About Lakota YouthStay

The Mission Statement

The mission of the Lakota YouthStay Program is to foster authentic, mutually fulfilling relationships between Native American youth from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and youth/adults from Eastern Massachusetts.  By exchanging visits to each other’s communities, we seek to create cultural understanding. 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 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, Sanctuary United Church of Christ members and friends 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, 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 cross-cultural exchange to include hosting of Boston area youth on Pine Ridge and other reservations.
  • 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;

The Experience

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 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

A sample of YouthStay week:

  • Tuesday: travel day, airport pick-up, settle in, dinner with host family
  • Wednesday: breakfast with host family, group lunch, photography class, 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, 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, spend day with host family
  • Wednesday: breakfast with host family, sculpture class, tour of ice cream factory, reflection circle, youth photo exhibit, final group dinner/goodbyes with hosts
  • Thursday: 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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 (LYS) program is seeking interested parties to join the LYS Advisory Team. The LYS Advisory Team will consist of six to eight members. Members represent both Pine Ridge’s various districts and the greater Boston area. This is a volunteer, unpaid position with a minimum one-year commitment. The Lakota YouthStay Advisory Team members will be asked to help ensure that the organization does the best work possible in pursuit of its goals. They are invested and believe in the purpose and the mission of the organization and will act responsibly and prudently as its steward and advocate.  The primary functions of the Advisory Team 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 stake holders;
  • to introduce and promote the program on the reservation and in the greater Boston area;
  • to assist with providing information to interested youth, hosts, families and others;
  • to assist with recruiting, vetting and guiding youth and local hosts through the application process;
  • to assist with preparing youth and host families for program participation;
  • to assist with travel and program arrangements;
  • to assist with pre/post-trip youth and family get-togethers
  • to assist with pre/post-trip surveys for youth and families and program  improvement initiatives
  • to organize, lead and/or participate in Lakota YouthStay fundraising activities

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