St. Joseph’s Bookmobile Completes Summer Tour and Podcast

Posted on: July 12, 2023

The St. Joseph’s Indian School Bookmobile wrapped up a busy summer on July 6. The outreach made stops in 43 communities, crisscrossing South Dakota to serve nearly 1,700 children and adults. The Bookmobile is also part of the school’s effort to connect with alums and distribute food and dental hygiene supplies in communities across the state into North Dakota.

The Bookmobile crew distributed nearly 17,000 books free of charge, some of which were Native American books by Native American authors. Lily Mendoza of Word Carrier Trading Post in Rapid City, S.D., assisted the school in ordering these greatly appreciated books for the third consecutive year.

A record 68 alumni visited with Alumni Liaison and Bookmobile Coordinator Andy Lepkowski. 2006 graduate and alum Charmaine Lopez commented, “The Bookmobile impacted me because my kids are currently at St. Joe’s. It kind of brings back a lot of good memories. [St. Joe’s] provided a lot of structure and stability in my life.”

In addition to Andy, many of the school’s staff volunteered this year, several of them family service counselors hoping to connect with families and students. Morgan Pulliam and Austin Harjo, undergraduates at the University of Notre Dame who participated in the six-week experience as summer interns, also joined the crew.

Harjo, who is both Choctaw and Creek, shared these impressions about the experience:

The Bookmobile was a very special experience. I think that it’s been the most meaningful thing I have done in my life up to this point. Throughout my month and a half at St. Joe’s, I’ve come to learn what the school is about and what the goal is. Being actually out there on the reservation and seeing the people face-to-face is what makes the Bookmobile so special. In those moments, we had real and immediate impacts on people’s lives. That is what makes this such an unforgettable experience for me.

Pulliam’s reflection included these thoughts:

I remember the distinct feeling of butterflies in my stomach when I first came to Chamberlain to begin working on the Bookmobile. I never really learned about the history of Native Americans in school. I had no idea what life on the reservation looked like in the present … Learning both from Native Americans who came to the Bookmobile and the staff at St. Joe’s, I feel like I gained a unique and invaluable perspective on the structural challenges as well as the different personalities of Native communities across South Dakota. Although the Bookmobile ended for the summer just recently, I already feel like the experience has changed how I look at the world and understand America’s past and present.

The two speak about their experiences on Hóčhoka Podcast Season 4, Episode 7, which airs later this fall. Click here to view in early release. St. Joseph’s Indian School’s Bookmobile is honored to have shared this experience with these two and been a guest in many Native communities.