About Lakota YouthStay

The Mission Statement

The mission of the Lakota YouthStay program is to foster authentic, mutually rewarding and sustainable friendships between Native American youth and people in Eastern Massachusetts with the goal of inspiring hope and creating cultural understanding and awareness.

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, youth and other participants with an opportunity to learn about the history and culture of Native Americans and experience the beauty and richness of contemporary Lakota life on the reservation

The Story

Since 2012, volunteers from the greater Medford community in Massachusetts have participated in annual volunteer trips to the Pine Ridge Reservation, home to the Oglala Lakota, 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, volunteers have been honored to both meet and develop ongoing friendships with people on the Pine Ridge reservation 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 the vision to share love, seek justice for all, several volunteers imagined ways to make the commitment to Pine Ridge “local” by building long-term, sustainable relationships that would support the young people of the reservation and bring the rich culture of the Lakota people to Boston. The Lakota YouthStay program is an outgrowth of that passion, dedication, commitment and hard work and is supported by many in the Boston area.   In the future, we hope to…

  • Expand cross-cultural exchange to include hosting of Boston area youth to Pine Ridge and other reservations.
  • Expand the YouthStay Program to longer stays — 2 or 3 week – and develop additional sessions in the fall and spring on the reservation.
  • Grow the program and host groups of youth from other reservations;

The Experience

The mission of the Lakota YouthStay program is to foster authentic, mutually fulfilling, sustainable friendships between Native American youth from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and youth/adults in Eastern Massachusetts with the goal of inspiring hope and creating cultural understanding and awareness. Lakota YouthStay is an enriched homestay program with youth and host families engaged in a variety of shared activities of interest. Lakota YouthStay strives to open new 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, youth and others involved in the program to gain a broader and deeper appreciation of the remarkable history, culture and current lives of Native Americans and benefit from friendships with Lakota youth and their families.

The Lakota YouthStay Program is an nine-day experience (2 travel days; 8 days in Boston) with the youth arriving late Tuesday night and departing the following Thursday in the morning. The program consists of participation in 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 host families, 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

A sample YouthStay week:

  • Tuesday: travel day, airport pick-up, settle in, dinner with host family
  • Wednesday: breakfast with host family,  photography class, group lunch, visit to aquarium, dinner with host family
  • Thursday: breakfast with host family, whale watch or museum visit, pizza party
  • Friday: breakfast with hosts, visit to Spectacle Island or beach, dinner with hosts
  • Saturday: breakfast with host family, spend day with host family, group cookout
  • Sunday: breakfast with host family, art class, Tipi Day activities or swimming at local pond, dinner with host family
  • Monday: breakfast with host family, Wampanoag youth get-together or visit to farm
  • Tuesday: breakfast with host family, tour of Harvard or other college/university, Quincy Market or Red Sox game
  • Wednesday: breakfast with host family, sculpture class, tour of ice cream factory, reflection circle, youth photo exhibit, final group dinner/goodbyes with host families
  • Thursday: drop off at airport, travel day

The Team

Joy Harris Founder and Executive 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 her community in Medford, MA, 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.

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 and Kendrick. 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!

Nikki Big Crow Lakota Youthstay Advisor  My name is Nicole Big Crow everyone calls me Nikki. I am an Oglala Sioux born and raised on he Pine Ridge Indian reservation. I am the youngest child of four girls born to Marless Big Crow. I have four children of my own – Darrell Jr, Arthur, Kaleigh and Theodore and a grandson, Gregory. I am an high school graduate of PRHS and graduated with an AA in early childhood. I was a headstart teacher for a total of 14 years. I have worked with children since I was 16 years old through various work programs that the tribe offered. I enjoy working with children of all ages. I enjoy helping people and being a role model. My favorite role is being an educator and being able to help children. When I was younger I participated in an exchange stay in North Carolina. I stayed with a host family who were very amazing and caring people who became family. They supported me in every way possible. I was very scared to go but once I was there I didn’t want to leave. It was an experience I will never forget. I am very  grateful they chose to do an amazing thing and welcome me into their home with open arms. This was my first experience to see places outside of the reservation, it was a memorable experience and loved it.

Marcel Schwab Marcel is a Workforce Analyst in Fidelity Investments’ Human Resources group. He and his family were fortunate to be part of the first year of the Lakota Youthstay Program as a host family. They hosted an 11-year-old girl who quickly bonded with their family and especially their 15-year-old son. Marcel was moved by the stories of the plight of the people on the Pine Ridge Reservation and wanted to help out in some way. When Joy offered him this volunteer opportunity, he was happy to accept. He is excited to use his analytic skills to help the program grow. Prior to this, he and his wife ran (as far as he knows) Malden’s first popup gallery giftshop, featuring works by over 60 visual artists and hosting an array of events, performances, and art classes.

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.

Rob Crooks Lakota YouthStay Advisor Rob is a retired environmental scientist who had over 40 years’ experience as an applied environmental researcher, consultant and environmental policy and regulatory specialist.  He worked for governments, the private sector and international development institutions in Australia, the US and 15 countries in the South Asia and Southeast Asia regions.  He was born and raised in Australia, graduated from Sydney University and came to the United States in 1992 to work with the World Bank in Washington DC on its Asia environmental program.  He later became a US citizen, married a Minnesotan and moved to Medford in 2014 to retire.  More than 20 years of his professional experience was in developing countries, often very poor countries, which has given him an abiding interest in how disadvantaged communities find ways to overcome the development challenges they face and manage the environment around them.

Rob and his wife, Elisabeth have been thrilled to host children from Pine Ridge in each of the two years that the program has been running to date and are looking forward to continuing their participation in the program to continue and grow its success.

Marjorie Kroeger Lakota YouthStay Advisor Marjorie Kroeger is a psychotherapist in private practice in Newton, MA, specializing in the treatment of compulsive behaviors.  She has worked in community mental health and in private practice for 20 years.   Prior to her career in the field of mental health, Marjorie worked in journalism and publishing.    She grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota in a family dedicated to social justice work, welcoming hundreds of displaced or homeless citizens from around the globe into their home for short and long-term residence.

After college she worked as a journalist covering local politics for two daily newspapers. When her two children started school, she enrolled in a graduate program in counseling psychology. Marjorie worked as an outpatient clinician in college counseling, in community mental health and as a psychiatric emergency clinician. Currently, she runs a small counseling practice in Newton, MA dedicated to the treatment of compulsive behaviors and intimacy disorders. Marjorie is passionate about social justice issues, and has spent much of her life volunteering for a variety of organizations. She has served on two non-profit boards and has recently finished a two-year term on the board of Food Link, a food rescue organization which distributes nourishing food from local retailers to underserved populations.   Along with her partner, John Austin, Marjorie hosted two Lakota Youth Stay participants in the summer of 2018.  She has two adult children and a granddaughter.

Rosalie Janis Hello, my name is Rosalie Janis.  I am a single Mother of three (3) and a Grandmother of five (5) Grandchildren and one (1) Great-grandson. My whole world is focused on my family as well as any others who call me Mom or Grandma. I am a Lakota Woman from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota and have lived here in a place called Manderson, SD most of my life.  I did leave off and on to work on my formal education as well as live in different places so that I could find employment and support my children. Most of my life I have worked within the social field as a program director the programs. My work includes Manager of the WKDS Foundation, Director of Victims of Violent Crimes Program, Court Administrator, Oglala Sioux Tribe Executive Director and currently the Human Resource Director of the Wounded Knee District School. I received my Bachelor of Science degree from Oglala Lakota College in the field of Human Services with a minor in Counseling.  I also attended a business college and received a degree in Office Management/Secretarial Science. I have served on several Boards including the OST Public Safety Board, the Wounded Knee District School Board, Wounded Knee District Council and Oglala Lakota College Local Board.  I worked at KILI Radio as the Volunteer Coordinator and DJ as scheduled.

My personal philosophy is to keep healthy both mentally and physically by keeping a healthy balance. I work at staying humble and being in a place where I stand for the children and our mother earth.  I like the privacy of my personal life yet love to share what I can to help others. Being open with my heart for others is important to me and for me to do this I must work to keep my personal space in balance in a healthy manner.

All my life I’ve worked with the youth and we all need to be involved with the youth. I have something to offer working with the youth and the families. I heard about the YouthStay program through my community and started helping some of the youth and families with their YouthStay applications. The YouthStay program gives the youth here an opportunity to see life outside the reservation. With so much going on in the world, it is important for the youth to see positive things happening that they could be a part of in a safe environment and I’d like to help them see positivity in the world.

John Austin Lakota YouthStay Advisor A graduate of Northeastern University, with degrees in both Accounting and in Finance, John Austin is currently in his 14th year as the Director of Finance & Operations at the Meadowbrook School of Weston, a private K-8 elementary school serving 310 children. Prior to that he served as an Operations & Finance Manager for 8 years at the New England Center for Children – a non-profit autism education and research institute serving children and their families. His choice of working for these two organizations was deliberate in the sense of strongly believing in the value of education and of wanting to make a social difference in the world by working for non-profit organizations.

John has long had an interest in Native American history and culture, deepened by his love of the Native American flute. The flute opened doors to meeting people who freely shared their gifts and teachings and inspired in John a deep wish to pay back the gifts he had received in kind. In recent years John has been active with an organization called One Spirit – a Native American service organization founded to assist and support the Oglala Lakota in South Dakota. He also supports the Oglala Lakota College on the Pine Ridge Reservation as well as the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC. Locally, John is a volunteer for a small non-profit organization called Food Link. Food Link is a “food rescue” organization that collects food from local grocery and prepared food stores and distributes it to over 30 social service agencies serving people in need.

In all of this, there is a strong commitment to “Be the change you wish to see in the world” and in the Lakota Youthstay Program John believes that there is a real opportunity and ability to live, and model, that credo.

Nancy Lowenstein Lakota Youthstay Advisor Nancy Lowenstein is an Occupational Therapist and professor at Boston University. Nancy has been community-minded in many different areas. She served on local Boards for a local swim club, an adult day health organization and has served on many committees for the New England Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Nancy has been a mentor to undergraduate students at Boston University for 18 years and has served as a mentor to students from the Posse Foundation of Atlanta guiding them through their 4 years at BU. Nancy and Joy Harris met at OT school and have a shared interest in underserved populations. Nancy assisted Joy in putting together a group of BU students for a trip to the Pine Ridge Reservation in 2015. For several of the students, it was a life-changing experience. Nancy is excited to be an advisor and to bring her skills of planning, mentoring and more to the Lakota YouthStay program.

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, ChetanWin and Ayla.

William (Bill) Hager Bill has a degree in Human Service Administration from the University of New Hampshire. He has a 40 year career in the administration of non-profit community services agencies throughout New England including Catholic Charities Maine, Child Care Services of York County, and the Durham Children’s Center.  He has also worked as a consultant for both regional and national community service and advocacy organizations including Center for Law and Social Policy, Children’s Defense Fund, and National Women’s Law Center.  Bill has been employed as the Executive Director of the West Medford Community Center since May of 2016 and has directed the development of a range of new programs and services as well as guiding the WMCC Board of Directors through a strategic vision and planning process.

Pine Ridge Reservation

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.