Group returns from service trip to South Dakota
Penn State New Kensington students, staff and faculty visited South Dakota May 6 to 12 on a service trip where they installed computers at a women’s shelter and a children’s home, spent time with children at an Indian school and learned about the history and culture of the area.
The Rotary service organization helped to support the trip, which included 14 individuals from Penn State New Kensington. Theresa Bonk, Director of Student Affairs at Penn State New Kensington said that the group traveled more than 1,000 miles through South Dakota. They visited Eagle Butte, the capital of the Cheyenne River Reservation. At the Sacred Heart Center, the group installed 15 computers at a women’s shelter and a children’s home.
“Our students learned so many things, but I think the most important thing was that there are some real challenges that are facing many of the Native Americans living in our country,” Bonk said. “So many were surprised by the fact that there was so much land in South Dakota (but) not a lot of development.”
At St. Joseph’s Indian School in Chamberlain, South Dakota, the group stayed with students at the school during their classes. The school serves children from the Lakota Sioux Nation.
“This was an amazing gift, as the school rarely allows outsiders to visit with the children within their classes,” Bonk said. Her group sat in on a first grade Native American cultures class.
“We sat with a little girl who got into a conversation with us about going to powwows,” Bonk said. “She was like any other six-year-old, cute and full of smiles and giggles. She was a little surprised and disappointed with us when we told her we had never been to a powwow. So she shared with us what happens, lots of dancing, which she loves, food, ceremonies, drums and games.”
Penn State students and staff also shared information about their own experiences at the school, Bonk said. At a dinner later that day, they talked to high school students from St. Joseph’s about Penn State New Kensington and showed a student life video to the class. Patty Brady, Director of Enrollment Management, discussed the transitions between high school and college and financial aid. Applied psychology major Shanna Williams and information sciences and technology major Lauren Richards, talked about life on campus.
The trip included a number of other activities, among them, visits to the Wounded Knee Massacre site, the Black Hills, Red Cloud Indian School Heritage Center and Mount Rushmore, as well as a number of other Native American cultural and heritage sites. The group also was allowed to sit in on a tribal council meeting of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.
“My favorite part, and I’ve told everyone this, was that we were able to get to know the staff at Sacred Heart Center and that they shared with us their culture,” Bonk said. “These women and men are very dedicated to making things better. They are wonderful. My two favorite people were Marci and Elaine, two Lakota women on the staff at Sacred Heart.”