Simply Smiles is a passionately run organization that is focused on making life better for the people of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, and those living in Oaxaca, Mexico. When I first heard founder Bryan Nurnberger speak about his work I knew I needed to be part of the solution. I've volunteered on the Reservation every year since 2012, and have been impressed with the collaborative relationship of the Simply Smiles staff and the Lakota people. Bryan Nurnberger cultivated those relationships through genuine active listening to learn more about individuals and what their needs were and are. Simply Smiles thoughtfully responds to those needs through programs, services and creating safe spaces. Volunteers get to experience cultural immersion, service to others, learning new skills, creating connections, resilience, and great satisfaction.
Spending a portion of summer 2019 at the Simply Smiles Home for Children in Oaxaca, Mexico was one of the most uplifting experiences I have had. The staff have created such a loving home, and the children are so creative and kind. I have been on numerous service trips as an educator, and Simply Smiles offers a wonderful blend of work projects, cultural education and enrichment, and relationship building. Eating meals as a family, washing dishes, the daily work project, jokes, kickball, and evening reflection give a glimpse of our days. Painting the children's bedrooms with colors they chose was a highlight-enabling me to see a physical product of my time there, but the emotional connections are those I value most. The weekly groups of volunteers ranged from mother/daughter teams to couples, college students to empty nesters like myself- all united to support this amazing organization. Oaxaca’s culture is so rich and diverse. So many in the US have misperceptions about this remarkable region . Leaving the Simply Smiles Home for Children was heart wrenching- and my limited Spanish could not transmit my affection for the children and their caretakers. I wholeheartedly recommend Simply Smiles as an organization to learn more about!
I've worked with numerous international nonprofit organizations in roles from volunteer, donor, paid staffer, to board member. Simply Smiles is one of the best I've ever seen. Their transparency with donors, grassroots based models of engagement, and communication products are all models for the rest of us to follow in the nonprofit sector. I love getting Simply Smiles emails in my inbox and seeing the progress they're making working alongside indigenous communities in the US and Mexico. Keep up the great work, guys!
I had the privilege of spending my Fall vacation time in 2019 work with Simply Smiles on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota. Their newest and most audacious project is to build a children's village on the reservation where foster children can live with Native foster parents on the reservation rather than being put into non-Native foster homes. The work was hard but extremely rewarding, and we were reminded of how hard it is to survive on the reservation when we'd have to drive hours to get a simple pipe fitting we forgot on our last shopping trip. Seeing our Lakota friends when they stopped by was fantastic, and seeing the first of many children's village homes almost done when we left was event more exciting! I can't wait to see the first foster families moving in this spring!
My wife and I have been supporting SS and volunteering in their operations in South Dakota and Mexico for about 10 years. The organization is wonderful, wherever they get involved, huge progress is made towards their goals of creating bright smiles and good futures for children and adults alike. Their commitment and passion goes far beyond their incredible founder Bryan Nurnberger; but he is their tireless leader and his commitment inspires us all to give more and more time and money to ensure the success of his initiatives!
Review from Guidestar
This was my first time volunteering with Simply Smiles this past Summer. It is an experience that I will always hold with me. We had the opportunity to work on the new Children’s Village that is being created as well as working as a part of the after school program within the town of La Plant, SD. The staff was incredibly helpful and kind to the entire volunteer group. I hope to be able to go back soon!
This was my second trip to the Lakota Sioux Cheyenne River Reservation. We spend the mornings helping construct the first house of a children’s village and the afternoon supporting summer camp for the kids. The work was hard - but so rewarding- I really enjoyed my stay. And I can’t say enough about the Simply Smiles Staff! So dedicated to the cause - but also well organized and supportive of the volunteers.
Over this past summer I volunteered at Simply Smiles in Oaxaca with a group of kids from my high school. It was definitely the best opportunity I ever received and nothing could prepare me for the months leading up to the trip. Before we went to Oaxaca, I thought the language barrier was going to be a big issue, and I wasn't sure what we would even be doing. But, once arriving to Simply Smiles, it changed my life. The children there were so happy and I miss them so much. There were two birthdays while I was there and all the kids were very excited. Walking around the area with the kids was always so much fun and they never seemed to stop being interested in the broken pottery. I made a bracelet type thing with rubber string and multiple of the kids worked on it, I'll keep it forever. This completely changed the way I viewed the world and really opened my eyes. I hope to return one day. Thank you
I just finished a week at Simply Smiles - working at the camp, assisting with a bit of construction for the children's village and taking part in a special suicide prevention program for teens. This was a tremendous experience - one that will stay with me for a long time and one that has inspired me to learn more. My fellow volunteers were dedicated and tireless; the staff was professional, kind, caring and creative. But it was the campers and the community that made the biggest impression on me. I smile when I think of the bright eyes and wide grins; I tear up when I think of the burdens they have just to get through each day. Simply Smiles is making contributions to ease those burdens a bit. Thank you Simply Smiles for opening this window. I will stay involved and hope to return to see even more progress on the children's village which should provide hope and health to the Lakota community.
I've participated in a few different volunteer programs on reservations and Simply Smiles has been my favorite by far. They really understand their place within the community and have worked for YEARS to build the relationship they have–and it shows. This year was my second year at Simply Smiles and returning and seeing familiar faces made the experience even better.
Tremendous opportunities to serve, learn, and build relationships with Lakota people. Volunteers help run summer camp, serve community meals, and work to build or improve facilities and homes. Simply Smiles staff are excellent. Serving, learning, and relating to Lakota people in La Plant and nearby communities can be physically, emotionally, and spiritually challenging - this is not "vol-tourism" - but the impact on both the community and volunteers is substantial. I have spent eleven separate weeks with Simply Smiles in La Plant so far, from May of 2103 to August of 2019.
My wife, son, 2 nephews, and I spent the third week of July in 2019 with Simply Smiles on the Cheyenne River Reservation. It was a profound experience. The Simply Smiles staff were, without exception, some of the most positive, caring, and energetic folks we've had the pleasure of being around ever. The work Simply Smiles is doing with the amazing people of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe is admirable and humbling. We are proud to have played a small part in the progress Simply Smiles is making in La Plant and surrounding Lakota communities.
My experience with Simply Smiles in Oaxaca, Mexico was truly inspiring. Every child that I got to spend time with treated me with respect and complete kindness. This organization does more than help children in need. One of their first projects was building houses for workers at the Oaxaca City dump. I will absolutely volunteer again, whether it’s in Oaxaca at the children’s home, or at the Native American reservation in South Dakota. Nothing is more important than raising money and volunteering for such an amazing organization, like this one. Therefore they can continue to help more people in need, all over the world.
My experience with Simply Smiles was uniformly positive and personally impactful. Their clear sense of mission in combination with available support and expertise made my trip memorable and meaningful, whether it was seeing them interact with at-risk youth or lend "hands-on" support to the many volunteers. It is my hope to work with them in the future.
My summer is not complete, without a week in La Plant with Simply Smiles. An amazing place that is now a part of who i am. I have been to La Plant 3 years in a row and each year I have gotten to know the people and the children more and more. Summer Camp is great fun and an opportunity to experience new things with the children that they have never experienced before. during community meals I have gotten to know parents, grandparents and others that call the reservation home. Through my experiences with Simply Smiles and the people of La Plant I have learned so much of their history, culture, the land and their dreams for the future. A people full of HOPE in preserving the land and the culture of the Lakota.
I have been leading work camp trips for 20 years. Without a doubt, our week with Simply Smiles was one of the best I’ve experienced. The staff is focused, energized, gifted and flexible - to name but a few superlatives. Their mission is laser-focused, and it holds together a week that powerfully blends fun (yes, many smiles!) with profound learning. I can’t recommend Simply Smiles strongly enough!
Kyle told me of his spirit animals as he weaved bracelets, Latum of his dragons as he sat on my shoulders, Angel of his school as he flipped through books, Kambria of her chords as she plucked guitar--- I miss it already; a beautiful place full of heart warming and heart breaking stories. Simply Smiles provides a safe and loving space for children on the reservation. A lot of the kids have faced abuse, hunger, or have difficult home lives. The camp, full of eager and big-hearted volunteers, allows for them to create authentic human connections and friendships. It allows for them to be children-- to play, to laugh, to smile. I'm incredibly grateful to know that in the midst of the hardship, a loving space like Simply Smiles exists. Thank you. Thank you so much.
This second visit to Laplant gave me a very different experience than the one last year. I had more opportunity to engage and acquaint myself with some of the older Lakota. I found them friendly and very interested in me as well. Secondly, The week after my visit to Laplant, I was in northern New Mexico where I became acquainted with the Pueblo culture. It was extremely interesting to see the similarities and the differences between the cultures of the northern Plains natives and the Southwestern native cultures. My commitment to the Native American cultures remains high and I intend to return to Laplant as long as my health allows.
This past spring, I interned with Simply Smiles at their office in Bridgeport, CT. It was a wonderful experience to see how much hard work each member puts into the organization. I really enjoyed the collaboration between the staff, the communities they serve, and the volunteers. Everyone at Simply Smiles genuinely establishes interpersonal relationships and remembers each encounter. Their philosophy in positivity and youth development shows through all of the preparation work they do to coordinate volunteers, fundraise, and empower others. I’ve traveled to the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation twice, and those experiences with Simply Smiles were amazing. Not only was I able to see just how much the staff care for the campers, I saw how the campers viewed the Simply Smiles organization as their home. Simply Smiles truly provides trust, warm, and positivity for not only the community they serve but also the volunteers. Thank you Simply Smiles!
The incredible staff at the Simply Smiles Children's Home in Oaxaca, Mexico have worked tirelessly to create a disciplined, fun, hard-working, happy family. As a junior in high school, I can confidently say I have not had an experience as eye opening and rewarding as my trip to Oaxaca. My week in Mexico was filled with joy and appreciation for the smallest things. I would highly recommend this organization to anyone and everyone for it's dedication to improving the lives of as many people as possible. Words simply cannot describe the impact this amazing community has had on me and not a day goes by that I do not imagine the wonderful things these children will grow up to achieve.
I have never participated in a service trip prior to Simply Smiles, and I had never traveled out of the country without my family. This made my trip to Oaxaca, Mexico a huge leap for me, as I had no idea what to expect. Looking back on my experience, I can confidently say it was one of the greatest weeks of my life. Everything about Simply Smiles was comforting and reminiscent of a big family. The staff members were absolutely incredible, and they were always willing to share their stories or the stories of some of the children. Every single adult in the children's home made me feel so welcome, and they cared about my group as if we had known them forever. I couldn't have asked for a better crew to make up my first extended service trip experience. The staff also genuinely cared for every child and gave them all the attention they deserved. The children treated one another as if they were all brothers and sisters, which added to the comfort and unity of the environment. Within the first day 12 hours of arriving at the children's home, every member of my group immediately acknowledged and admired the disciplinary skills that each and every child possessed. They all knew exactly what to do and when they were responsible for completing their chores. It was incredible to watch them willingly perform any task they were assigned, and always with a smile on their face :) It was so so so difficult to leave them, but I know they are happy and in the best hands they could possibly be in. There is nothing about that week that I would change (except for extending it!!) and I would love to go back again.
Last fall I was thinking of what I wanted to do with my spring break. I certainly didn't want to go home and spend a week lounging on the couch while my parents yelled at me to go do something with my life. I am in my sophomore year at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield CT and was thinking of either doing a service trip or going to Disney World with a couple of friends. I choose to apply and was accepted to go down to the home for children in Oaxaca Mexico for the time of spring break. Boy was I not disappointed on my choice. The time I had down in Mexico with the children and the staff of Simply Smiles was one I will forever remember. We did so many crafts, dancing, and walks before dinner to explore the town and the different streets near the home. If I had to choose a moment that I loved out of the whole trip was being with the kids and eating meals with them. There isn't a specific moment that I liked the most but all I can say is that I loved trying all the new food and experiencing a whole different kind of culture. I miss the kids so much and especially Gaby who manages the home down in Mexico. I can't wait to return in the spring of 2020 for yet another week of fun memories!
I have been doing electrical work on the Cheyenne river Souix Indian reservation in South Dakota for simply smiles for five years. The simply smiles personal are the most important,amazing,kind,helpful,and wonderful people I have ever met.
All my years of volunteering has made me a better person, using my skills helped me touch and make others lives a little better .
I will always be grateful to the people at simply smiles.
I volunteered this summer with Simply smiles on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation for one week. From the time I signed up, to the day I was returned to the Rapid City Airport, the staff could not have been more helpful, encouraging, and unbelievably inspiring. My time with the staff, interns and other volunteers was truly educational and so impactful on my life. I worked very hard to learn from them to make the children's summer camp as enjoyable and safe as possible each day. I was very impressed with the organization of the daily chores, group meetings and the overall logistics of such a huge undertaking. Mostly I was in awe of the love and concern I saw demonstrated consistently towards the kids and the community members whose lives were enhanced by the Simply Smiles staff. I felt very blessed to be a small part of such a well run and extremely important nonprofit.
I have had the honor and joy of volunteering with Simply Smiles for six years. I travel each year to the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation in South Dakota. It has been a life changing adventure and challenge for me. Over the last years, my volunteer group has: made significant improvements to the community center on behalf of the Lakota people; helped build safe and affordable housing;
created an organic garden and provide a fun and educational (hopefully!) camp experience for the local children.
There is no running water and for five of the six years, volunteers have slept on the floor after long hard work days. Challenging, yes! And the Simply Smiles staff and interns are there with you every step of the way. They are positive, encouraging, compassionate and dedicated to improving the lives of the Lakota.
Simply smiles, as an organization, is small, nimble and effective. This allows volunteers the chance to make a real difference with their work. I am so grateful that I have become involved with this organization. I will continue to travel to the reservation for as long as I am able.
I have been volunteering with Simply Smiles for five years. Each spring, I travel and work on the CRST reservation with the Lakota people in South Dakota. I plan on going again in spring 2018 for year six. I was 56 years old on my first trip, a point in my life where it is all to easy to get set in my ways. Simply Smiles changed me profoundly and I will work with them on the reservation for as long as I am physically able to make the trip.
I have helped to build houses, improve the community center, create an organic garden and most importantly provide a happy and safe summer camp for the Lakota children. The reservation is one of the poorest places in America and it is a place where children routinely attempt suicide. Simply Smiles is a small, nimble and focused nonprofit. The staff works with volunteers so that, together, we can truly make a difference in the lives of children on the reservation.
I am humbled and honored to be able to make even the smallest contribution to improving the lives of Native Americans. Simply Smiles changes lives for the better and deserves to be recognized as a Great Nonprofit.
My last 4 summers with Simply Smiles have been the best of the best. When I first heard about the organization and the work that they have done, I knew I had to see it all first hand. So I made my way to one of their locations in La Plant, South Dakota. The first day was rough, but the last day was the absolute hardest. Why you may ask? Because the children that live on the reservation are so damaged from the lifestyle they have had to endure, that it takes time and dedication for them to trust you and open up to you. But when they finally do, they are your very best friends and leaving them weighs so incredibly heavy on your heart. The only way you feel like you can breathe again, after leaving, is by going back the very next summer. Which is what I have been doing, because, after just one week of giving them your all, you can't just not go back. The grunt work, like putting up drywall or hauling cement is tough, not going to lie, but the feeling of knowing you are not only building someones home but their future is far beyond rewarding. The smiles on their faces and the hope in their hearts are because of all the efforts made by Simply Smiles and volunteers.
I have had nothing but beautiful and heartwarming memories during my time in LaPlant. After my first summer there, the kids would ask me, "Are you going to come back next summer".. and after 4 years of returning each summer, they now say "We'll see you next summer." And that's how I know, I've done something right, and I plan to do so for as long as I can.
Simply Smiles does not offer charity - they offer partnerships. With the Lakota in South Dakota, the team offers their time, energy and resources as colleagues. They are successful because of their ability to engage the community.
This is not something that is easy to do. The community has centuries of experience being denigrated and persecuted, and Simply Smiles is slowly but surely proving that what is past is not prologue. Simply Smiles has spent a decade earning the trust of the people in the community.
The Simply Smiles team knows their community. It is important for volunteers to understand this. I have been volunteering for several years, and when I am in South Dakota, I listen and learn. Although I have a wide experience, I can see that Jasmine, Alex, Zach and the rest of the team have a deeper and harder won insight.
They know what works. They know how the community perceives people like us from Connecticut, and how we can contribute to the partnership they have begun. They are very good at learning who we volunteers are, as individuals, and suggest how best we might contribute in the time we are there. Everyone volunteering can benefit by trusting the staff.
The Simply Smiles team is dedicated to a long term collaboration, and not a short term transfer of resources. The time you spend on the team will be humbling, but edifying. Prepare to learn a lot.
Simply Smiles is an organization that puts the community members at the center of all they do. From the beginning, the community has been part of making decisions, offering ideas, and articulating needs. A similar philosophy is what is foundation to the department I direct, so I value so much how Simply Smiles does what they do. Being on the Res and meeting members of the communities brought a new understanding of what connection means at its core. I was honored to be part of the first summer of full day camp where I was able to meet amazing and talented youth and get to know them through activities that they love -- tie dye, basketball, baseball, swings, etc. It was special to have the opportunity to spend time with elders and meet families. After being on the Res myself I feel very confident continuing to send groups of student volunteers to South Dakota. I know their experience will be full, they will grow as people, they will give their whole hearts, and they will be ready to return to our campus equipped as advocates and allies. Thank you La Plant and Simply Smiles.
I initially went on a volunteer trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, with Simply Smiles in 2008. We volunteered at an orphanage, spending time and developing rapport with these children. I was so impressed with the quality of the experience that I went several more times, once building homes for families that literally lived in the dump. What differentiates Simply Smiles from other volunteer opportunities in my experience is the respectful way they treat the people they serve, and developing long term relationships with them that have spanned years. I have since gone to the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota, where I have witnessed their impact on this impoverished area.
I went to the Simply Smiles location on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation. I was able to spend a week interacting with the families and children on the reservation. I was not quite sure what to expect when arriving on the reservation due to the stigma around reservations. I put my worries aside, and got to know the children really well by interacting in the summer camp activities for them. I really enjoyed it! There were a few community meals where I got to talk to some older people that live on the reservation. That was probably one of the most special parts of my trip. We did some hands on projects on the property which was interesting because I got to learn new skills. It is truly difficult to put my experience into words and explain it to others because it was so much fun and such a unique experience from anything I have ever done!
I interned with Simply Smiles this past summer, and it was one of the most impactful experiences of my entire life. This organization brings love to those who need it while preserving dignity and culture above all else! The focus of this organization always has been and always will be the people it served--there is no ego in Simply Smiles. I love this organization with all my heart and can't wait to continue my relationship with them!
What a tremendous experience it is for me to serve as a volunteer with Simply Smiles. It is a top notch organization that is more than capable of working with local, national, and international constituencies. It is my honor to continue working with this wonderful group!
The easiest way to put it is Simply Smiles is Simply Amazing! I was able to meet so many amazing people between the home, the volunteers, and everyone in the community who helped to keep the home running smoothly. My favorite part of the experience was getting to know the children who live at the home. They love to play games, do hair, make projects, and mostly they love to spend time with the volunteers. The Simply Smiles Children's Home is a special place and I can't wait to go back again!
Words will not do justice to the amazing experience I had with Simply Smiles. From each and every email that was promptly answered, I got the feeling that Simply Smiles was a special place and I sure was right.
I spent a week volunteering at the home for children outside of Oaxaca, Mexico. I was floored by how well the week went- everything was so organized and meaningful. I truly am inspired to continue to be a part of this organization and I encourage others to do the same!
I got involved with Simply Smiles to try and have a small impact on the world in which we live. I believe I did that during my trip to the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, but, the trip and organization had a much bigger impact on me as a person. That week I spent with these people (whom I had never met before) turned out to be one of the most memorable of my life.
I have been a volunteer with Simply Smiles for 3 years now and it is the best volunteer organization I have ever worked with! They are extremely organized and prepared for any situation. They truly care about the individuals in the communities they work in. They bring so much hope to the children on the reservation and it is truly inspiring. Making connections with these kids is and volunteering with Simply Smiles is life changing.
Volunteering and interning with Simply Smiles at the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. The staff at Simply are extremely organized and kind. There is always something to do while you are there. As a volunteer in the morning you get a chance to work with staff on construction projects either at the community center or around the community. In the afternoon you get to hangout and make amazing connections with the kids that live on the reservation. You also get a chance to meet other people that live on the reservation at community meals. These are extremely fun because you get a chance to hang out with the kids even more, in addition to hearing stories from the elders on the reservation. I loved volunteering for the first time so much that I knew I wanted to go back and stay for even longer, so I interned! Interning there was amazing! I felt like I was always able to help out in some way whether it be cooking, cleaning, or making long lasting connections with the kids. I felt very helpful and gained an abundant amount of experience working with kids and adults. I was able to make connections with so many of the kids there. For example, I played tag with some of the kids every day, helped one teen with what they were struggling with in school over the summer, and so much more. There are so many ways to connect with each child and make a difference in there day by putting a smile on their face. I can not wait to go back there and volunteer with Simply Smiles again! It is an absolutely life changing experience! The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation will always have a place in my heart.
I've been volunteering with Simply Smiles for six years. Each year I travel to the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation in South Dakota. The work is hard and incredibly meaningful. Simply Smiles is a small and nimble organization focused on the needs of the Lakota people. Volunteers have the chance to make a profound difference in the lives and circumstances of the people on the reservation
Since it began its work in LaPlant South Dakota and Oaxaca, Mexico, Simply Smiles has been an organization of the highest integrity and effectiveness. I have seen firsthand the respect each staff member and volunteer shows for their partners in change- the people of the places where they work. Simply Smiles works hand in hand with them- this is no “let us identify and fix your problem for you” organization. Simply Smiles enters each place and situation humbly, open to seeing the situation of the community or person through their eyes. Together they name issues that need to be addressed and develop plans for doing so.
The effectiveness of Simply Smiles can be seen in the smiles of the children and the hope in the elders eyes. Each victory is hard won. There are plenty of setbacks. But the commitment of Simply Smiles staff and volunteers runs deep; they are in it for the long haul. Being part of this incredible organization is one of the things of which I am most proud.
I have worked with many nonprofit organizations during my career and Simply Smiles is simply the best I have ever had the pleasure to work with. Their deep commitment to working as partners with people in impoverished communities, their respect for the culture of those partners and their unflagging determination in the face of obstacles is unparalleled. Their work changes lives.
I have participated in six service projects with Simply Smiles on the Cheyenne Sioux reservation in South Dakota and each time leave my volunteer week with a sense that in some small way I have been part of shifting the narrative of racism and oppression toward a more just one. Through building homes, acting as friends to the adults and children and honoring the people’s efforts to change their community, Simply Smiles volunteers and staff make a difference.
This group is full of heart. They work non-stop to inspire and implement the belief that everyone deserves a chance in life. Have volunteered 3 times in South Dakota and once in Oaxaca. Walking the walk.
Simply Smiles is a non profit that I have been connected to for around 5 years and couldn't be happier to be a part of. I started as a volunteer with Simply Smiles, traveling to the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota with my high school youth group. That first week I spent on the Reservation was eye opening and I immediately knew I had to do more and be more involved. The following year I participated in their "Win a Trip Contest" and fundraised for them in hopes of helping a good cause and joining another volunteer trip that summer. I ended up being one of six people to win, and was able to join a college group and spent another week on the Reservation. That week we worked on a house for a community member named Kendall, and helped with the summer camp for the kids, as well as provided community meals and programs for everyone who wanted to participate in La Plant. Simply Smiles' approach to helping the community of La Plant was different than any other non-profit I had experienced working with. They didn't move fast and forcefully, but rather they worked side by side with the community, and focused on building relationships and trust before anything. I appreciated this because it really shows how they work to meet the needs the community vocalizes and provide resources and tools for the community members, and children to be successful and change their lives. They are very thoughtful in everything that they do, and it truly shows when you see how hard they work, and how far they have come.
After volunteering 2 years in a row (for a week each time), I felt connected to the people of La Plant and wanted to do more. I applied as an intern and that summer I spent 2 months on the Rez helping facilitate the volunteer groups each week, running summer camp, planning community meals, cooking, and connecting with people. This experience was hugely life changing. I developed deeper relationships with the community and year after year when I go back, I have kept these connections and been able to build on them. Just this year I had the opportunity to take some of the high schoolers on the Rez on a college tour with a few Simply Smiles staff, which was amazing.
Over the years I have developed a greater understanding of the need that lies within our own country. I have given countless piggy back rides to kids at summer camp, shared meals and stories with elders in the community, heard hardships, shared tears, laughs, smiles, and hugs. Simply Smiles is an amazing organization that I couldn't be prouder to be a part of. I can't help but share stories about the kids, the community, the progress, the setbacks, and the huge accomplishments every time I come home from spending time on the Rez. I value these stories and can't wait to create more experiences, and make more memories with my friends on the Reservation and with Simply Smiles.
Simply Smiles is the real deal: a group of big hearted people who are giving their all to be of service. The Lakota community of La Plant, South Dakota has grown to trust Simply Smiles because Simply Smiles has chosen to stay, truly cares and is committed to making life better for the residents there.
I had the great fortune to spend a week volunteering in August 2017. In that week, I experienced the wonderful youth camp, participated in building a sustainable water source for the organic garden, visited the houses built by staff and volunteers, learned about Native culture along with the kids, accompanied the kids to a Crazy Horse Memorial field trip, and had many oher experiences that are too numerous to list.
I highly recommend Simply Smiles to anyone considering volunteering or donating to this wonderful organzation. Simply Smiles is making a difference in ways that work, and in ways that will positively affect Native youth's futures through educational opportunities, safe housing, nutrition, attention and care, and preserving culture and identity.
The warmth, welcoming and great heart and spirit of the staff will always stay with me. The beauty of the lakota people will as well.
Wishing continuing success and sending many thanks to Simply Smiles. Will never forget my experience in La Plant, and hope to return someday.
I have gone to SD to the Cheyenne Sioux reservation three times in the past three years. It has warmed my heart to see the dedication of Simply Smiles to the people of LaPlant, SD. They created a Community Center for the people of LaPlant with a playground, garden, greenhouse, basketball, built picnic tables, laid a patio with a permanent overhang, crafts, horseshoe pits, community meals, and most importantly created a sense of belonging and friendship. Simply Smiles isn't just there for a while but for the long term to help the people of LaPlant create a better life for themselves. They have encouraged the children to think about what they will be when they grow up. Not to just dream and wish but to put those dreams into reality. By taking them to colleges outside the reservation and for some to come to CT's Fairfield University to participate in a summer writing program. I am committed to going to SD every summer for as long as I am able, to be with the friends I have made and to be a beacon of hope supporting Simply Smiles and the people of LaPlant. What Bryan Nurnberger has done creating this organization is nothing short of a miracle.
I'm a professor that has taken groups to both of Simply Smiles locations (in Oaxaca, Mexico and on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal reservation in South Dakota). I've been incredibly impressed with their organization through both of these experiences. There are right and wrong ways to do volunteer development work. The right way is to develop organic relationships in the communities where you plan to work, learn from them, and let them define their own needs and identify the most helpful interventions. This is precisely the model that Simply Smiles follows, treating the community members in its two locations as partners and equals rather than wards or hapless victims. They are also thoughtful and reflective about some of the challenges of this work, and model and encourage this sort of thoughtfulness in their participants. Great organization all around.
I've been a supporter of Simply Smiles almost since it began in 2003; first, just with financial support but within a few years I went on my first working trip with them to Oaxaca, Mexico and I have to say it was truly life-altering. When they started working with the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, I also volunteered there. In total, I've been on 10 trips with Simply Smiles. If you asked me why, I'd tell you that I believe, from the bottom of my heart, that Simply Smiles makes a significant difference in the lives of the people they work with. And I feel that my participation truly matters. Their model of inclusion is a major reason why it all works so well - they spend a significant amount of time getting to know the people and culture to build trust and to find out what they really need. Instead of going into a village and telling them what "we" were going to do for them, Simply Smiles listens to the residents and works on what really matters to THEM!
Another part of the organization that I like is how small it is; they only have a handful of full-time, paid employees based in Connecticut and Oaxaca. Every one of them is out in the field working side-by-side with the volunteers that come out to the reservation or to Oaxaca. How many other Presidents would you see mixing concrete by hand or playing Uno with a bunch of kids? They are an amazing group of people who work so very hard to create safe, happy environments for the kids (and adults!) they work with.
Simply Smiles does an outstanding job of efficiently utilizing their financial resources; when you donate to a specific activity or project, you are given periodic updates on their progress, usually with current pictures of your money at work.
I can't say enough about this organization; I am proud to enthusiastically support Simply Smiles in all of their endeavors.
Simply Smiles is an organization that invites volunteers to come see and experience, first hand, what they see everyday. They always put the children and communities, in which they work, first. They want to educate volunteers and others about the issues and hardships happening both on the Cheyenne River Reservation (SD), and in Oaxaca, Mexico. Even when you make a monetary donation, you know exactly where that money is going and what is it being used for, and you are openly invited to go see the changes for yourself. In the summer of 2017, Simply Smiles raised money to send 5 young women to Fairfield University (CT) for a two-week writing program after they won an essay contest at their school on the reservation. All of the girls had an amazing experience and I was lucky enough to get to chat about it with a few of them.
I was a volunteer on the Reservation in the summer of 2017, and an intern the summer before. Within one year, I could see the difference that the Simply Smiles staff and volunteers are making on the kids. My first summer as an intern, their were two students that stuck out in my mind. One did not care about anything except playing basketball and occasionally getting high. Now that student is talking about going to college and, if that does not work out, what his plan B is as well. The second student, a year ago, was cutting, and now is working as hard as possible to attend college for art and photography. Most of these kids do not have much of a support system (parents, teachers, and culture is, many times, non-existent), so just to hear them talk openly about their futures is a huge milestone - and all of that is due to the hard work and perseverance of Simply Smiles.
I have gone on two trips to the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation with Simply Smiles, and they were both great experiences! The volunteer trips were well organized and clearly had a positive impact, and it was great to get to spend time with the Lakota community there.
Going on a community-building experience with Simply Smiles is a transforming experience for every person involved- the volunteers, the staff, the families and especially the children. Simply Smiles is all about the kids. From building safe homes for families, arranging a trip to colleges for the teens, creating a community garden, providing generators in the middle of a blizzard, hosting community dinners, building another children's home to playing basketball with the youth, giving a kid a ride on your back...all about the kids. As a volunteer, we woke early, worked hard, met the elders, played with the children, and slept like babies. I will go back as often as I am able. I recommend it whole heartedly. I guaranty you will get more than you give.
It was such a privilege to be with everyone at LaPlant. From the Simply Smiles Staff, Interns, volunteers, and last but certainly not least the kids and Lakota community members who welcomed us in to their homes, taught how to make jelly using local fruits, and breaking bread with us at the community supper. I took me by surprise as never thought a week could but This week changed my life which took me by surprise as never thought a 7 days could make such a difference but it did! I have such respect for the programing and dedication that everyone at Simply Smiles has. The commitment, the passion and the enthusiasm. Thank you! All the books and documentaries try to convey what life on the Rez is like, but until you experience it you will never understand - even if your experience is for a blink of a second - which our week did felt like - a blink. I am grateful for the thoughtful work that you are all doing. Thank you all.
Simply Smiles makes a difference in the lives of residents of the reservation. Staff spend all summer there, and many other weeks in the winter, spring and fall, to listen to the people living there and helping them gain hope and dignity. I've volunteered twice and each time have come away more committed to returning with the idea that we can contribute to positive change.
I have had the pleasure of being a Simply Smiles volunteer for two years and am eagerly awaiting my third week in May of 2018. I have volunteered at the Cheyenne River Reservation location in La Plant, South Dakota where we engage in activities that are focused on making a real difference in the lives of the local Lakota Sioux community. The people of this community face significant challenges every day including severe poverty, high unemployment, alcoholism and other health related issues, teen suicide and a very real sense of hopelessness. Simply Smiles is focused on activities that are aimed at alleviating some of this suffering and to bring hope to those whose daily mission is to just survive.
As a volunteer, I have worked on building sustainable homes for the community, preparing gardens that will provide healthier food alternatives, working on craft projects and other activities to stimulate creativity and learning among the children attending summer camp, preparing meals to share with community members , attending community wide events including a pow wow and a school graduation, as well as engaging in meaningful discussion with tribal members about the struggles of their daily life .
I am so grateful for the opportunity I have had to work with the Simply Smiles staff and volunteers who are truly dedicated to the organization's mission of creating a path to self sufficiency for the people of La Plant. In participating in the various activities aimed at improving the lives of the Lakota Sioux, I have definitely had my own life improve. I would encourage anyone looking for a meaningful volunteer opportunity to consider Simply Smiles.
I have had the great opportunity to volunteer with Simply Similes the past three years. Our group has volunteered for 1 week on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe reservation all three years. We have been involved in building houses, repairing houses, building a bunk house for volunteers and working in the community garden. The best part is spending the afternoon running summer camp for the kids in community. There is a great exchange in providing piggyback rides, doing craft projects or playing basketball. There is also several opportunities to sit with many members of the whole community throughout the week. Over the past three years it has been amazing to see the connections grow.
This is not easy work. There is a physical element from sleeping on the floor, not showering every day, or to using an outhouse. There is also an emotional element as well that you need to be prepared for.
The program is very well organized and the staff support through the whole process is outstanding. I have said many times that this week is the both the longest and shortest week of the year. I would encourage anyone looking for a group volunteer opportunity to look seriously at Simply Smiles.
THIS PAST AUGUST 2017 ME AND MY HUSBAND, ALONG WITH 23 OTHERS THAT WAS PART OF THE ZEN PEACEMAKERS VOLUNTEERED OUR SERVICES TO HELP SIMPLY SMILES WITH VARIOUS CHORES THAT NEEDED TO BE DONE. WE PARTICIPATED IN PAINTING SANDING AND ELECTRICAL TO MAKE THE VOLUNTEERS A MORE COMFORTABLE PLACE TO STAY AS WELL AS BUILDING A DRAIN THAT COULD STORE AND CONSERVE WATER FOR THE PLANTS AND FOOD THEY ARE GROWING. ALONG WITH THE YOUNG VOLUNTEERS AND A FEW STAFFERS WE WERE LEAD COMPASSIONATELY AND PROFESSIONALLY AND WELCOMED INTO THIS COMMUNITY. IN THE MORNING WE DID PHYSICAL WORK AND IN THE AFTERNOON WE HELPED WITH THE KIDS CAMP DOING ART PROJECTS, HANGING OUT WITH THE KIDS, SUPPORTING THEM IN SELLING THE VEGGIES THAT WERE GROWN THERE, ETC. WE HELPED WITH THE DINNERS AND BREAKFASTS ARE REALLY HAD THE EXPERIENCE OF WHAT IT WAS SIMPLY SMILES WAS DOING. THEY HOSTED BREAKFASTS AND DINNERS FOR THE NATIVES IN THE RESERVATIONS TO COME TO AND WE GOT TO KNOW THE FAMILIES OF THE KIDS. THEY GOT THE COMMUNITY TO EMBRACE AND WELCOME THEM, TRUST THEM WITH THIER KIDS AND THE STAFF WERE SO ENCOURAGING AND TRUSTING OF US. IT WAS AN AMAZING EXPERIENCE TO BE A PART OF THIS ORGANIZATION FOR A WEEK, TO BE TREATED SO WELL BY THIS YOUNG AND ABLE STAFF, AND TO SEE ALL THAT THEY HAVE DONE FOR THE NATIVE COMMUNITY. I TRY TO RAISE AWARENESS FOR THIS AMAZING PLACE AND BRIAN LINDERMAN WHO STARTED THIS.