Native American youth are often fighting a silent battle, where decades of systemic injustices and generational trauma have resulted in tangible disadvantages such as lack of community and substandard public schooling prospects. However, Native American youth are some of the most resilient and resourceful young leaders that can be found today, and are determined to overcome the obstacles that others place in front of them.
We help communities develop youth centers that provide safe, nurturing spaces with healthy activities for Native American children and teens, such as traditional sporting games, sewing classes, ice cream socials, and opportunities for volunteer work. We also provide assistance to schools and youth centers who do not have the resources to adequately serve their Native American youth population.
It is so important that Native American youth have positive outlets to express themselves and support networks on which to rely. It is also imperative that youth receive culturally appropriate and high quality education.
What we did together in 2020:
- 13,500 Backpacks of food were distributed to children in Menominee Indian School District in Keshena, Wisconsin throughout the school year.
- 5,000 Backpacks of food were distributed to children at the Takini School on the Cheyenne River Sioux Indian Reservation throughout the school year.
- 5,000 Backpacks filled with school supplies were donated to Native American students from elementary students to high school students in Oklahoma, New Mexico, South Dakota, Colorado, California, Iowa, Minnesota, Utah, North Dakota and Arizona.
Since 1999, Running Strong has partnered with Indian Youth of America (IYA) to help support IYA’s youth camp program. IYA runs camps each summer that are created especially for Native American children.
IYA’s youth camps, which host over 100 Native youth 10-14 each year, nurture pride in Native American culture and identity, teach confidence-building skills, and offer activities in specialty interest areas such as science, gymnastics, and basketball.
Indian Youth of American summer camps also provide Native American youth with positive activities to fill summer downtime that might otherwise be unsupervised and leave them vulnerable to peer pressure, criminal activity, and substance abuse. IYA camps instead provide opportunities that will help Native American youth experience educational, career, personal, and cultural growth. IYA furthermore makes sure the camps are affordable for Native American families by fundraising to cover much of the cost for campers.
“I know when the time comes I’ll be back & become a counselor and I will send my younger sibling to camp so she will follow in my footsteps of being an IYA camper.”
Each fall, Running Strong donates backpacks filled with school supplies to Native American youth, from young students to high schoolers.
With the help of Running Strong supporters, thousands of Native American children are able to start off the new school year with confidence and the tools they need to do well in school.
Each brand new backpack includes essential supplies like: scissors, a ruler, pencils, pencil sharpeners, glue, notebooks, pens and much more!
And because Running Strong buys in bulk, just $16.29 provides a Jr. High or High School backpack and supplies, and $9.22 will buy an elementary school backpack and supplies!
“The children showed a renewed sense of confidence when they received the bags. It was especially excited to see the pre-schoolers get excited about their first school backpack.”
At Takini School on the Cheyenne River Sioux Indian Reservation, 100 percent of the children qualify for the federal Free Lunch Program.
Several years ago, teachers noticed that the children in their classes were going hungry during the weekends, with no free school breakfasts and lunches, and contacted Running Strong for American Indian Youth®.
The situation became even more dire once the school week was shortened to four days, meaning that having enough food to eat over the weekends became even more of a challenge.
Running Strong jumped into action and created the Backpack Food Program to ensure that Cheyenne River children don’t go hungry over the weekends.
In fact, the Running Strong food coordinator on the reservation reported that they have noticed that the student’s whole family is able to survive off the food in the backpack, and now Running Strong includes items for the entire family.
Each child has their way of letting us know that the food provided on the weekend really does help them and their family, the food coordinator told us.
Each Thursday, more than 200 students receive full backpacks of food and by buying in bulk, the cost is roughly $4 per backpack which includes items such as fruit cups, graham crackers, canned vegetables and soup and macaroni and cheese.
In Keshena, Wisconsin, it was commonplace for children come to classes in the Menominee Indian School District Monday morning very hungry, not having eaten during the entire weekend.
Teachers documented that the lack of food from school lunch on Friday, until students returned back to school on Monday, caused fatigue, absenteeism, and poor health in general, severely impacting the children’s ability to learn.
To address that critical need, Running Strong for American Indian Youth® initiated its “Smart Sack” program in the 2010-2011 school year for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten children in the school district to provide them with a backpack filled with nutritious snacks on Fridays to take home so they would have something to eat on the weekends.
The impact was immediate and dramatic. Teachers saw a huge difference in their students and came to Running Strong with a request to help even more students. Together, Running Strong and the school district was able to work out a plan to expand the “Smart Sacks” program to include children in grades first through third – a total of 300 children weekly and 9,000 “Smart Sacks” for the entire school year.
In partnership with the school district, Running Strong ships healthy foods including milk, sunflower seeds, chicken noodle soup, beef stew, fruit and grain bars, oatmeal and raisins which are packed up by school volunteers and distributed to the children.
Due in part to the “Smart Sacks” program, the Menominee Indian School District became the first school district on a Native American reservation in the Midwest to receive a Silver in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Healthier School Challenge for meeting rigorous stands for school meals, physical activity and nutrition education.
The Oyate Teca Project is among the most widely respected organizations on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The nonprofit organization began its operations in 1991, committed to enhancing the well-being of children and families by offering effective programs and activities.
The Oyate Teca Project provides safe and constructive school enrichment programs where children can engage in social and recreation activities. These programs are extended into the summer and also offer mentoring support for children as well as their families. Rose Fraser is director and Running Strong’s field staffer for the project.
Whether they are meeting for art classes in the youth center, digging in the community garden or just having family fun, youth at Oyate Teca are engaged, respected and cherished.