This month, Running Strong for American Indian Youth® is shipping out close to 5,000 “Study Strong” backpacks filled with all the school supplies Native American elementary and junior high school students will need to get off to great new school year, hopefully back again in their classrooms as COVID-19 restrictions become more relaxed since the last school year.
In addition to our field office, Tipi Waste Un Zanipi (Wellness Through a Good Home), and our partner the Oyate Teca Project on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, thanks to the supporters of Running Strong will be shipping the backpacks to at least 15 partners throughout Indian Country including in Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Utah.
In addition to the obvious benefit of each child having a pencil and paper in hand ready when the teacher gives them a classroom assignment, the relief on their parents faces becomes obvious once they realize that they are no longer burdened with having to figure out how in the world they were going to have to budget for the back-to-school expense, especially when there are several school-age children in the family.
As any parent knows, notebooks, pens, pencils and other basic school supplies are expensive in and of themselves, but complicating matters for the majority of Native American parents is that they must drive long distances on vast reservations such as the Pine Ridge and Cheyenne River Sioux in South Dakota just to get to a store that sells the supplies they can barely afford, if it all.
Such is the case for the children and families served by the Cherokee Nation Foundation in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, a nonprofit organization serving the Cherokee Nation with the mission “to provide educational opportunities to Cherokee students so they can reach their full potential,” said Executive Director Janice Randall who requested 400 elementary and junior high backpacks this year.
“The Cherokee Nation is located in northeastern Oklahoma and we are no stranger to poverty and single parent homes,” says Janice, who noted the area they serve has the highest rates of poverty and unemployment in the region. “This can make it hard for parents to provide all necessities for their children. With the support of Running Strong, we have become the go-to place when children need these necessities.”
Most, if not all, of the school systems are starting their new academic year this month, such as the Provo, Utah, City School District, where former Running Strong Dreamstarter Teacher Meredith Schramm is a Title VI Indian Education Youth Development Specialist, which resumes classes on August 18.
“All of our funding for the Indian Education program comes from a federal grant program,” explained Meredith, who requested 200 elementary and junior high backpacks for her students for the coming school year. “We do have some help with funding from our district, but not much.
“We have worked hard to stretch our grant money so we can do all of our activities and programs for our kids – but Running Strong has been able to allow us to help our families with more immediate needs such as school supplies.”
And in Garryowen, Montana, where Biiluuke Strong, an Apsáalooke nonprofit that focuses on providing resources and programming to Apsáalooke youth on the Crow Reservation, co-founder Ember Hogan, who requested 400 elementary and junior high backpacks, told us “our community is always in need of items, given the high rate of unemployment and current economic status.
“Families who Biiluuke Strong have given items to have always expressed deep gratitude for any items that they’ve received. We know that there is always a need for the items that Running Strong has provided, and continues to provide.”