My Time with Oglala Lakota Nation: A Photo Essay

“You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.”
-Winston Churchill

I spent my Fourth of July week volunteering somewhere new this year. Last year I worked in Peru but this year I thought it would be good to help in the states with Re-Member. I took my first solo road trip out to Pine Ridge, South Dakota to work along side the Oglala Lakota Nation. With so much going on in everyone’s day to day lives it can be hard to make the time to be aware of the conditions other humans live in and what we could be doing to help. The best way I can think to celebrate my independence every year is to use that freedom to help others and I strongly encourage anyone else to do the same. It’s not about the money or time you have. There’s always a way to help.

Re-Member shares the following statistic:

“From 1980 to 2000, the counties that make up Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota (home to the Oglala Lakota Nation) comprised the poorest of our nation’s 3,141 counties. The 2000 census found them the third poorest, not because things got better on Pine Ridge, but because things got worse on two other South Dakota Indian Reservations. The poverty on Pine Ridge can be described in no other terms than “third world.” It is common to find homes terribly overcrowded, as those with homes take in anyone in need of a roof over their head. Many homes are without electricity, running water, or sewer.

  • Unemployment rate of 80 – 90%
  • Per capita income of $4,000
  • 8 Times the United States rate of diabetes
  • 5 Times the U.S. rate of cervical cancer
  • Twice the U.S. rate of heart disease
  • 8 Times the U.S. rate of Tuberculosis
  • Alcoholism rate estimated as high as 80%
  • 1 in 4 infants born with fetal alcohol syndrome or effects
  • Suicide rate more than twice the national rate
  • Teen suicide rate 4 times the national rate
  • Infant mortality 3 times the national rate
  • Life expectancy on Pine Ridge is the lowest in the United States and the second lowest in the Western Hemisphere. Only Haiti has a lower rate.”

 I took a series of photos to show how beautifully strong and resilient this oppressed culture still is. If you’re looking to take a volunteer trip solo or with a group, or make a donation feel free to learn more at

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Contributed by Syd Miles.



All photographs are the author’s own & may not be reprinted or published without express written consent.

My Time in Peru: a Photo Essay

“You have to be brave before you can be good.” – Brian K. Vaughan

Earlier this month, I spent about two weeks in Reque, Peru volunteering at a school with a group of about 14 others from the U.S. Our job was to prepare the base for another wing to the school, so I spent my first day coating rebar to prevent it from rusting in the salty ocean and dry desert air. I was soon, however, given a new job. Along with another artist, I had the pleasure of restoring an old mural over the playground for the kids. Our volunteer work allowed us to connect with the children of the school. I saw the Pacific ocean for the first time, and our group attended several festivals and parades. The experience was exciting & overwhelming, full of new sights, people, and cultures. I even managed to get kicked by a horse and put on the back of a motorcycle in a parade! (I’m fine now, but was definitely a little sore for a few days, and I certainly don’t recommend getting kicked by a horse)

It’s hard for me to find the words to explain everything I witnessed in Peru, so I hope these images I captured can speak to you a little better than I can. I will say that I have never seen people with so few material possessions be so happy – easily much happier than the average person in the U.S. (not to speak poorly of us folks from the states!) It just seems that there’s something to be learned from their spirits of gratitude & joy. After this experience, I strongly encourage others to try things that may be scary or different, to travel to unfamiliar & foreign places, and to simply try to experience life from someone else’s point of view. It’s enriching, rewarding, and beautiful.  (more…)

Paying Our Rent

lifehack quote

We are fortunate to live in a nation of givers. Amid the pain, fear, and confusion following the unthinkable and unforgettable terrorist attacks of 9/11, our country rose to the challenge we faced. Thousands enlisted in military service, while countless others volunteered not only their time, but also their bodies, assisting in rescue and recovery missions, donating blood, and simply consoling shell-shocked survivors. We greeted tragedy with hope; hardship with hard work; terror with triumph.

It is in this spirit that the 9/11 memorial charity MyGoodDeed created the 9/11 Day of Service. MyGoodDeed encourages those of us who remember that awful day to honor the memory of those lost by doing what comes naturally to us as a nation of givers: volunteering within our communities. Those of us here at RSVP celebrated this year’s Day of Service at T.J.’s Place of Hope.


The RSVP team at TJ’s Place of Hope (from L to R): regional sales manager Heather Craaybeek, T.J.’s Place of Hope chairman Greg Crabtree, regional sales manager Jeff Vice, general manager Jodie Hook, owner Anthony Sucato, and graphic designer Caitlin Tuohy.

T.J.’s Place of Hope is a local safe house for teens struggling with addiction and other self-destructive habits. We spent the day tearing up carpet, clearing out trash, and learning about the challenges faced by those at T.J.’s. Some of our staff took  a little time to reflect upon this experience:

Jodie Hook, RSVP general manager: A few years back, I heard about people participating in a day of service as a way to honor those who were lost in the 9/11 attacks. We originally had an all-day marketing meeting planned, but then I remembered the 9/11 Day of Service. I thought it would be a great opportunity for our team to get together and give back to the community where our office has been located for almost 15 years.

Heather immediately mentioned T.J.’s Place of Hope, and we all agreed to replace our meeting with a day of service instead.

When we arrived in the morning, Greg [Crabtree, chairman of T.J.’s Place of Hope] took the time to tell us about his son T.J., and the struggles their family went through as T.J. battled drug addiction. It was this addiction that eventually lead to T.J. taking his own life.

Greg’s story was absolutely heartbreaking, and it was clear that he still felt the pain of T.J.’s loss, but it is inspiring how he has been able to give back & help other teens as a result of his family’s tragedy. We were incredibly lucky to be able to spend our time helping such a worthy place, and Greg was so thankful for our time.

Heather Craaybeek, RSVP regional sales manager: Does a little really go a long way? When we called Greg to volunteer for our day of service, he was super-appreciative. I asked myself if our one day of work would really help that much – will it really matter? All we were doing was ripping up carpet and throwing away trash.  Isn’t this insignificant?

Then I heard Greg tell stories of how the addiction counseling at T.J.’s helps young people. He told us of young kids torn apart by thoughts of suicide, struggling with severe addiction, and feeling like they have no place to turn. T.J.’s Place of Hope offers them a refuge in those times. Some of the items we sorted were pieces of artwork created by kids from the early days of T.J.’s Place of Hope. Inspirational and encouraging quotes were taped on the mirrors and even hung near the toilet paper roll in the bathroom.  I can imagine being a troubled kid and seeing that message at just the right time.

Then I thought, “What if each of the volunteers asked themselves the same questions I asked myself – ‘Will my help really matter?’ – years ago and just said ‘No,’ and never volunteered? If even one life is impacted because of the help we offered, then it was worth sacrificing a day of work, getting our hands dirty, and having sore muscles for a few days.

“Will my help really matter?”

Yes. Our simple little activities may make greater things possible. I think we were more touched by the experience then Greg. As the saying goes, givers gain.

Caitlin Tuohy, RSVP graphic designer: It was a great experience volunteering together as a team at T.J.’s Place of Hope. Although we got a little dirty and sweaty, I still felt a huge sense of pride when I saw how much we accomplished for a cause so deserving of our time. The results were visible and tangible, and our work will help Greg as he continues to reach out to troubled teens in the area. Like Heather, I wondered if we could make a difference with just one day – and now I know we did. I would gladly do it again – without a doubt – and hope to inspire others to do the same.

Many thanks again to Greg Crabtree for welcoming us at T.J.’s Place of Hope, and for sharing both his experience and warmth. If you are in the Dayton, Ohio area, and would like to volunteer at T.J.’s Place of Hope, please contact Greg at 937-436-4673. For other volunteer opportunities in your area, please visit

Muhammad Ali quote & picture from

Contributed by Renee Pugh.