The weeklong fall break had 10 Warren Wilson students and staff/faculty leaders Janet Jones and Gary Lilley traveling great distances, waking up early each day, and doing community service in one of the poorest counties in the country. Their destination was Pine Ridge, South Dakota on the Lakota Sioux reservation.
The trip was made in conjunction with Conscious Alliance's Youth Against Hunger project, a nonprofit that helps sponsor efforts to alleviate hunger and poverty. Justin Levy, Warren Wilson senior and Conscious Alliance employee, initiated this partnership and came to facilitate as a trip leader.
Upon arriving in Pine Ridge, Justin steered the group to community organizers Floyd and Natalie Hand, who shared their local expertise. Going beyond their duty of showing the volunteers how to sort and deliver food, the Hands helped students to understand a different reality, one that includes devastation and generational poverty. The reservation unemployment hovers around eighty-five percent, and on the seams of the reservation, in the town of Whiteclay, four liquor stores are profiting from despair.
The students asked many questions. "Floyd and Natalie Hand respected our need to know and educated us constantly," Janet Jones said.
Students evaluated the trip as having many personal challenges and rewards. One such test was a spontaneous roofing job on a 100 year-old house, with odd angles, that was a two-hour drive from the supply store.
Students also reflected on their favorite aspects. "I really liked the delivery of food and the interactions we had within the community--especially fixing Floyd's brother's house and picking up trash," one student said. Another mentioned, "the sweat lodge and being openly accepted into other cultural aspects of the Lakota, and finishing a job we started before the harsh weather blew in."
A spring break trip and eight-week summer trip are in the works, and the group has brainstormed building a bunkhouse, garden, language school, and recycling program. Funding for the first trip came from Conscious Alliance and many other contributors including alumni, parents, staff and faculty. Fundraising also including the selling of bumper stickers and a "Miss-a-Meal," in which the Warren Wilson dining hall financially compensated for 400 meals that were skipped in one day.
There were a total of five service trips this fall break, each with their own successes; but one student's bias came scribbled in an evaluation, "Pine Ridge is, in my opinion, the best place to have a service trip."