Well, I know I've been talking a lot about my trip here in South Dakota, so I just wanted to close up with a quick reflection on the week. The Green's Farms youth group ran a great camp for the kids on the reservation, and 62 kids came throughout the week. It was so much fun getting to know all of them, and getting to spend time with them! I'm not sure who had more fun - me or the campers - but I know that we all enjoyed spending time together! Bringing joy and encouragement to deserving children is a worthwhile mission, and I'm so glad that I could be a part of it.
Our camp ended with a talent show, cookout, and movie, so of course, I decided to make a little video about it...
Then yesterday (Friday) we organized a community giveaway, meal and concert. We gave away a bag of much needed household and personal items to 50 families, and shared a meal of Indian Tacos with those who came. We hosted the event at the Eagle Butte Pow Wow Grounds, and I was the musician that ended the night with a mini-concert.
In order to truly explain the significance of this performance, I need to give you a bit of history. Last year, I came out to Eagle Butte for the first time to help work on repairing the Boys and Girls Club. We didn't get to run a children's camp, but we did get to meet a few kids that would come around and talk with us every day.
One of the boys that we met was, Daryn.
One glance at this kid, and you know that he's a piece of work. He has a LOT of personality, and we got a kick out of him at the work site last year. At the same time we were getting to know Daryn, we received news that on the other side of town, a boy his same age, had just attempted suicide.
I don't know if you remember being six, but I do. Mrs. La Plant was my 1st grade teacher, it was the year I started piano lessons, I went to my first music concert (New Kids on the Block), and I had the lead in our class play. I had a great childhood. So, it was impossible for me to understand that a 6-year-old could ever be sad enough and hopeless enough to try and end his own life.
I left South Dakota last year with an overwhelmingly heavy heart.
Then last fall, my friend, Amy, asked me if I would lead her youth group during their volunteer week in South Dakota. I agreed, and started to get more and more excited as we discussed the week and our plans. One of the things that we discussed was a concert on the reservation, and we were thrilled to find out that the tribe was going to grant us permission to use their pow wow grounds to host the event.
As the year progressed, we (Simply Smiles) started working on a challenging new project in Mexico, the earthquake in Haiti hit, the economy continued to disappoint, and that heavy-hearted feeling that I had experienced when leaving South Dakota last July returned. So I decided to create my own joy...and write some songs about hope.
The first song that came about was, "Keep Hope Alive", and it has a verse about a 'little boy living on the prairie'. As I'm sure you can imagine, every time I sing that line, I picture Daryn's goofy grin staring at me, and each time I sing the song, I sing that verse as a prayer to keep him hopeful, and keep his spirit light.
This past week, when I returned to the reservation, I was so happy to see Daryn a year older and a year wiser, and with the same amount of joy as last year! My full circle moment, however, arrived last night when I sang "Keep Hope Alive" to the very people (and boy!) that I wrote the song about, in their beautiful pow wow grounds. It is a moment that I will never forget.
As you can see in the photo, I couldn't even open my eyes! For one, I couldn't believe that the moment was real, and second, I didn't think that I'd be able to keep it together.
I am so honored to have been able to have this experience, and I am so grateful to all of the people that made it possible. It was a beautiful night - one that I'll never forget.
This year, I am leaving South Dakota with a happy heart, and I can't wait to come back.