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Service in South Dakota

Service in South Dakota

For more than a decade, a contingent of Jesuit students has traveled to South Dakota each summer to serve the Lakota Sioux people, assisting the St. Francis Mission in its service of the Rosebud Indian Reservation. This year, 10 rising seniors – Kai Gibron, Cameron Grande, Vincent Guggino, Lucas Lopez, Angel Ocampo, Carlos Pasquotto, Eric Rein, Max Schellman, Donovan Terry, and Diego Tobon along with chaperones Andy Wood ’92 and Miguel Menendez operated a Vacation Bible School for the Lakota Sioux children of the reservation during the first week in June, while also restoring the local cemetery, assisting Feeding South Dakota, and giving of themselves in the tradition of Jesuit students before them, making a difference as ‘Men for Others.’ One of the students, Kai Gibron, wrote about the experience.

Service Immersion in South Dakota
by Kai Gibron ’24

The Jesuit mission trip in early June to the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota was amazing. It reinforced my understanding of the importance of service and the value of ‘Brotherhood,’ and opened my eyes to a world completely different from my own.

On the reservation that week, my Jesuit brothers and I helped operate a Vacation Bible School camp for the Lakota Sioux children. Each day, we taught the kids about the Bible and Christianity while incorporating activities that brought smiles to their faces. It meant a lot to teach and to try to inspire these children, knowing of all the hardships and adversity they face on a daily basis. The reservation is plagued with poverty, and while about 40% of the 20,000 residents identify as Catholics, very few attend church. For these kids, learning about the Bible and Christianity was important. We also had lots of fun activities, like playing freeze tag. But I think the most impactful thing we did was listen to them and just allow them to share what was on their minds. Being there for them, showing them that people care about them – I think we made an impact in that way.

After the camp each day, we usually headed over to the reservation cemetery to help clean and repair the grounds. We picked up fallen gravestones and restored them, and we mowed the lawn and trimmed bushes for hours until the cemetery looked perfect – as it deserved to look. We worked side by side with two local people, Lakota Sioux members Quinton and Prince, and listened to them describe the challenges they face as members of the community. It was very rewarding putting in the time and effort to help this community and the special people who live there.

During our time on the reservation, we witnessed lots of poverty and substance abuse. One day, we packed food into boxes and handed the boxes to hungry members of the community. We saw the true poverty that members of this reservation face. We also saw how substance abuse of alcohol and drugs can ruin and destroy families. My Jesuit brothers and I realized that we must be grateful for everything that we are blessed with in life.

Life on the reservation was like nothing I had ever witnessed. As an outsider, I did not know of the hardships that many Native Americans endure. The mission trip opened my eyes to an unfortunate part of America that not many experience or witness. They say light shines through the darkest places, and in the case of the Rosebud Indian Reservation, it is very much true. Although the community has its troubles with substance abuse, poverty, and gang violence, there are many who continue to stay optimistic, faithful, and hopeful. The community as a whole is proud of its history and culture.

I was especially moved by the children. Despite their struggles and difficulties, they remain joyful, positive, and loving. As Jesuit students, we have a responsibility to help others, especially those in need. On this trip, we were not only able to help the beautiful and proud Lakota Sioux people, but in a small way also bring hope and joy to a struggling community.

I could not have asked for a greater group of young men with whom to embark on this memorable journey. When I first learned that I had been selected for the mission trip, I quickly looked at the list of the other rising seniors chosen. I realized that I only knew a few of them. However, that all changed after our one week together. The 10 of us worked together daily, and collectively we witnessed the eye-opening struggles on the reservation. The trip undoubtedly united us. I can truly call each and every one of these men my brother. It is rare in life to find others with whom you can share your true thoughts and feelings, and after our trip together, I am fortunate and grateful to say I have found such a group in my Jesuit brothers. Our nightly reflections, we would share how the events of each day affected and changed us and brought us close together.

I am thankful and blessed to have experienced this life-changing mission trip because there is no greater feeling than serving others and bringing hope to a community with a group you can truly call your brothers – all for the greater glory of God.