Running Strong for American Indian Youth: Health and Wellness Programs
Affecting change isn’t just about addressing immediate needs; it’s about providing the tools and resources to ensure self-sufficiency, health, and wellbeing in the long term. For Native American families, this effort takes on many forms through the dedicated work of organizations like Running Strong for American Indian Youth®.
The Vision and Efforts
Running Strong has gone above and beyond to provide essential supplemental food and warmth during harsh winters. However, its core programs also focus on fundamental health care, including the distribution of “Smile Strong” dental kits and addressing the widespread issue of “Period Poverty” in Native American communities. These initiatives collectively account for over 10% of Running Strong’s in-kind programs budget.
Addressing “Period Poverty”
Period poverty, a less spoken about, but prevalent issue affects millions of women worldwide, especially Native American women. Almost 17 million women live in poverty in the U.S. alone, with two-thirds unable to afford menstrual products in the past year.
“Smile Strong” Dental Care
When it comes to dental health, Native American children have been found to suffer from untreated tooth decay at four times the rate of their white counterparts. To tackle this, Running Strong has been distributing thousands of Smile Strong kits annually since 2015.
Thanks to the success of Running Strong’s efforts, the distribution of feminine hygiene kits has been a success, with 3,000 kits already distributed across up to 20 tribal communities this year alone. Moreover, the distribution of dental kits has doubled from 3,000 to 6,000, thanks to a generous grant from Proctor & Gamble.
The Impact of Feminine Hygiene Kits
The availability of these kits has been a game changer for many Native American women, providing access to basic sanitary products that many of us take for granted.
Expansion of Dental Kits
Meanwhile, the increase in dental kits allows Running Strong to reach twice as many children, further promoting dental hygiene and health within the community.
In response to the prevalent period poverty, the WičhičhaǧAStrong program (Lakota for “they all grow, they thrive, they prosper, they are the generation”) was initiated to provide free menstrual hygiene products and education to Native American women and girls.
Focus on Healthy Foods and Nutrition
Beyond addressing immediate health concerns, Running Strong promotes healthy lifestyles by encouraging Native American families to consume nutritious foods. Through their gardening programs and supplemental food box programs, they aim to improve the overall health and wellbeing of the Pine Ridge community.
Getting Kids Moving
Physical activity is also on the agenda, with walking challenges and sports like basketball and volleyball being promoted through the Oyate Ta Kola Ku (Friend of All Nations) Community Center on Pine Ridge.
The Role of Teachers and Schools
Dreamstarter Teacher Program
Early intervention is a key factor in promoting lifelong physical and mental health. Since 2017, the Dreamstarter Teacher program has allowed nearly 20 teachers to implement health programs in their schools, providing students with the tools they need to live a long and healthy life.
The diverse initiatives of Running Strong have successfully ensured more than just the basic needs of the Native American families. From addressing period poverty to promoting oral health, encouraging physical activity to providing nutritional foods, these programs truly exemplify the organization’s dedication to empowering and strengthening Native American youth and their communities