Kindness Comes to the Rosebud Reservation

“No more homework! No more books! No more teachers’ dirty looks!” With apologies to all of my teacher friends out there, does anyone else remember singing this song on the last day of school?

I have very vivid memories of a warm, sunny day at Westside Elementary in Reedsburg, Wis. I don’t remember which grade I was in, but I do remember taking off at a dead sprint down the sidewalk when the last bell rang for summer. My friends and I ran and laughed and chanted those words at the top of our lungs. Ahhh … summer. I’m sure my parents were as thrilled as I was. Or maybe not.

I’m pretty certain the recent graduates of Park Christian High School didn’t run down the streets of Moorhead singing any songs, but I bet there is one experience that they, too, will remember well into adulthood.

Park Christian teacher Matt Larson took a group of students on a senior mission trip this spring to work on a reservation in Rosebud, S.D. His thoughts on kindness were beautiful, as were the thoughts of his students.

“I think the first thing that we learned on this trip is that life is not about us. This trip took our eyes off ourselves and helped us focus on people around us,” Larson wrote.

“The woman who manages the Habitat for Humanity dorms we stayed in has been a missionary in both Sudan and Haiti and now in Rosebud. She told us that the toughest place of all three is the Rosebud reservation. They have 87 percent unemployment and are the third-poorest county in the United States (after Pine Ridge and Cheyenne River, also both in South Dakota). Many of these kids come from terrible home situations, and look forward to school and the community club where they will be valued, loved, fed and cared for.

“We teamed up with the local Boys & Girls Club where our seniors played for three days with the kids and loved every minute of it. There was an immediate bond as they helped with homework, played games, spent time outside, and taught the kids finger weaving.

“We also had students painting the baseball dugouts, creating a fenced-in garden, working on broken vehicles and still others who cooked, cleaned, and served quietly in the background.

“I hope to do this every year with the senior class. I also hope that our relationship with these kids at the Boys & Girls Club of Rosebud is not just a once a year thing. We intend to write letters, send needed things, and pray for them regularly.”

Here’s what the students had to say:

Xander Grohman: “Jayden looked at me and said, ‘You’re my hero.’ All I thought was he was the real hero.”

Jordyn Viland: “Many of these kids are abused in some way, and yet they have this unspeakable joy. It amazes me! I’ve realized now how much I’ve taken for granted in life.”

Olivia Thimjon: “Seeing the kids on Rosebud Indian Reservation completely changed my life … They taught me to be joyful in every situation. They completely stole my heart.”

Nick Nelson: “A few of us spent time building a garden starting with just a 20-by-30-foot lot on virgin soil. When we were finished we had a garden with a fence around it and completely turned up soil. We painted the fence and built the whole thing with hand tools. It was a lot of fun.”

Lexi Madlom: “Going to Rosebud was such a great experience … Seeing how the kids live in abusive, broken homes, and yet they are still happy, makes me look at my life and see how I can learn to make my mindset more like their mindset.”

Christian Borgen: “This trip was very eye opening for me. Seeing how joyful these children were in the face of such adversity made me aware of how much I have to be thankful for. I’m so grateful I’ve had this opportunity to make a difference in these kids’ lives, even for a few days.”

Bryce Payne: “Chilling with the kids was a memorable experience. They are filled up with so much joy. By far, the best trip with my class yet.”

I think the Park Christian students did a remarkable job of illustrating the truth that when you seek to change someone else’s life with kindness, the life you change is your own.

Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at info@nicolejphillips.com. Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.

Nicole J. Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo. She is a writer, speaker and mother of three kids. Nicole is married to Ohio University’s men’s head basketball coach Saul Phillips. Her columns run every Saturday.

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