The new year is soon upon us, and to welcome 2020 we’d like to take a look back at all we’ve achieved with the help of our friends this year. We rang in 2019 with our annual Heat Match program, which ensured over a thousand Pine Ridge Indian Reservation families kept their propane and electricity on through the dark depths of January and February.

In the spring, we watched the Oyate Teca Project of Kyle, SD, blossom as they began their gardening program. Participants came from all over the reservation to learn how to operate farm equipment, sow their own home gardens, and take the fruits of their labor to market (preserving methods, selling practices, and USDA certifications). The gardening participants grew over 20 tons of fresh vegetables despite summer hail storms and flooding, and during the final vegetable distribution event in October filled 103 sacks with 15 lbs. of varied produce each. This spectacular year of growth was accomplished in addition to the regular rotation of classes and programs held at Oyate Teca, such as dry food box distributions, quilting classes, youth activities, and holiday parties.

Summer also brought change as the children of our partner programs began a new school year. Who doesn’t remember the excitement of walking in to your first day of school and cracking open a fresh binder or the scent of new pencils? Thanks to our supporters, these kids started the school year on the right foot with brand new backpacks stuffed full of notebooks, pens, folders, and cold lunches (totaling 3,000 for elementary students and 2,000 for high schoolers).

Once the ground was soft enough to dig deeply, our water connections teams in Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and Navajo Nation sprang into action, working diligently all spring, summer, and fall to bring water to families who had previously been hauling gallons from up to 5 miles away. They completed 20 hook-ups of homes to main water lines and installed 15 hydrants and 3 septic tanks. All in all, Running Strong was able to serve 415 household members in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and Navajo Nation – 371 members being children under 18.

As 2019 began to wind down, Running Strong and our partners only stepped up the pace. Winter is one of our busiest seasons – from holiday turkey deliveries to winter clothes distribution, to toy drives and Heat Match. The Giving Tuesday #OperationSnowsuit fundraiser challenged us to provide 10,000 Native youth with new parkas, sturdy snow boots, hats, gloves, and scarves – which our supporters delivered with the most successful #OperationSnowsuit yet! This gift was soon followed by a seasonal favorite – the Toys for Tribes toy drive for our local partners on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Our field offices host holiday parties and visits from Santa during the distribution of over 3,700 gifts for local kids ages infant to teen; this year’s holiday party will be December 23rd at Oyate Teca.

This month, we’re gearing up for our next Heat Match which kicks off January 6th, completing the circle of annual and ongoing Running Strong programs for 2019. Running Strong for American Indian Youth extends our sincerest gratitude to all of our partners, sponsors, family, and friends that help keep us – well, running strong. 2019 would not have looked the same without you – 2020 looks even better with all of us in it together! Wopila!

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