Support for South Dakota

PV junior stresses the importance of visiting underprivileged communities


Julie Allmers

Junior Ellie Kim stands with two children outside of the Cheyenne River Youth Project building. She addresses the importance to give back to communities in need following the service trip to South Dakota.

(Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of The Smoke Signal or its staff.)

I watched as the buildings and restaurants quickly turned into rolling plains and cornfields on the bus drive from the hotel in Rapid City to the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation for three hours. The reservation was a tiny town located in the middle of nowhere. 

As part of the Pascack Valley club, One Spirit, I had made the trip to South Dakota during the last week of July in order to help out at the Cheyenne River Youth Project CRYP, a small building on the reservation for toddlers to teens to spend their free time. 

While many of us always hear about underprivileged communities, few of us know what it is like to experience being in one. 

Throughout the year I had learned about the reservation, but I did not realize just how badly American history had affected their community. While having previous knowledge of the 80% unemployment rate and it being one of the poorest Native American reservations in America, when I arrived, I was still stunned by what I saw.

PV juniors Julie Allmers and Nicole Massey climb the jungle gym with children who visit the Cheyenne River Youth Project daily.

Within the CRYP, one of the main duties that the other students and I had was to feed the kids dinner. Each child was only guaranteed to get half a grilled cheese sandwich and a small bowl of canned tomato soup. For some of them, it would be the only meal of the day. On the contrary, the PV community and those surrounding us are never in any shortage of food. 

I felt how isolated the reservation really was when a little girl had told me something I had never heard before, seeing as I live in a relatively ethnically diverse area. She had said that I was the first Asian person she had ever seen in real life. Another girl asked me if I was Chinese, as it was the only Asian ethnicity that she could name. It was disheartening to hear how limited her knowledge of the world was. 

PV history teacher Leah Jerome, senior Kathleen Gifford, and junior Nicole Massey play games with children in the Cheyenne River Youth Project gym.

Despite only being at the reservation for two days, the kids had grown attached to us all. It felt awful to tell them that we could not promise them anything when they asked if we would ever come back. No one ever wants to disappoint a child.

My group and I were able to go back to Rapid City every night, yet those at the reservation did not have that luxury. While we were able to go back to our comfy beds and buffet breakfasts, most had never stepped foot outside of their town. 

These people are not a statistic, they can not and should not be ignored. They do not want saviors, they simply want to be understood. Something as small as giving a child your undivided attention can make all the difference in their life.

As part of a privileged community, every single one of us should be doing our best to give back to those who need it the most. Every student at PV should go on the One Spirit trip to South Dakota, and if not that one, then one similar to it. When you go on trips like this, it opens your eyes to the reality outside of our community and allows you to walk away a little more humbled.

I know I did.