Getting to St. Francis Mission isn’t easy. We are about 3 hours from Rapid City, South Dakota, and 6 or more hours from other large cities in neighboring states. Many of our donors live across the country, but they still want to see the work that we do. Instead of bringing our donors to the Mission, we have a small team of benefactor liaisons who bring the Mission to our donors.
Davanne Piccini and Michael O’Sullivan are former Jesuit Volunteers for the Mission, and we are delighted to have them both continue their work in a new capacity. We wanted to take some time and introduce you to each of them – so if they come to your area, you’ll know a little bit about them and their background with St. Francis Mission. The first liaison we’ll meet is Davanne Piccini!
Tell us a bit about yourself – where you are from & where you went to school.
I am from Mobile, AL. I majored in English at Spring Hill College, a Jesuit college also in Mobile.
What is your background with the Mission?
After college, I wanted to do something that I could only do at that time in my life and would also have a large impact on how I live the rest of my life. Thus, I joined Jesuit Volunteer Corps and was placed with St. Francis Mission on the Rosebud Reservation.
What did you do during your time as a Jesuit Volunteer?
My primary work during my volunteer year was as religious education teacher for children grades K-8th. This took the form of teaching RCIC on Sundays and teaching school children during the week in a Sunday school type setting. I expanded my position to include after school activities for kids, including a weekly art class and an afterschool hangout, as well as a monthly family activity night. During the summer, I assisted in our week long vacation Bible school program that SFM does in five different communities on the reservation. Also that summer, I organized and ran a 3-day retreat for middle schoolers and an art camp in which 40 kids attended, all under the age of 12.
What made you want to work for the Mission after your time as a Jesuit Volunteer?
Working with children on the Rosebud gave me a unique perspective on the reality of the reservation. Most of the work was light hearted and fun, however, I also dealt with many angry children who were not mentally equipped to deal with the dysfunction within their broken families and homes. For many, life on the Rosebud is a dangerous cycle of familial problems amplified by substance abuse, which in turn drives the younger generation into seeking escape from these problems in more substance abuse. For problems like these that plague an entire community there is not a quick-fix answer and this is frustrating. I found comfort in working with St. Francis Mission because the Mission seeks to overcome these problems in a holistic way that helps individual families heal. The Mission’s programs span from religious education to dental care to the Betty Ford program. These programs cost St. Francis Mission a great deal of money and I view my job of fundraising as imperative for the upkeep and expansion of the programs.
Is there a program (or several programs) you feel most connected to?
I feel a special connection to the religious education program because it introduced me to so many wonderful little children. For many of these children, our once-a-week classes were their primary source for learning about the Gospels. The classes and vacation Bible schools are wonderful because they provide a fun and safe learning environment where moral standards and a love for Jesus are reinforced through games, stories and activities.
What would you like people to know about the Mission?
I believe one reason the Mission succeeds is because its programs are based upon relationships with the Lakota of the Rosebud. A major lesson I learned in my year of service on the Rosebud is that, no matter how much I may want to change a person for the better, he or she will not change for the mere reason that I want them to. The change must originate within that individual. The most I can do is help provide a support system that is ready for when the individual decides to make a change and reaches out for assistance. This becomes even more complicated when considering the large scale of systematic problems plaguing the Rosebud Reservation. Furthermore, given the Rosebud’s remote location, it is nearly impossible for an individual living off the reservation to make those lasting relationships with the locals of the reservation. With its devoted staff of Jesuits and Lakota managers and permanent residents on the Rosebud Reservation, St. Francis Mission is able to make those lasting relationships and help support those individuals who are ready for change.