Pine Ridge Volunteer and Emergency Center nears completion

Every year, since at least 2015, the Oglala Lakota Nation (also called Oglala Sioux Tribe or OST) situated on the Pine Ridge reservation of Southwest South Dakota has been hit by a major storm. Hail, high winds, the bomb cyclone, flooding and tornadoes have battered the Pine Ridge communities and homes.

Fortunately, Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) has partnered with the tribal communities in recovery to repair and rebuild homes. MDS has built 16 homes and repaired dozens over the years.

However, Pine Ridge lacks the infrastructure of community buildings that can be used to host disaster response and recovery volunteers.

Volunteer groups from other organizations have been turned away in the past because there was no place for them to stay. MDS is able to have a volunteer presence because they assembled a collection of temporary trailers, including FEMA trailers and campers, a shower trailer and a kitchen trailer.

MDS truck and trailer on the side of the Volunteer Center/EOC building. (Source: Heidi Schultz)

To rebuild the hundreds of homes destroyed or severely damaged by repetitive storms, MDS is coordinating the construction of a Volunteer and Emergency Services Center. It will provide dorm-style lodging for up to 60 volunteers, with adequate kitchen, dining, gathering, shower and restroom facilities for long-term recovery groups, such as MDS and others.

Another issue on Pine Ridge is the Office of Emergency Management no longer has a facility. Their offices were condemned with no budget to replace or rebuild. So the volunteer center will include space to house the new office of emergency management. The new office space will be equipped with modern technology and enable responders to gather in a secure facility to coordinate emergency and disaster responses.

Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) awarded MDS a grant of $100,000 in 2019 to assist with volunteer and construction management of the Pine Ridge Volunteer and Emergency Services Center. In 2020, CDP awarded another $100,000 to help finish the section for volunteers and use paid workers because COVID-19 greatly impacted the ability of volunteers to travel to Pine Ridge.

Necessity is the mother of invention is the saying that comes to mind with this project. A need was seen by the community, local leaders and volunteer/funding partners. An idea blossomed. Several funders and volunteer partners assisted with funds, in-kind gifts and time, and now the building is nearly complete. Completing the final tasks of applying the finish to the floors and hooking up the building to sewage and water will enable the center to open this summer.

Once again we’ve learned the importance of relationships and trust with grantee partners. These relationships, built over several years, enabled multiple organizations to work towards this common goal. We understand better what building in a remote area with inadequate infrastructure entails. We can better empathize with Native communities on reservations and recovery organizations as they face long distances, lack of local or nearby construction professionals, greater expenses for materials and challenges with local infrastructure.

Providing the opportunity for volunteers to stay in Pine Ridge to assist with recovery from past storms is essential, and this building is also an investment in the capacity of Pine Ridge to respond to and recover from future emergencies and disasters. CDP is proud to partner with Mennonite Disaster Service, Lakota Nation Disaster Recovery (home of a local long-term recovery group), OST Emergency Services and other funder partners to help provide this critical piece of infrastructure in Pine Ridge.

(Featured image: A Mennonite Disaster Service volunteer cuts a floorboard. Source: Heidi Schultz)