This is the story of one of YouthWorks’ summer staff alumni, Danielle.
When I originally applied to work for Youthworks, I had no intention of living in the community where I was placed for more than a summer. I was a 19-year-old from the suburbs of Minneapolis and a sophomore at a little private college full of other people like me. My plans for my life included graduating with a degree in education and moving back to my hometown to teach elementary school. So when I felt a pull to drop everything and do mission work for a summer, I figured it would just be a short diversion from the plan. I had no idea that God was pushing me to take the first step on an entirely different path.
When you sign up for Youthworks, the final say in where you spend your summer is not yours. You can make suggestions about where you’d like to go, but in the end the recruitment team prays about it and puts you in the place they feel you would fit best. My suggestion in my interview was that I be placed in a city far from home. “Really, just don’t send me to a reservation,” is what I told my interviewer. Somewhere in the background God was laughing as He chose Wanblee, a town on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, as my new home.
My first summer in Wanblee was unexpected, incredible, difficult, and absolutely life-altering. I was welcomed with open arms into a community working to improve lives and grow strong, resilient children. As the Kids Club Coordinator, I was plunged into a unique position within the community. There’s something about being the meeting point between kids, teenagers, and community members that is both exciting and humbling. It is a space of loving children and teens beyond belief while also knowing that you are a temporary presence in their lives. It is desperately, selfishly wishing they would come to you with their needs, their dreams, and their hurt while also loving them enough to direct them toward adults who will be with them long after you’re gone.
Somewhere in all of this difficult, painful love, God let me know that I wouldn’t be done in Wanblee at the end of the summer. That fall, I applied to Youthworks again in hopes of returning to the community I had grown to love. I also took two road trips to visit my South Dakota friends.
It was on one of these trips that the idea of student teaching came up in conversation. The school in Wanblee was interested in having me complete my student teaching with them in Fall 2018, and I was thrilled. Suddenly, the path God was laying out for me seemed clear. Bursting with excitement, I brought the news to the Director of Student Teaching at my college. I explained what an amazing opportunity this was and that it was where I wanted to teach after college. She smiled sadly at me, shook her head, and explained that it wasn’t possible. I left her office that day utterly crushed.
As usual, God’s plan was better than anything I could have imagined at the time. Three months later, the Director called me into her office to let me know that she had been in contact with Crazy Horse School in Wanblee. Not only would I be allowed to student teach there, but the school and my college were forming a partnership which would make the school a site for future student teachers.
In the months since then, I’ve spent as much time in Wanblee as I have at home. I ran Kids Club here for a second summer, and I’m in the middle of a two month student teaching position in fourth grade at Crazy Horse School. The community has truly adopted me as one of its own, and the question now has become whether I will live here and continue teaching after graduation. It’s a question the school has asked me and I have asked myself over and over. As of right now, I don’t yet have an answer, and I’m strangely okay with that. If I’ve learned anything from my time in Wanblee, it’s that my life is not my own and my surrender is necessary for moving forward. Whether I end up teaching here or elsewhere, it will not be by my own accord but by God alone.