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2022 Running Strong for American Indian Youth® Dreamstarter Laura O’Leary, 25, (Cheyenne River Sioux), of Eagle Butte, South Dakota, dream is “to provide young families with infants with diaper bags filled with baby essentials including diapers, wipes, clothing, wash, bottles as well as educational literature on nutrition, safe sleep practices, and pack ‘n plays to ensure babies have a safe place to sleep.”

She started on her dream, “Laura’s Project,” more than 10 years ago and today with her $10,000 Dreamstarter grant will be able “to widen the range of help we offer and increase the amount served.” In addition to items for the newborns – including handmade blankets she crafts herself – Laura will also be providing items for the mothers such as lotion, loofas, lip balm, menstrual pads and cookbooks, and notes that her bags had only been missing Lakota culture elements and safe sleep options for the babies.

While in college, Laura volunteered at The Keya Foundation (a Running Strong partner and her mentor organization), where she “found my niche area helping new mothers and babies in my community.” Speaking of the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation where she lives, Laura says although it’s a very rural and remote area, “this is home to myself and many people who appreciate the beauty that surrounds us.
“Our communities are a long distance from basic needs, which creates hardships on our families as we struggle to meet them.

“The burden of poverty is hard to accept because our Lakota people live in a good way. We have been taught to live to help others and our extended families (Oyate and Tiospaye), and that’s why I think it is critically important to support the health of our mothers and their infants.”

She founded “Laura’s Project” as a high school student after she learned that babies were going home from the hospital “with nothing, no blankets, clothes, diapers, lacking all the essential items they need for a healthy start.” With her mother’s help, they started collecting donations from family members, friends, co-workers “and anyone who was willing to donate baby clothing, diapers, bags, blankets, etc. “Included in each diaper bag was a handmade tie blanket, which I made. My mom bought all the fabric and I made them! So a little love from me was included in these bags! “Being able to help so many new mothers and their newborns has been one of my greatest joys.”

Laura said that one thing that has always hit home for her is the fact that safe sleep practices are not always widely practiced or available options. “Safe sleep practices are not always available for our Lakota babies. Many young parents are not able to afford cribs which has led to an overall increase of sudden infant deaths from unsafe sleep habits. This is devastating and it is my hope that I can provide cribs and safe sleep information that goes hand-in-hand with the Lakota culture we are taught.”

Through this Dreamstarter grant, Laura aims to provide baby showers, pack n plays, breast pumps, diapers, baby clothes and accessories plus any other specific items that struggling moms and babies need.

“Helping moms and babies makes my heart happy.”

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