Doing Good in the Badlands

The Second Presbyterian group after an “amazing” hike in the Badlands.

The Second Presbyterian group after an “amazing” hike in the Badlands.
The Second Presbyterian group after an “amazing” hike in the Badlands.

An eager group of 16 teenagers and six adults from Second Presbyterian Church left their comfortable beds, game systems, free time, and  families behind on June 19 to drive to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

Plagued by poverty and haunted by an adolescent suicide rate four times the national average, Pine Ridge is home to the Oglala Tribe of the Lakota Sioux. One of the many Indian Reservations in the United States, it is the largest and the poorest. It is also a place of history (Wounded Knee Massacre), the majestic beauty of the Badlands, and a people with a history and culture unlike our own; yet they are our brothers and sisters in many ways.

The adventurous group was housed off the reservation at two churches in Kadoka, SD. They bunked with youth from churches from three other states and an energetic staff of young adults from YouthWorks, who would provide the leadership, guidance and reflection for the week. The youth were split into work groups and sent out on the Rez (The Reservation), where they worked for two days with children of the Rez at Kids’ Club, which is a combination of Vacation Bible School and Summer Day Camp. The youth experienced the joy of being embraced by a child wanting to befriend the new person in their lives. Youth who sometimes may feel unnoticed and overlooked, were looked up to and unconditionally loved by children who simply wanted a piggyback ride or someone to push them on the swings.

Half of the week consisted of Kids’ Club, and the other half involved painting houses and a church on the reservation. Several of the youth from Second Presbyterian got to paint a small white church, where Carol Lee and her husband, Dick, minister to the local community members. The church was built in 1915 and served as a one-room schoolhouse in Kadoka before the Lee’s helped purchase and move the building to the Rez, where it has been used as a church for the past 40 years. The building had been painted with graffiti and the windows are now boarded up because the glass had been repeatedly broken. Hopefully, the work done there will show that this building is worth taking care of.

As high school senior Annie Watts said of the trip, “Getting to play with the children and painting houses really makes you feel like you made a difference in someone’s life!”

Evening activities included a scavenger hunt at the famous Wall Drug store, a hike in the Badlands, a native speaker who spoke about how his faith in God had impacted his life on the Rez, and a sunset worship service beneath a beautiful 38-foot metal sculpture cross. Other destinations included Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where they were able to kiss the bricks at the finish line (an Indy 500 tradition), and stand on the victory podium.  To read more about the trip and view many more photos, visit the trip blog site at, created by Sam Prescott, one of the youth who attended the last two years.

Along with hard work and fun times, the youth also experienced another culture and lifestyle, without even leaving the country.

Junior Derek Sheehan, who has attended twice, stated, “This trip also helped me become a stronger person by helping me understand the feeling of being a minority and being put outside of your comfort zone.”

These young people were able to change lives and make a positive difference in the world, while their lives were also changed through those same experiences.