During the second week of August, a group from Kent County installed 75 computers divided among eight community youth centers on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Home of the Lakota (incorrectly called Sioux) people, most of the reservation is in Shannon County, which is known as the poorest county in the United States.
The project was a joint effort involving six people, Grand Valley State University (GVSU), the Rockford Rotary Club, Bostwick Lake Congregational UCC, Rockford Ace Hardware, and Van’s Delivery Service of Comstock Park.
Two years ago, GVSU planned to replace many of its personal computers. Since the disposal cost runs as high as $100 per computer, GVSU looked for nonprofit organizations that could use the computers.
Paul Jorgensen, of the School of Computing and Information Systems at GVSU, had been taking church groups to Pine Ridge since 1999, and he knew how to get things started. He contacted Carolyn Tail, wife of Eli Tail, a respected Lakota Elder. Carolyn originally lined up seven community youth centers, and in June of this year, Jorgensen visited each of them. Word spread, and an eighth community center was added (see the map).
Through much of July, Jorgensen and David Lange (also of the SCIS) transported the PCs from GVSU to a warehouse at Van’s Delivery Service, where they took each computer apart, removed the hard drives and replaced the BIOS batteries. They also used a shop vacuum to blow the five-year accumulation of dust out of each PC.
Also in July, Jorgensen and Todd Olson, vice president of Van’s, made a presentation to the Rockford Rotary Club, where both are active members. The result was a generous gift to rent a 16-foot truck from the Rockford Ace Hardware store. Pete Kruer, owner of the store, and another Rotarian, gave the group a rental truck at a discount price.
The physical work began in the first week of August, when Pat Bailey, a professor at Calvin College, and Dan and Dave Davis of the Bostwick Lake church, joined Jorgensen and Lange to inventory 80 monitors purchased from CompRenew in Grand Rapids. The monitors and PCs all had to be packed on pallets. The first try didn’t work too well, so all the monitors were removed and repacked. Andy Armstrong, a fork lift driver from Van’s, showed them how to shrink-wrap the pallets. He also loaded the five pallets onto the rental truck.
Bright and early on Saturday morning, August 8, Lange, Bailey, and the Davis brothers left for Pine Ridge. Jorgensen couldn’t go, due to travel restrictions as a consequence of the pulmonary embolism he had when he returned from Pine Ridge in June. It is about 1,080 miles from Rockford to Kyle, South Dakota—a two-day trip. The four stayed at the Lakota Prairie Motel, owned and operated by Lakota people.
The work began in earnest on Monday, August 10. They installed computer networks at the Kyle Youth Center and later at the Allen Community Center. Everett Yellow Boy, director of the Allen Community Center, was moved almost to tears when the project became a reality. Every evening, the team worked from after supper to 10 or 11 p.m., loading hard drives with the software image, assembling and testing computers for the next day, and reloading them onto the truck.
On Tuesday, they went to the Oglala Community Center at the far west end of the reservation. Later that day, they installed a network at the Evergreen Community Center, near the town of Porcupine.
Wednesday was a really busy day, with installations at the Manderson Youth Center, the Wounded Knee Parent Room, and the Wounded Knee Community Center. Wednesday evening was split between setting up the remaining computers and visiting the Tail family—always a moving experience.
Thursday, the team packed up everything and headed for their last installation at the Wounded Knee Community at the far eastern end of the reservation. They then headed for North Platte, Nebraska to return the rental truck, and then headed for home, arriving late Friday night.
All four men were deeply moved by the gratitude of the Lakota people. They heard the word “wopila,” which is much more than a simple thank-you—it is an expression of deep, sincere gratitude. Sometimes staff members were moved to tears, as were the women at the Manderson Youth Center. When Lange asked where their DSL line was for their Internet connection, they replied that the center didn’t have the monthly 20 dollars for the DSL. Lange gave them 50 dollars to get them started, and they cried. There was a lot of that, which really moved the four men. One of the really moving things is how much of a difference the computers will make.
The whole project captures part of the essence of West Michigan culture. Look at the variety and extent of people and groups it took to make the whole thing happen.
Jorgensen and the four who went to Pine Ridge want to express their thanks to the following: Bob Holcomb and his crew at GVSU for the 75 computers and accessories; Paul Kehoe at CompRenew for the 80 monitors; Rockford Rotary Club President Ramona Hinton for the generous support; Pete Kruer, owner of the Rockford Ace Hardware store, for the Penske truck rental; Todd Olson, vice president of Van’s Delivery Service, for the use of their warehouse space; Andy Armstrong, also from Van’s Delivery Service, for his help in loading the truck; The Men’s Club of Bostwick Lake UCC for their donation toward truck fuel cost; friends of Dan Davis, who donated cabling and network hubs; Carolyn Tail for lining up the community youth centers; and the Puckett family at the Lakota Prairie motel for the group discount.