Since its inception in 1986, Running Strong has made it its mission to empower and create a positive impact on our Native American youth. Through our programs and initiatives, we have created an environment that values tribal pride and indigenous knowledge – an environment where these young people can realize their full potential as highly capable individuals who make a true impact on their communities. By providing long-term life-changing solutions, Running Strong is creating lasting change for Native American youth – change that will benefit many generations to come.
Some of the Native community-led efforts we champion provide clean running water, healthy food and organic gardens, daily essentials like backpacks filled with new school supplies, warm winter coats and boots, dental care, cultural preservation, and youth programming for our American Indian youth. We empower Native children to dream, share in their culture and language, and grow up to be healthy members of the next generation – RUNNING STRONG and proud of who they are.
It All Starts With A Dream
Nine years ago, we launched the Dreamstarter® campaign with a mission to empower Native youth and help them reach their goals. Through financial and programmatic support, communications, and grant training, as well as offering mentorship and networking support — the Dreamstarter® program was created to empower young Native people to pursue their aspirations and reach for the stars. This is an endeavor that brings us immense joy, pride, and purpose.
To date, Running Strong has cultivated a network of 80 young Native dreamers who are pursuing their dreams for themselves and their communities and who are making a lasting impact in the lives of the people around them. Through Dreamstarter® and its companion programs – Keep the Dream Alive, Dreamstarter® Teacher, Dreamstarter® Creative, Dreamstarter® Scholarship, Dreamstarter® GOLD, and Dreamstarter® Incubator – Running Strong has invested over $1.6 million in Native communities and in the dreams of their young people, serving over 25,000 people across the country.
Clean Water for All
Since our inception in 1986, one of Running Strong for American Indian Youth’s top priorities has been to provide clean drinking water to the residents of Pine Ridge. In order to reach that goal, we’ve gone from drilling wells, then transitioning into connecting households with safe water lines and repairing septic systems.; as a result, 74 families have now had running water made accessible to them on the Pine Ridge Reservation – enabling 326 people access this precious resource!
To date, Running Strong has completed over 603 water connections, water wells, and septic tank installations on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and Navajo Nation, but our work is still not done. Access to drinkable water is still out of reach for many people. Some live within a mere 100 feet of the service line yet lack any financial means to run their own main line and access it. With your continued support, our goal is to complete our original mission from years ago and bring water connection to all those who are still without this life-giving resource – this year!.
Creating Food Sovereignty
Access to proper food seems like a basic necessity. However, due to the remoteness and geographic isolation, many Native American Communities on reservations live without consistent access to high-quality grocery stores and, with that, fresh fruits and vegetables. This results in health issues related to food scarcity and proper nutrition. That is why we are so excited about our program in Pine Ridge Reservation Indian Reservation, the Oyate Teca Project and their Medicine Root Garden gardening project. The classes offered at Oyate Teca give classroom instruction as well as hands-on learning so that students may learn how to plant, grow, and harvest from their own home gardens. These programs are another step further in creating food sovereignty and creating healthy eating habits and nutrition in our Native Youth.
In addition to the fresh produce grown annually by the garden class participants, the Medicine Root Garden now has four hoop houses, a new seedling nursery, and a climate-controlled greenhouse that produces over 18,000 lbs of produce each season which families can access easily through the Medicine Root Farmer’s Market, Fresh Food Box distribution, and the brand-new Mobile Market which is able to bring fresh fruits and vegetables to those living in the most remote parts of the reservation.
Getting Food to Those In Need
At Running Strong, we understand the importance of providing quality food to families on the Cheyenne River and Pine Ridge Indian Reservations. That’s why in 2021 and 2022, we distributed over 195,000 lbs of food on the Cheyenne River and an astonishing 265,000 lbs of nourishing proteins, vegetables, shelf-stable products, dairy products, and grains. Doing our part for these communities throughout this period of time has been a true blessing
Fortunately, we’ve also been able to supply wholesome meals to so many through our programs to include the ‘Smart Sack’ Backpack Food Program on the Menominee Indian Reservation at the Keshena Primary School. This program combats the lack of food students have over the weekends when they are not able to rely on the free school breakfast and lunch programs. Each year, we distribute 13,500 ‘Smart Sacks’, or backpacks filled with healthy and shelf-stable foods such as milk, soups, oatmeal, and more to ensure that come Monday morning, students are focused, full, and ready to learn.
Lastly, our Summer Youth Feeding Program ensures that even over the summer months, students are able to keep up their strength and nutrition when the free school breakfast and lunch programs are not available. Each summer our program feeds Native youth from June to August – five days a week across three different community centers on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation. Over 24,000 meals, consisting of milk, protein, and fresh fruit, were served to children throughout the 2021 and 2022 summers alone.
Meeting Critical Needs and Emergency Assistance
For many Native American families, “luxury” items such as warm winter clothing, school supplies, and hygiene products can be unattainable due to poverty, high unemployment rates, and remote living conditions. This is a harsh reality that has been particularly felt in the wake of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. Struggling to put food on the table, pay utilities, and keep a roof over their heads has become an everyday battle for these families. Thankfully, Running Strong is actively fighting for those in need by supplementing their most critical needs – an effort that has helped thousands of families across Indian Country.
Every year, Running Strong works to help thousands of Native American families in over 15 tribal communities across the United States. By providing elementary and junior high backpacks filled with school supplies, winter clothing to keep children warm, and dental kits to address oral healthcare needs, they are enabling families in need to have access to these basic but essential items. Their efforts ensure that no child goes without during the long winter season or is unable to succeed in their studies due to a lack of resources.
Our Emergency Heat Match program is an invaluable lifeline for Native American families, providing comfort, security, and peace of mind during a time when they struggle to make ends meet. Through this initiative, we were able to help over 2,100 families stay warm during the cold winter months.
We Can’t Do It Alone
It’s easy to see how Running Strong has continuously made positive changes in the Native Youth community, from the Dreamstarter® initiative to supplying life-sustaining necessities. But it doesn’t stop there, the need is still great, and there is still much more work to be done. That’s why we need your help and support to continue our mission of providing a safe, secure, and prosperous future for the Native Youth. Every contribution makes an impact on the lives of Native Americans – so make sure your voice is heard, and donate today!