New Milford resident Dr. Peter L. Bayers, Ph.D., was recently presented a faculty excellence award by the Community-Engaged Program in the Center for Social Impact at Fairfield University.

The Rev. Jeffrey P. von Arx S.J. Award for Faculty Excellence in Community Engagement is presented annually to an individual to recognize outstanding achievement and dedication to community engagement and community-engaged learning.

Bayers is professor of English and director of the American Studies Program at the university.

The award is named in honor of Fr. von Arx, Fairfield University’s eighth president, in recognition of his commitment to advancing community engagement in higher education.

The award acknowledges the outstanding work of a member of the Fairfield University faculty whose efforts have advanced the collaborations between our institution and the broader communities of which it is a part, “for the mutually beneficial exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of partnership and reciprocity” (NERCHE).

“This award is really a testament to Simply Smiles, the local non-profit I partner with to serve children and families on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation and in Oaxaca, Mexico,” Bayers said.

Bayers’ community-engaged work has focused on his partnership with Simply Smiles, a nonprofit based in Connecticut.

Since 2014, Bayers has led groups of students, fellow faculty and staff on community-engaged learning experiences to work with the Lakota community in La Plant, S. Dakota.

“I was introduced to Simply Smiles by a 23-year old ‘kid,’ my former student Zach Gross, from Roxbury and Simply Smiles staff member, and he changed my life,” he continued.

“Encouraged by Zach — yes, this was a 23-year-old’s idea — and supported by the Center for Social Impact at Fairfield University, I first visited the Rez in late August of 2013 to explore the possibility of creating a Service Learning Course linked to my Native American Literature course,” Bayers explained.

Bayers related that both Gross and Simply Smiles “woke” him up.

“I was floored by the fact the young, bright, talented Simply Smiles staff, who could do anything with their lives, had chosen a path to selflessly serve forgotten Lakota children and families, as well as forgotten children and families of Oaxaca,” Bayers said.

“Anyone who’s worked with Simply Smiles can only but feel compelled to contribute in any way possible to the organization’s mission,” he said.

Bayers has dedicated a great deal of personal and professional time and energy to the community on the “Rez.”

“Simply Smiles’ staff floors, inspires, and humbles me in their selfless dedication to those in need, and I am deeply appreciative of the Center’s support for the development of my service learning course and student service trips to the Reservation,” he said.

“I am also grateful for the University and English Department’s support of my work with Simply Smiles on behalf of the children and families on the Rez and in Oaxaca,” he summed up.

To learn more about Simply Smiles and their work: https://www.simplysmiles.org

To learn more about Fairfield's work on the Rez: https://vimeo.com/130880045