6 years ago, Running Strong launched the Dreamstarter® Program to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Billy’s Olympic victory.

Dreamstarter® was created to make the dreams of Native youth a reality through financial investment, mentorship, and community. Since its inception, the program has been more successful than we could have ever imagined. Running Strong has given away over $850,000 in grants to 60 amazing Native youth from 37 tribal nations and 24 states. We have witnessed their dreams come to life and impact their communities. Each  Dreamstarter® has an amazing story, and we’re blown away by their success.

Dreamstarter® Gold
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What was originally designed to be a five-year pilot program has become an essential part of Running Strong. We are thrilled to see it continue year after year, and on October 27, 2020, we launched a new initiative to support our Native youth’s dreams: Dreamstarter® Gold.

Dreamstarter® Gold recipients are a collective of Indigenous leaders working throughout Turtle Island dedicated to implementing positive change for present-day and future generations of Native youth to: pursue their dreams on their terms; promote wellness for themselves and their communities; reimagine what it means to be Indigenous; and reinforce connections between one another and the land.

"We couldn’t support these dreams without you, our wonderful supporters. Thank you for believing in these young people and thank you for investing in their dreams!"
Billy Mills
Founder, Running Strong for American Indian Youth

Dr. Sara (Chase) Merrick, PhD

Hoopa Valley Tribe

“The possibilities are really endless for how fast our students would be able to grow in their learning through this concentrated summer school. Through our growth, the language will grow too. ”
Dr. Sara (Chase) Merrick

Dr. Merrick’s Gold dream is to transform her original Dreamstarter® project of a one-week Hupa Language Immersion Camp into a four week-long camp for 30 Hupa youth ages 5-10 and their families. The camp teachers, comprised of Dr. Merrick and local Hupa speakers, will teach conventional school subjects in a uniquely Hupa way through culturally-based activities and the Hupa Language.

Fast Facts: Dr. Merrick recently earned her PhD in Education, Literacy, and Culture from U.C. Berkeley, where she is the first student to concentrate in their new Indigenous Language Revitalization program.

“I always say that people with disabilities are a unique minority because anyone can become part of us at any time. So, having a sports program in place is really for the benefit of everyone in the community.”
Noah Hotchkiss
University of Illinois, Student Athlete

Noah’s Gold dream builds off his original Dreamstarter® project by expanding, publicizing, and creating a strategic masterplan for his 501c3 organization, Tribal Adaptive Organization. Tribal Adaptive improves the lives of Native Americans with disabilities by addressing misperceptions and barriers to the disabled in Indian Country and encourages healthy, active lifestyles for Native wheelchair users via wheelchair sports clinics and teams.

Fast Facts:  Noah earned an athletic scholarship to University of Illinois to play wheelchair basketball. He is also a National Champion Mono-Skier and founder of Tribal Adaptive Thunderbirds, Indian Country’s first Sportschair Basketball team.

Noah Blue Elk Hotchkiss

Southern Ute, Southern Cheyenne, Caddo

Dr. Cristin Haase, DMD, MPH

Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe

"My dream is to one day visit an Indian Health Service or tribally-run clinic and see American Indian physicians, dentists and administrators as the primary decision-makers and providers."
Dr. Cristin Haase, DMD, MPH
Dr. Haase’s Gold dream expands her original Dreamstarter® project from 2015. The AI/AN Health Professions Workshop aims to increase the number of American Indian and Alaska Native healthcare providers by hosting a workshop for interested students. Faculty and current students from A.T. Still University of Health Sciences (ATSU) will work with and mentor AI/AN youth interested in health professions to prepare them for the rigorous application processes for the following professional degree programs: doctor of dental medicine, doctor of osteopathic medicine, doctor of physical therapy, athletic training and physician assistant.

Fast Facts: Dr. Haase spends much of her free time playing in All-Indian Basketball tournaments and acts as a mentor to American Indian students enrolled at A.T. Still University’s Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health. The Pre-Admissions Dental Workshop (PAW) has been held every year since she first introduced it in 2015.
"I want these urban Native youth in Seattle to recognize their own power as indigenous people. By creating a community, driven by purpose and tradition, I hope to water seeds of belonging and self-empowerment."
Riel LaPlant, MA

Riel’s Gold dream is to promote interest in scientific careers and cultivate strong self-identification with Indigenous identities by having his public high school students design project-based solutions to support salmon and orca conservation – two keystone species of the Pacific Northwest, more specifically the Salish Sea.

Fast Facts: Riel’s eventual dream is to have his curriculum adopted on a state-wide level. He also serves as the teacher representative for his district’s Native Family Advisory Council.

Riel LaPlant, MA

Blackfeet Nation

Jeremy Dennis, MFA

Shinnecock Indian Nation

“So often are indigenous people seen as a vanished race or a people lost in the past, but we can be seen everywhere simply by looking at our ancestral territory.”
jeremy dennis
Jeremy Dennis, MFA

Jeremy’s dream is to preserve sacred and historical landscapes surrounding ancestral tribal Shinnecock territory on Long Island, NY using digital photography and story telling. His Gold dream expands on this effort by hosting free workshops for local youth to learn digital photography and historical preservation through digital documentation. He has preserved several local sites from development due to this effort since his original Dreamstarter® grant 2016. 

Fast Facts: Jeremy and his work have been featured in The New York Times Art & Design, Yahoo! Lifestyle, The Art Newspaper, Women’s Wear Daily, and many more local and regional news outlets.

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