Restoring Hope One Smile at a Time

by Charlie Kuchenbrod


I am convinced that there are people in your congregation that will thank you for sharing this information with them!  Read on!

The Conference is organizing a week-long trip to the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in South Dakota from May 11 to May 18, 2019.  Simply Smiles, an organization founded by Bryan Nurnberger, who grew up in the Naugatuck UCC congregation, will be our hosts and guides.  We will be staying in the town of La Plant, one of the most impoverished places in America, working to restore hope for a better future.  

Over the past six years, I have led seven of these service and learning trips and been a participant in two others.  Sometimes, as I am preparing for a trip, I wonder if this will the last trip, at least for a while.  Always, as I am getting ready to come back home, I know that I have to return.

Others have traveled with me on more than one trip, often bringing spouses or other family members with them.  (I have gone with my children.)  Some have joined with other groups. Each returning person has their own story for what draws them back.  I'll share something from my experience.

Calvin was a quiet 9-year-old when I met him.  He liked to help us with when we were working on projects to improve the Community Center.  Steve, another trip participant, asked Calvin where he would like to be in ten years. Calvin pondered for a moment and then told us he would like to be alive.  Later, Bryan Nurnberger came by and saw that Calvin was enjoying the project work.  Bryan told Calvin that if he graduated high school (few in La Plant do) Simply Smiles would provide for his education at a vocational school, so that Calvin could learn carpentry and other building skills.  Calvin lit up! It was a grace-filled moment. I still get emotional recalling it.

For many Lakota living on the Rez, hope has been extinguished.  It took generations of mistreatment and neglect, often at the hands of our government or even at the hands of churches, to accomplish this. It will take generations to restore hope.  Each participant in this trip helps hope to grow.

Go to this event listing for additional information and a registration form.  We will be the first group of the season and so we may spend somewhat less time working with children and somewhat more time helping to prepare for the upcoming season.  

People will want to know about the cost of the trip.  We have not finalized travel arrangements, but the total cost should be about $1,400.  Many congregations will provide support for members.  Online registration is open.

Please contact me at or 860-761-7111 if you have questions.


Charlie Kuchenbrod

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