol and I enjoyed seeing how much produce had been grown and harvested from the raised bed garden on the property.

Harvest Festival Cheyenne Youth Project

Carol and Karen helping prepare for the Harvest Festival

The culmination of the two days was the Harvest Festival itself, which was held to herald the premiere of the documentary that was filmed by Square For Every Dream/ Lakota in America and celebrate the harvest. Square is an organization that has funded internships for the youth on the reservation. They have worked closely with Julie Garreau, who founded the Cheyenne River Youth Project in 1988 in an old, abandoned derelict bar.

It has expanded today to three large buildings housing classrooms, a gymnasium, and a coffee bar. Her words and goals for the Lakota youth can be summed up in this quote by Julie herself: “We want to be a positive influence on the kids in our community, and so we’re dedicated to providing them with access to the future they deserve.”

art by students Cheyenne Youth Project

Student art at the Cheyenne Youth Project

You can view the video on YouTube at For Every Dream/Lakota in America right here.


The second stop was at Simply Smiles. Here we met with Marcella, a delightful lady who showed us around the facility. Simply Smiles was formed in 2003 and in their own words, here is their goal and desire:

“Simply Smiles is a not-for-profit organization that provides bright futures for impoverished children, their families, and their communities. From the mountains of Mexico to the prairies of the American west, the unique and holistic Simply Smiles approach has proven to be impactful - sustainable - scalable – and successful.”

In La Platte South Dakota, they have built a bunk house, a community center, kitchen, basketball court and a green house. They also have beautiful raised bed gardens. From this they have been able to offer healthy meals three times a week to members of the community. We were so impressed with all they have accomplished.

Greenhouse at Simply Smiles

Simply Smiles greenhouse

One remark that Marcella made in response to our questioning as to how she stays so encouraged with so much to do has lingered in my heart. Her response was, “If we can give one child a reason to live one more day, it is worth it.”


Our last stop on the trip was at Takini School, a small prairie school in Howe, South Dakota. We had been there in 2015 and held a vision clinic and really left a part of our hearts there. The teachers and the children were so welcoming and eager to receive us. We had lunch with the new principal, Cindy McCray, and learned of the special needs of the school.

Takini School sign

Entering Takini School

We brought them a pallet of school supplies that we purchased with the funds that were contributed by the Bible Study group at Stuarts Draft Retirement Community and the Mount Vernon Church of the Brethren, also in Stuarts Draft, Virginia. They were overjoyed with the supplies!  We were given a tour of the school and the grounds and saw firsthand the needs that are still very pressing.

Takini School donated school supplies

School supplies that we donated

Our goal is to purchase some curriculum for the teachers to use in their English classes, and provide copy paper for them to use to provide individual work sheets for the children who do not have text books.

Carol and I felt very encouraged as we left South Dakota. We know that the needs are still very great. The suicide rate on Native American reservations is extremely high. Although there has, in the past been a sense of hopelessness, Carol and I both felt a new surge of hope as we visited these three places on the reservation.

We know that we can only effect a small change as our organization is not large. But each little bit, each small step, each life affected by our reaching out in love can make a difference.

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