Giving the gift of imagination, reading

In late May, just days after Mount Mercy’s 2013 Commencement ceremonies, the students at St. Joseph’s Indian School in Chamberlin, South Dakota, received a welcome visit from a Mount Mercy student (David Stemper, ‘14), a very recent alumna (Katrina Prudue, ‘13), their professor (Dr. Norma Linda Mattingly) and Mount Mercy’s Coordinator of Volunteerism & Service Learning (Brooke Oehme). Thanks to the efforts of Sister Shari Sutherland and the Sisters of Mercy, the university guests made the seven hour trek from Cedar Rapids to Chamberlin to bring the school much needed and coveted items – books.

The book collection project started when Dr. Mattingly’s class studied the effects of government and state policies on the education of Native Americans. During class discussion, one student mentioned that the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation accepted donations.  Pine Ridge is a home for the Lakota in South Dakota, and was a focus of Dr. Mattingly’s lecture.

Realizing what a great opportunity they had to serve the common good, Dr. Mattingly asked her class if they would like to collect donations for the Lakota. Immediately, they agreed. “I could sense their excitement at the prospect of serving in this way,” said Mattingly.

Group photo in front of St. Joe’s

The class agreed that St. Joseph Indian School, which educates Pine Ridge children, would be a great focus for their project. Pillows, clothes, and personal care items were initially gathered. Soon St. Joseph staff made a special request.

The school’s key necessity? Educational books, especially those of interest to boys, to stock their library.

“The books they had were getting old and a lot of the students had gotten bored with them,” said Oehme.

Once the need was identified, students in Dr. Mattingly’s education class set to work collecting care items and books around campus. Dr. Mattingly’s son even got involved with the book drive by asking those who attended his birthday to bring books for donation rather than presents for him. In total, the book drive collected more than 100 books for the students at St. Joseph’s.

St. Joseph’s was founded to serve Lakota children in need of a safe, stable education and culturally-rich home environment. Privately owned and operated by the Priests of the Sacred Heart, St. Joseph’s Indian School offers a quality education for children in first through eighth grades; however, the attention students at St. Joseph receive doesn’t end with their education.

Students live in unique residential group homes with house parents and up to 12 other children, ages six through high school. The group homes allow the children, who often come from broken homes and families, to experience healthy family dynamics while they get the encouragement and support they need to be academically successful.

“What happens at St. Joseph’s is really special because, while providing an education and tribe-like living arrangements, the school also allows students to stay connected to their Lakota heritage,” said Oehme. “The people at the school want to help them figure out who they are as Lakota.”