About Lakota YouthStay

The Mission Statement

The mission of the Lakota YouthStay Program is to provide cultural exchange opportunities for Native American youth from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and to foster authentic, mutually fulfilling relationships between Lakota youth and non-natives.

We seek to open a world of possibilities for Native American youth whose access to broader educational, intellectual, cultural and social experiences may be limited on the reservation.  We expect the YouthStay experience to ignite a spark of hope in Lakota youth and motivate them to continue learning, living and growing so that they reach their full potential. Ideally, the experience will inspire Lakota youth to envision a future living creatively and productively on the Pine Ridge reservation and contribute towards improving conditions on the reservation over time.  Within the greater Boston community, we expect hosts and others involved in the program to gain a better appreciation of the remarkable history, culture and current lives of Native Americans and benefit from friendships with Lakota youth.

The Vision
Provide all participants with an opportunity to share conversation, experiences and develop friendships while participating in a variety of shared activities of interest.
Provide Native American young people with opportunities to explore the world beyond the reservation, develop new hobbies, interests and a love of discovery.
Help Native youth link current and nascent interests with the development of future skills and knowledge – empowering and enabling them to live whole and full lives as contributors in their communities.
Provide Boston area hosts and other participants with an opportunity to learn about the history and modern day experience of Native Americans.

The Story

Since 2012, Sanctuary United Church of Christ members and friends have participated in annual volunteer trips to the Pine Ridge Reservation, home to the Oglala Sioux ,  in South Dakota. Through the years, volunteers have worked with numerous non-profit organizations there supporting building and other community projects for the benefit of the Lakota people.

In all of these experiences, Sanctuary members have been honored to both meet and develop ongoing friendships with people on Pine Ridge as well as visit a land of striking beauty with a vibrant indigenous culture.  As they learned about the rich history and culture of the Lakota people, the volunteers were deeply moved by the experience and returned to the Boston area as changed people—determined to do more to stand in solidarity with the people on the reservation.

Out of their faith and the congregation’s vision to share love, seeking justice for all, a number of members imagined ways to make the commitment to Pine Ridge “local” by building long-term, sustainable relationships that would support the young people of Pine Ridge and bring the culture of the reservation to Boston.

The Lakota YouthStay program is an outgrowth of the passion and hard work of a few members and is supported by the church’s leadership, staff, resources and ministry plan.

In the future, we hope to

  • expand the YouthStay Program to longer stays — 2 or 3 week – or even for the entire summer!
  • grow the program to host larger groups of youth from more reservations;
  • expand cross cultural exchange to include hosting of Boston area youth on Pine Ridge and other reservations.

The Experience

The Lakota YouthStay Program is an eight-day experience with the youth arriving late Tuesday night and departing the following Wednesday in the morning. The program consists of shared group activities in the greater Boston/Eastern Massachusetts area chosen to engage the unique interests of the Lakota youth attending that year.  The youth will be housed with their hosts, will typically have breakfast with the hosts and then join together for various group experiences and day trips for the remainder of the day.  Based on the interests of the individual youth, we will develop a schedule of experiences that might look like this:

The Week

  • Tuesday: travel day; meet hosts; settle in, dinner with hosts
  • Wednesday: breakfast with hosts; group lunch; photography class; group cookout
  • Thursday: breakfast with hosts; Wampanoag tribe summer youth program on Cape Cod
  • Friday: breakfast with hosts; trip to downtown Boston, dinner with hosts
  • Saturday: breakfast with hosts, day trip to beach or whale watch, local pow wow, group cookout
  • Sunday: breakfast with hosts, trip to small ice cream making business; tour of Harvard or other college with Native American student guide, dinner with hosts
  • Monday: breakfast with hosts, trip to Mt. Kearsage or Tomaquag Indian Museum or go to Red Sox baseball game, group dinner
  • Tuesday: breakfast with hosts, local hike, shopping, youth photo exhibit, final group dinner with hosts/volunteers; goodbyes
  • Wednesday: drop off at Airport, travel day

The Team

Joy Harris
Program Director

Joy is an occupational therapist, world traveler, and outdoor enthusiast with a deep interest in the world, other cultures and nature.  Her connection to Pine Ridge Reservation and the Lakota people begin in 2012 when she, along with a group from Sanctuary UCC, volunteered to work on building projects for a week on the reservation.  That experience changed her perspective on life and deepened her interest in Native American issues in a profound way.  She continues to volunteer on Pine Ridge each year and frequently organizes/leads groups of volunteers from her local community and beyond for a week of service to the people of Pine Ridge.  Joy provides educational presentations on Lakota history, culture and volunteer opportunities in her local community at churches, libraries, schools and other local venues with the goal of increasing awareness of current issues affecting Native Americans.  The Lakota YouthStay program idea was borne out of this passion and her commitment to provide opportunities that will inspire hope and a sense of purpose for Lakota youth.

Susan Fairchild
Financial Manager

Susan Fairchild, BA, Bilingual Education and ESL from Boston University and Masters coursework in Linguistics from California State University, participated in her first volunteer week at Pine Ridge Reservation in 2016, and plans to return again in the summer of 2017.  The trip was one of many volunteer opportunities that she has participated in.

Her true calling is to bring an entrepreneurial spirit and energy to opportunities that need to “get stuff done.”  Previously she has been contributed to the Medford Farmers Market, CACHEinMedford, creative founder of Circle the Square, Friends of Chevalier Theatre, Haines Square Fall Festival, Community Development Board, and most recently, the Chevalier Theatre Commission.

Susan retired in 2015 from a career focused on customer satisfaction and process improvements; bringing technology to departments intended to improve the customer experience including internet functionality, databases, MSOffice functionality, web-based marketing, and social media.

Susan is excited to contribute to the mission of the Lakota Youth Stay Program in whatever ways helps it to succeed.

Bruce Roberts
Lakota YouthStay Advisor

Bruce is a clinical psychologist who has worked for over 25 years in a Community Mental Health Center and serves as the Director of Training for the doctoral psychology internship program there. He has long had an interest in the literature, history and experience of Native Americans.  He also enjoys travel, film, the outdoors and other cultures.  He and his wife, Joy, have been making yearly trips to Pine Ridge since 2012 doing volunteer work on the reservation.  Though not a formally trained business person, he has served for many years as a trustee of his church’s invested funds and as well as a member of the advisory committee of his workplace retirement plan.  His goal is to keep the YouthStay program on a solid financial footing.

Shannon Freed
Lakota Youthstay Advisor

Shannon Freed has over 30 years of experience working with children. She is a former youth soccer coach, ski race team coach, camp counselor and pre-school teacher. She has a degree in Human Development and Family Studies with a focus in Early Childhood Education from Colorado State University and recently graduated with a Masters in Lakota Leadership and Management from Oglala Lakota College. She has been leading up a small community organization on Pine Ridge for the past 6 years called Earth Tipi who’s stated mission is “Connecting people and resources to create sustainable housing and grow food on Pine Ridge”. Their most recent project was an overnight summer camp for girls ages 5-11 and was co-sponsored by a youth group from California. Shannon and her partner Adam (who is a Wildland Firefighter for the BIA in Pine Ridge and from Manderson, SD) have 3 young daughters, Raven age 8, ChetanWin age 3 and Ayla 20 months.

Christy Webber
Lakota Youthstay Advisor

My name is Christy Webber. My Dakota name is Wicahpi Duta Wiyan (Red Star Woman). I am an enrolled member of the Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe of Fort Totten, ND as well as a descendant of the Blackfeet Tribe in Browning, Montana and of the Oglala Sioux Tribe in Pine Ridge, SD. My education consists of a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology/Family Consumer Sciences from Chadron State College, in Chadron, NE. Currently, I reside in Pine Ridge, SD where I am employed at the Oglala Sioux Tribe Child Care & Development Program as the Developmental Assessment Coordinator. I have also worked with youth through the dormitory school life as a Residential Life Manager for the Pine Ridge School, also in the community as a Summer Youth Supervisor & Girls Softball coach. In addition to my educational and career accomplishments, I am a proud mother of two beautiful boys, Christopher (5 Months) and Kendrick (3 years old). My purpose of everyday is to provide for their needs and help them grow in their precious little lives as well as work my heart out to give back to my community, in any way possible. Upon meeting Youth Stay Program Director Joy Harris & Program Advisor Tosa Two Hearts, I learned of the Youth Stay Program and I completely loved the idea of giving youth a great opportunity to explore life and opportunities outside of the reservation. I believe the youth should have the opportunity to expand their knowledge and create a better future for themselves whether they decide to return home or not. There is so much for a young person to learn about the world, this would connect them with a strong support system as well as build their confidence in exploring the many possibilities out there. I look forward to watching this program bloom and I am happy to be a part of this awesome opportunity!

Dante Witt
Lakota Youthstay Advisor

I am an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota Sioux tribe. My current hometown is Martin, SD. I am 16 years old and live in a household of seven people. A few things I like doing is longboarding, playing basketball, talking with people, etc. I am a junior at Red Cloud high school and I think I am a nice person. I try to be on the best behavior I can be. It is hard sometimes. I  I do my best to get the best grades I can get. I usually am a chill person and go with the flow. I communicate well. I think the YouthStay is a great program because it helps native youth get out and see what else the world has to give to them. It will create ideas for them and expand their thoughts of the world. Many of my relatives say I will become a great leader and do great things.

Dakota High Hawk
Lakota Youthstay Advisor

Mr. Dakota High Hawk is an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe (OST) and was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and a life-long resident of Wounded Knee, SD. He is currently pursuing his Bachelor of Science (BS) Degree in Business Administration and Majoring in Accounting from the Oglala Lakota College (OLC). He dedicated to start his career in the Health Field as he worked for the Tribes Health Administration for nearly five years in the Public Health Nursing Department. Dakota is also a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA); A Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health, Certified Family Spirit Trainer/ Supervisor (CFST) in the family Spirit Program Curriculum on Maternal Child Health; & a Certified Community Health Educator (CHE) specializing in COPD (Asthma) and Diabetes Mellitus.

Dakota is a life-long advocate for empowering Lakota youth in leadership and Community Wellness Programs, also in their education, culture, history and has a great interest in Native Nation Rebuilding. Dakota has been giving the “Culture Orientation” and History of Wounded Knee for the tribe for the past several years to our Service Providers and has been educating in the Lakota Culture and the importance on Culture Revitalization to the volunteers that come through the Re-Member Outreach Service Program for the past 8 years.

Dakota is a well-rounded individual, and expressed leadership qualities as a young person. He received Recognition and Honored as a Youth and as an adult in his Commitment and Dedication to the Lakota Youth/People by the Wounded Knee District and the Oglala Sioux Tribe. He is a resident of the Wounded Knee Community and a descendant of the Wounded Massacre. He comes from Chief Tatanka Iyotaka (Sitting Bull) on his mother’s side seven generation back, of the Hunkpapa Lakota Tribe and Chief Cetan Wankatuya (High Hawk) from his Father’s side seven generations back from the Mnicoujou Lakota Tribe.

Dwan Louise Red Elk
Lakota Youthstay Advisor

Dwan Louise Red Elk is from Wanblee, SD on the Pine Ridge Reservation and is enrolled in the (0ST) Oglala Sioux Tribe. She has three brothers, two sisters, and three beautiful nieces. Dwan is in her junior year at Black Hills State University in Spearfish, SD and plans to pursue her Degree in Human Services/Social Work with a minor in early childhood education. She will be the first in her family to receive a four year college degree.  Dwan is very loving, self-motivated with a caring smile who puts family first. Throughout Dwan’s high school days, she participated in many extracurricular activities including book club, basketball, softball, and volleyball. She was the salutedictorian of her high school class.  In her spare time, she likes to read books by native author, Sherman Alexie, or go fishing with her younger siblings. Dwan was on the Honor Society list for perfect attendance as well as the Leadership Board.  In 2012-13, she traveled to Colorado and Wisconsin to participate in a medical careers program during which she observed health care personnel including doctors. She worked with the Badlands National Park (2012-2014) through a Stewarts Grant and was the first volunteer in the program. As Youth Ambassador in 2014, she was chosen to represent the Badlands National Park in a cultural exchange program. During the summers of 2015-16, Dwan worked as a Summer Youth Supervisor with young people from the age 14 years and up. She also helped out with extra work around her community. Dwan is a very dedicated and hardworking young lady. When trying to achieve her goals, she doesn’t let obstacles get in her way; she perseveres and works towards her dreams.

New Advisor Coming!

Reverend Wendy Miller Olapade
Ex-officio Advisor

Rev. Miller Olapade is the Lead Pastor of Sanctuary UCC in Medford, MA. With a passion for creative and emerging worship, a heart for extravagant welcome and the provocative instincts of a prophet, Rev. Wendy inspires others to be their best selves and brings holy joy, an evangelist’s spin and a sense of celebration to all that she does.

Volunteer for the Advisory Team

The Lakota YouthStay program is seeking interested parties for the Advisory Committee.  The Committee will consist of six to eight members – with members representing both Pine Ridge’s various districts and the greater Boston area. This is a volunteer, unpaid position with a staggered 1, 2 or 3-year commitment.

The primary Advisory Committee functions are:

  • to guide the development of the program in a culturally sensitive and honorable way to facilitate trust, understanding and respect between all Lakota YouthStay stakeholders;
  • to introduce and promote the program on the reservation and in the greater Boston area;
  • to assist with providing information to youth, hosts, families and others who are interested;
  • to assist with recruiting, vetting and guiding Lakota youth and local hosts through Lakota YouthStay application process;
  • to assist with preparing Lakota youth and local hosts for program participation;
  • to assist with travel and program arrangements;
  • to assist with post-trip surveys for youth and hosts and program improvement initiatives;
  • to participate in Lakota YouthStay fundraising activities.

To learn more about the duties and responsibilities related to being on the Advisory Committee, click here. To volunteer for the Lakota YouthStay Advisory Committee, click the button below.

About Pine Ridge

Pine Ridge today is the 8th largest reservation in the U.S.  It is the 2nd poorest county in the country. Life on Pine Ridge can be extremely difficult for many people especially the young people.  Pine Ridge is about two-thirds the size of Connecticut with a population of approximately 35,000 with 35% under the age of 18.

Some other statistics (from federal, state and tribal sources):

  • Annual per capita income: $7,000
  • Unemployment: 85 – 90%
  • Alcoholism: 80 – 85%
  • 97% live below the federal poverty level
  • Life expectancy is 48 years for men; 52 years for woman
  • Teen suicide rate is 2.5 times higher than the US national average
  • School drop-out rate is 70%
  • 35% of the household on Pine ridge have no indoor plumbing; 39% have no electricity
  • Most people have limited access to quality health care
  • There are minimal preventative health care programs
  • There is limited public transportation
  • There are no major retail stores on the reservation. There is one grocery store and a number of convenience stores.