Two generations of volunteers

Spring 2011 Red Cloud Country

Two generations of volunteers The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation holds a special place in Bridget Welch’s heart. It’s a place of fond memories: a childhood where she could run free through the open plains, a young romance that blossomed into a beautiful marriage…and a place her daughter now calls home.

“It would be so hard for me to pinpoint one aspect in my life that Red Cloud didn’t influence,” said Bridget one afternoon in the Advancement Office at Red Cloud Indian School, having just had a traditional meal with staff members, her husband Michael and her daughter Elizabeth. “The people—and their culture—are phenomenal. It’s never been about what you have here. It’s always been about the relationships that are made here.”

The daughter of an educator who taught at the reservation’s public school in Pine Ridge, Bridget grew up among the Lakota people, and attended Red Cloud Elementary School. Her time as a young girl on the reservation impacted her greatly. After her family moved from the reservation, she often thought of the Lakota community she left.

“I knew this was where I wanted to return to someday,” she says.

And return she did. In 1982, Bridget volunteered as a librarian at Red Cloud Elementary. As a volunteer, she caught the eye of another volunteer, Michael, a religion teacher in the middle school. Marriage soon followed, as did a family. While the young couple coached athletic teams and led youth ministry programs, they also raised four children—all of whom attended Red Cloud. Their daughter Elizabeth, now a first-year volunteer and (ironically) a librarian in the high school, says it was really great to grow up among the Lakota people.

“My brothers and I really loved being part of such an incredible community—we even danced at powwows,” she says.

That was exactly what the Welch’s wanted for their children: to grow up among people who were welcoming, kind and generous. The Lakota people experience such poverty, yet they still give so much, notes Michael.

“I would visit elders in Oglala, and they’d always be so happy to welcome my family into their homes, teaching us the Lakota language.”

Today, Bridget is a fifth grade teacher at West Boylston and Michael is a headmaster at St. John’s High School in Massachusetts. The couple is so pleased their daughter has decided to call the reservation—and Red Cloud—home.

After graduating from Marquette University in Milwaukee with degrees in sociology and social welfare and justice, Elizabeth wanted to experience what her parents had. She knew that being a volunteer was exactly what she wanted to do.

“It just fascinates me every day that I‘m here and I get to experience what made my parents fall in love with this place,” she says.

“We’re glad that Elizabeth gets this wonderful opportunity to meet and work with the Lakota people,” says Michael. “Our success in life now is solely based on the time that we spent here. Red Cloud is and will always be our home.”