A Trip to Pine Ridge for William Smith High School Students

by Chelsea Audin, Math Teacher at William Smith High School

Chelsea Audin and Matt DiOrio are two teachers from William Smith High School in Aurora, Colorado. They teach math and English (respectively) and recently worked with students on a service based class to Pine Ridge Reservation. William Smith is a High School that values service, community and student exposure to new experiences and culture. 

As two teachers from Aurora, Colorado, we were looking for ways for our students to gain cultural perspective while feeling the ability to engage in lasting work that authentically impacts a specific community. We have partnered with Trees, Water & People in the past to work with Henry Red Cloud and Lakota Solar Enterprises. This year, we were able to expand this learning opportunity and create a short class in which 18 high school students began by learning about the history of the Lakota Sioux Tribe and ended with a week of service and collaboration on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Prepped with historical background of the culture, struggles, and traditions of the Lakota people, students understood the importance of land, nature, and preservation and thus understood the partnership between Lakota Solar Enterprises and Trees, Water & People.

Our first day with Henry, Trees, Water & People delivered 33,000 seedlings that would help reforest lands in Pine Ridge that had been devastated by two wildfires within the last decade. In preparation for the delivery, it took all 22 of us all morning to re-roof the greenhouse. Imagine flying a 75ft by 50ft kite, because that is what it felt like to hold down the roof until it was connected properly — needless to say, this would have been far more difficult without our small army of students.

Students fix green house
The students of William Smith High School work together with Henry Red Cloud to repair the greenhouse, despite windy conditions.

Aside from the physical accomplishment of seeing the new roof secure on the greenhouse just as it started to rain, our experience was enhanced as we worked alongside Henry and others from Lakota Solar Enterprises to accomplish this task. Our students quickly gained the confidence to ask questions and engage in conversation with these individuals in order to enhance their understanding of the culture and traditions of the Lakota, as well as the vast number of people this work would impact.

At home, students are able to travel down the block in order to have access to fresh food; Henry is working tirelessly to provide as much access as possible for others on Pine Ridge through sharing the food produced in this greenhouse and on his farm. Through education and stewardship, he also encourages others to replicate his work in order to provide fresh food for themselves.

William Smith High School students with trees
The students of William Smith High School, along with Henry Red Cloud and Trees, Water & People unloaded over 30,000 seedlings into the newly repaired greenhouse.

The culminating work on our trip was the planting of nearly 600 seedlings.  Henry explained to our students that the trees they were planting would have a 200-year legacy.  Each tree will provide both the habitat and oxygen necessary for the reservation to be sustainable.  Our students left with the knowledge that while they are helping by providing service to a community in need, their work will mean more as it will continue to help a culture in need.

If you are interested in learning more about group trips to the Sacred Earth Lodge on the Pine Ridge Reservation, sign up for our monthly eNewsletter for upcoming opportunities.

 

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Volunteer Opportunity: Help Build the Red Cloud Training Annex

Our dedicated volunteer base makes all our projects a success!
Our dedicated volunteer base makes all of our projects a success!

Take this opportunity to travel to our Tribal Renewable Energy Program’s headquarters on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota for a long weekend of fun, hard work, and new experiences! Although it is only a five hour drive from the Trees, Water & People office in Fort Collins, Colorado, a trip to Pine Ridge offers a life-changing experience in an entirely different culture.

What: Volunteer Weekend
Where: Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center, Pine Ridge Reservation, SD
When: Thursday, April 4 – Monday, April 8
Who: Flexible volunteers who like adventure, hard work, lots of fun, and all kinds of weather. Volunteers 14-18 are welcome with adult companions.
Why: Learn about the Oglala Lakota culture, meet new people, and help finish construction of the Red Cloud Training Annex.

Volunteers are invited to arrive anytime after 6p.m. on Thursday, April 4. We will host full work days Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Projects will end by 5p.m. on Sunday, and volunteers are welcome to head home Sunday evening or on Monday morning. The primary focus of this trip will be to progress with the construction of the new Training Annex. We will be painting walls, installing windows and other fixtures, and doing whatever else the building needs at that point. Additional needs may arise between now and our trip (work in the garden? chop firewood?) – flexibility is a must. Projects may be outdoors and certainly will not take place in a climate-controlled environment.

Food:

  • TWP will provide food for volunteers during their time in Pine Ridge.
  • Food purchased by TWP will be vegan (no animal products). Feel free to bring your own food if you desire.
  • TWP cooking equipment and utensils will be available for use.
  • Volunteers will be responsible for preparing all their own food, including group dinners.

Transportation:

  • All volunteers are responsible for their own transportation and related costs getting to Pine Ridge.
  • I will be happy to coordinate carpools where possible.
  • Our facility is located down a short dirt road. Many sedans have traveled it.

Lodging:

  • Volunteers are encouraged to camp on the Red Cloud Renewable Energy campus and must bring their own camping equipment to do so. Weather will be unpredictable, so only those comfortable in the outdoors should camp.
  • Also available will be bunks for up to 14 volunteers, who will share a room with up to 6 other individuals (co-ed).

To volunteer, please email the following information to Lacey Gaechter, National Director, at lacey@treeswaterpeople.org.

  1. Name of all people in your volunteer party
  2. Email addresses for all people in your volunteer party
  3. Your cell phone number
  4. Which days you have available to travel to and work in Pine Ridge
  5. Where you will be coming from and returning to (e.g. most people will be coming from Fort Collins, CO)
  6. Whether you will be camping or require a bunk in our loft (first come, first served!)
  7. Do you need a ride?
  8. Can you offer a ride – if so, for how many people?
  9. Any other questions you have

Once Lacey has confirmed your spot, she will email you directions to the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center and provide you additional details about the trip.

Can’t join us in April? Join us the weekend of May 2-5 for a tree planting volunteer trip. Save the date and keep your eye out for more details!