WESTON, Mass. – "To serve and lead as advocates for a more just and compassionate global society."
That is part of the mission statement of Regis College. Founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston, the school aims to follow four core values, including "love and service of the Dear Neighbor without distinction."
In late May, just two weeks after the conclusion of the Spring 2019 semester, 11 Regis College students, including nine student-athletes, traveled to South Dakota to volunteer at the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation on behalf of Simply Smiles, a non-profit organization that provides bright futures for impoverished children, their families, and their communities.
Led by Bridget Buoniconti, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs & Director of Residence Life; Sarah Assante, assistant coach for the Pride women's basketball team over the past two years; and Jacob DeRusha, a Boston College graduate student completing an internship with Regis Campus Ministry, the trip consisted of working with kids attending a week-long camp, as the Regis students were tasked with planning and executing activities that inspired the kids and put smiles on their faces. The Regis students worked with the campers on arts and crafts, making snacks, hiking adventures, relay races, and basketball clinics, plus other activities.
Cole Anderson (track and field) and Madi McLellan (softball) served as student leaders on the trip and were joined by Mary Costantino (field hockey & lacrosse), Rosa Demartinis, Shannon Kelley (basketball), Emma Kelly (softball), Rachel Nadeau (lacrosse), Marissa Prall (basketball), Brian Wagner (lacrosse), Hannah Walworth, and Hope Winkin (field hockey).
Before traveling to South Dakota, the students completed a one-credit co-curricular class attempting to understand the history and the culture of the Lakota. They also put together fundraising activities to cover the expense of the trip. However, the students and staff leaders could not fully grasp the reality of life on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation until they physically arrived and began interacting with the residents.
"Our students were fully present to realities of the Lakota people, including high rates of drug abuse, alcoholism, physical abuse, and teen suicide. The students reflected on how they could listen, understand, and then respond. Our trip did not end when we returned to Boston; our mission now is to share what we have seen and work for change," Buoniconti said.
The Regis students also had several opportunities to talk to and learn from the elders of the reservation, including one of the most well-known Native American activists, Madonna Thunder Hawk, recently an honorary degree recipient at fellow GNAC school Simmons University. She was one of the American Indian Movement (AIM) leaders who fought for Native liberation and survival as a community of extended families. The students saw Madonna Thunder Hawk's documentary "Warrior Women", the recipient of the Best Documentary award at the 2019 Vancouver International Women in Film Festival.
"Everyone on the trip had a moment of realization that people within our borders live in such poverty and with a lack of resources. It took some time for them to understand that the idea of playing simple games and adding a little imagination could put smiles on these kids' faces and even save some of their lives," Assante said. "All of our volunteers didn't want to leave because they got to spend a week in a beautiful place impacting people and creating relationships that would stick with them forever. We started the trip with a commonality of Regis College, but we left as a family that went through a life-changing experience, and we are grateful for the opportunity."
Students at Regis College have several opportunities annually to take part in a Service Immersion Trip through the Center for Ministry and Service. During the 2019-20 academic year, trips are planned for New Orleans, Los Angeles and the U.S./Mexico Border, and Kisumu, Kenya during Winter Break and for Puerto Rico during Spring Break.
Student Testimonials – Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation Immersion Service Trip – Late May 2019
Mary Costantino: As humans age, they begin to understand the idea of happiness. Rather than being continuous, the feeling derives in waves. In the meantime, one moves through their day, finding the little things which makes the passing time endurable. Oftentimes, when the wave takes longer, we use our friends and families as punching bags to try and release our pain. With this said, when we age, we forget what is really important. But on the reservation, as a result of abuse, poverty and misfortune, the children grow up 10 times faster. In order to get through each day, these children, just like adults, have to find little pieces of happiness. A smile which shows how grateful they are for each day at camp. A smile which can light up a room filled with adults who can so easily be put in despair. A smile which gets one by to the following day.
Emma Kelly: Spending a week in South Dakota meant so much to me. Being able to dedicate all of my time to the kids there was such a great experience because not only did it mean so much to me, but to them as well. It was nice to be free from my phone which allowed me to further immerse myself in this experience. The people I met in La Plant are people I will remember forever. I hope I will be lucky enough to return next year.
Shannon Kelley: South Dakota was my favorite experience of the summer and something I will never forget! Meeting such great kids and getting to know so many amazing people was something so special to me. My favorite memory of the trip was just being able to play basketball all day with the kids because they seemed to love the sport, and when it got competitive it was really enjoyable!
Rachel Nadeau: The trip to South Dakota to me was about opening up in tough times and appreciation for what I have. The trip was eye opening and really showed me that there are people with much less than me blissfully unaware that they are financially less stable than the majority of people. For me, opening up about feelings and emotions isn't easy, but this trip showed me that it's important for people to share how they're feeling. It's freeing knowing that other people have the same feelings.
Marissa Prall: South Dakota truly changed my outlook on life and the things I not only appreciate but the people who I am surrounded by back at home. Seeing how little this reservation and the families inside of it have made me take a step back and look at all of the things I have taken for granted. My favorite memory in South Dakota was on the second day of camp when I began to get to know all of the younger boys who had played basketball. We moved inside to the gym that day, and I realized their true love and passion for the game of basketball. I had a couple conversations with the middle school boys, and that was the start of many relationships I had built that week. They have impacted my life so much in such a little amount of time, and I hope I impacted them as well. I am extremely grateful to have gone on this trip and met the great people on the reservation.
Hope Winkin: The South Dakota trip has really affected me as a leader and as a person. While I at first didn't know exactly what I was going to get into, I now realize the impact that one can have on a community of underprivileged children. My favorite memory that I carry with me is the relationship I built with an autistic boy named Trevor. Trevor and I would shoot basketballs for the majority of the day, and even though there were times when I was tired and sweaty and didn't want to play basketball anymore, I still stayed on the court with him and played. This experience has given me a new perspective in life, and I look forward to bringing the experiences back to Regis.