Bridge Builders exchange program creates connection


Webster Impact Scholars have been able to travel to Dupree, South Dakota and learn about Lakota Sioux Natives due to a partnership between Bridge Builders St. Louis and the Sioux YMCA. 

In 2015, Webster student Sky Krakos spent their first summer at the Sioux YMCA in Dupree, South Dakota. During this trip, Krakos helped build a community learning garden. This garden, which continues to be one of Krakos’ biggest passions, now grows enough food to sustain entire families throughout the winter months.

Energized by their initial visit, Krakos started a nonprofit organization called Bridge Builders St. Louis (BBSTL) that connects communities through place-based learning and cultural immersion. BBSTL partnered with the Sioux YMCA and has sent two groups through the St. Louis-Dupree exchange program.

BBSTL collaborated with Webster University Impact Scholars in 2019 to give students the chance to volunteer in Dupree. These students spent one week at the Sioux YMCA learning about the history and traditions of Lakota Sioux Natives. 

The Dupree team then joins BBSTL in St. Louis for the second week of the program. Webster University will host both groups on the St. Louis campus.

Sophia Coon, a Webster alumna, went through the exchange program in 2019. 

“I chose to participate because I really wanted to expand my understanding of Indigenous culture,” Coon said. “I believe the best way to do that is to learn from Indigenous people directly with the understanding that each group of Indigenous peoples has their own specific culture.”

Coon, who now serves as a member on the Bridge Builders Board of Directors, said she was very fortunate for the opportunity to go to Dupree.  

“The best part of the trip was definitely bonding with members of the Dupree community,” Coon said. “But aside from the connections made, I have a fond memory of attending the Red Can Festival on our last night where we got to experience all kinds of art, including graffiti and Lakota rap.” 

Bri Black, the volunteer outreach director in Dupree, said this is the only YMCA on a Native American reservation. That provides volunteers with a unique opportunity to learn about different Indigenous cultures in the area. The organization brings in presenters, artists and elders to help communicate the history and current traditions of the Lakota Sioux Natives.

Black said the connection between Dupree and St. Louis created opportunities for both teams to participate in a safe and authentic exchange.

“I feel as though the partnership between Bridge Builders St. Louis and the Sioux YMCA grows every year,” Black said. “The experiences and connections shared through this exchange are more than life-changing. [BBSTL and Sioux YMCA] are truly building bridges, resources, networks, relationships, intrinsic and extrinsic growth.”

Krakos said watching the community grow, like plants in the learning garden, was the most impactful part for them.

“The idea of place is so important because [BBSTL] has such emotional ties to [Dupree] and to the people that make up that community,” Krakos said.

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Emily Craig
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