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May 2021 E-News: Oyate Ta Kola Ku Community Center, Virtual Dreamstarter Academy, Medicine Root Gardening, and more!

2021 Dreamstarter Academy

In early 2020, Running Strong for American Indian Youth announced our sixth class of Dreamstarters: 10 Native youth from across the country to receive $10,000 each to follow their dreams, all unique projects united under 2020’s theme of Health and Wellness. The Running Strong Dreamstarter® program was announced in 2014 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Billy Mills’ historic Olympic victory and to encourage the next generation of Native youth to follow their own dreams.

The typical Dreamstarter year kicks off with Dreamstarter Academy, a four day-long conference for Dreamstarters and their mentors to bond with their fellow recipients, receive guidance on how to carry out their project, fine-tune the details of their grants, and share their dream with Billy himself. In normal circumstances, each Dreamstarter and their mentor travel to Washington, D.C. for this invaluable experience, but due to the coronavirus pandemic the Academy was conducted via Zoom. All ten Dreamstarters were able to participate and still leave four days later with the valuable bonding experience Dreamstarter Academy creates.

“I knew I was excited about my Dream but I didn’t realize how much it truly meant to me until I got to talk about it with other people who are going through the same thing,” S’Nya Sanchez (Standing Rock) told us.

“Dreamstarter Academy gave me a lot of new friends in addition to my Dream.”

Report from the Medicine Root Gardening Program

Out on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, our Medicine Root Gardening Program students are well over three months into their nine-month intensive gardening curriculum, and their seedlings are almost ready to be put into the ground.

“The usual gardening season begins around Memorial Day for many areas on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation,” Leslie Rae, gardening coordinator, shared with us. “There is usually a chance of frost before Memorial Day, and only on that very odd year does it happen after this time.”

The gardening students have been so successful that their seedlings have overflowed both of the Oyate Teca’s high-tunnel hoop houses and into the Oyate Teca office itself, which has still been closed to the public for Covid-19 precautions.

There are 48 students in this year’s class of gardening students, covering every corner of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Programs such as the Medicine Root Gardening Program strengthen the food sovereignty of the reservation, enabling local families to grow their own produce which is hard to come by on the remote, rural reservation, and very expensive to afford when available. By supporting such organic food and garden programs, Indigenous families have the opportunity not only to provide healthier eating options for themselves but also to sell any surplus produce and generate seasonal income.

Running Strong for American Indian Youth and the Oyate Teca Project are very grateful for the supporters who make programs like these possible and successful spring after spring.

Oyate Ta Kola Ku “Friend of All Nations” Community Center Launch

Running Strong for American Indian Youth® has always looked to the future while concurrently meeting the immediate needs of Native children, families and elders throughout Indian Country.

An example of those dual missions is our plans to construct the Oyate Ta Kola Ku “Friend Of All Nations” Community Center on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation by investing in this infrastructure project to support the dreams of Pine Ridge residents and communities.

The new community center is being named in honor of Gene Krizek, founder and president of Running Strong’s parent organization, Christian Relief Services, who was presented with the Lakota name, Oyate Ta Kola Ku (Friend of All Nations), in recognition of all he has accomplished through Running Strong, which he also co-founded more than 30 years ago with Olympic gold medalist Billy Mills.

The center will include space for a large multi-purpose gymnasium with a concession stand; a home economics teaching kitchen; classrooms for lessons such as sewing, music, and gardening; community showers which double as tornado and windstorm shelter; outdoor space for a farmers market; a loading dock with a small warehouse and delivery truck access; and more.

The new 21,000-square-foot community center is being constructed in partnership with the Oyate Teca Project, a local non-profit which serves more than 700 Oglala Lakota youth a year through children and family programs since 1991, plans to utilize the new community structure to expand their broad range of services and activities to accommodate more visitors, event planning, and storage space.

Samantha, Mother of 2, Now Has Running Water

At Running Strong for American Indian Youth®, we are connecting homes to the main water service line which runs through the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation ensuring that families have access to all the clean, treated water they need for all their basic needs including drinking, cooking, bathing and washing.

Among them is Samantha, a resident of the Wolf Creek area of the reservation, who had a 16-month-old child and was expecting a second, and had not had running water for nearly a year when she applied recently to Running Strong to have a water line run 600 feet from the main water service line to her mobile home.

Instead, the expecting 22-year-old mother was hauling buckets of water from a neighbor 1/4-mile away.

“I need to have running water to meet their basic bathing needs, as well as my own basic needs,” she told us.

But that was then, and now after Running Strong ran 600 feet of water pipe and installed a outside hydrant in her yard, Samantha has access all the water she needs for all the basic needs for herself, and her two young children.


Dreamstarter Teacher Applications Are Open

Running Strong for American Indian Youth® Dreamstarter Teachers are making a difference in their classrooms and schools helping to enable thousands of Native children and youth throughout Indian Country realize their dreams.

Since 2016, when we at Running Strong for American Indian Youth® initiated our Dreamstarter Teacher program to help teachers and other educators such as librarians, counselors, coaches, etc., meet unmet needs in their classrooms or schools, 66 teachers have received $1,000 grants to do just that.

Each year, Running Strong selects up to 25 teachers to receive Dreamstarter Teacher grants which may be used for practically anything they may need in their classroom including resource materials and books, supplies, equipment, professional development, field trips/transportation, and or stipends to support bringing community liaisons into the classroom.

As of this year, through the Dreamstarter Teacher grant program more than 6,400 students have benefited in a myriad of ways to help encourage Native children and youth to follow their dreams.

Over the years, past projects have included teaching young students about traditional methods of dehydrating foods, incorporating culturally representative books about and by Native peoples into a school’s library, coordinating visits by Native elders and community members to classrooms to help students connect with their tribal cultural language and knowledge, constructing greenhouses and planting gardens, developing, producing and distributing lesson plans centered on Native cultures, and much more.

And for the 2021-2022 school year, applications are being accepted now through July 8. If you are, or know, a teacher or educator of Native students who could use $1,000 for the betterment of their students, please apply, or encourage them to apply today.

If you would like to help support our Dreamstarter Teacher program that benefits thousands of Native students each school year, please consider making a contribution today. This school year has ended, but a new one is just a couple of months away.

Help American Indian Youth by Donating Today!