Darien residents Jake Greene and Liz Morrissey never thought they would spend two weeks living on an Indian reservation in the middle of the rolling prairies of South Dakota, until they joined the Darien YMCA’s partner in Sioux, N.D.

The Sioux YMCA Initiative began nine years ago as a way to provide day camp-type programming for the children living in various communities on the reservation.

For 12 weeks each summer, the Twin Cities YMCA coordinates the Y staff who travel to the reservation and conduct programming. The initiative provides Y staff with an understanding of cultural and socio-economic realities they haven’t experienced.

Greene and Morrissey arrived on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation on May 23 and were joined on their team by Jess Krueger from the Andover Y in Minneapolis.

“The welcome we received, both from the kids in the communities and the Sioux Y staff and board members, was incredible,” Greene said.

Each day was spent driving miles on the hard packed gravel roads out to the various communities, which included Cherry Creek, Bear Creek, Swiftbird, White Horse and Thunder Butte.

When the team arrived in a community, they would round up whoever wanted to play that day and settle in for a couple of hours of fun.

“The three Bs: bubbles, basketball and bracelets were the key,” Morrissey said. “The kids were excited to have people who were there just to play with them, and we were there to make them happy.”

“There were definitely some moments that were challenging, like when kids would come out to play barefoot, even when there was broken glass and other litter on the ground,” Greene said. “It’s a different way of life on the reservation, and they lack many of the resources that we take for granted.”

The Sioux YMCA, housed in a small 2,500-square-foot building, serves 18 communities over more than 5,000 square miles, roughly the size of Connecticut. The Sioux Y, which runs entirely off donations and grants, is not fully equipped to deal with the stark disparities that face its communities, one of the poorest areas in the United States.

“We were so excited to be able to extend the work of the Sioux Y, especially after seeing the respect the Y has in the community because of all of the amazing work they do,” Morrissey said.

She said the most rewarding part of the two-week trip was the last time visiting White Horse.

“All of the kids who had been coming out to play were waiting for us on the playground,” Morrissey said. “They were running to the van before we had even parked. We all felt a real sense of achievement, and knew we had made an impact on the kid’s lives, even for the two short weeks we were there.”

For more about the Darien YMCA, visit darien-ymca.org. For more about the Sioux YMCA Initiative, visit www.siouxymca.org.