So, where do we go from here?

An exciting part of the learning I’m doing through the process of piloting, then finessing my interest in connecting teen girls from Pine Ridge with contacts for mutual benefit, and recently extending efforts to enrichment directly on the reservation, is in so many happy surprises along the way. When I approached a second camp director (this time at Girls Rock! Chicago) about a totally-new-for-her idea and got the immediate enthused support in reply I’d received four years earlier from Thousand Waves about their camp, I was emboldened to throw out a fundraising idea on social media, despite my awareness that people are inundated there with pleas for support for myriad worthy endeavors. I shared some of my favorite sources of information on the plight of the Lakota, offered a homemade gift in thanks for donations, and encouraged contacts to share what I had there to spread the word.

Response to my repeated posts and nudging friends to share began an affirming trickle of donations, including in-kind offers of help, such as this website, contributed by Creative Sidekicks in Atlanta — complete strangers to me until they discovered this cause through a family friend via Facebook. They felt the cause was worthwhile even before learning that I was sixteen at the time I set up the second pilot of the exchange. This is significant only because the teens-helping-teens aspect of the program I was looking to establish enhanced the perception of the program’s promise. It certainly enhanced interest, even at my high school, where peers bought as gifts for family members the jars I decorated and filled with glazed nuts as thanks for donation, and where my Student Council and school newspaper advisors offered support in fundraising.

Every step of my uneven journey proved encouraging for the readiness and energy of so many enthusiastic people. I knew, of course, that girls here would grow from the experience of hosting girls from the reservation. I knew that the girls in camp with our guests would benefit. And my focus was on the obvious benefits to those guests. As I basked in all of that potential and witnessed the momentum of the idea, my extended goal became to pay for camp enrollment (as well as defray host expenses) to support Girls Rock! in their tireless work with girls. (That tireless work includes year-round fundraising that will ultimately cover all of the scholarships they extend to anyone interested in the camp but unable to pay for the opportunity.) Unbelievably, an immensely compassionate philanthropist stepped in to cover the bigger expenses (flights and camp tuition), a gesture they followed with a donation large enough to purchase instruments for set-up of music programs at two Pine Ridge schools, but as they prefer to remain anonymous, I can extend here only credit and thanks they’ll understand.

The energetic engagement I got from faculty, grad students and staff in Northwestern University’s Physics & Astronomy Department for the idea of extending enrichment to girls through a STEM weekend, coupled with the equally enthused response I got from both the University’s Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion and the Center for Native American & Indigenous Research, made the next steps to hosting groups remarkably easy and gratifying for everyone’s investment in sharing what we all enjoyed in Evanston and learning what our guests chose to share across their stay.

As I move forward one step at a time with vision that continues to be shaped by the happy surprises that have reliably presented themselves in this whole process, I’m confident that they’ll collectively be the biggest determiner of where we go from here. I’m excited to continue on the path, learning throughout.