Meet Gary – an Ambassador for the SuAnne Big Crow Boys and Girls Club at the Pine Ridge Reservation. In this one-on-one interview, Gary sits down with guest blogger, Meghan Kelly, and tells the story of how a little hope can go a long way… even in the face of tragedy.
So you’re a Collette Foundation Ambassador! Have you always wanted to do that?
I always kept it in the back of my mind that I’d like to get involved with a really worthwhile cause in a very hands-on way. In the past, I have made monetary donations to some great causes and have walked for Jimmy Fund… but I’ve never really rolled my sleeves up to help. I have been keeping an eye out for a project that would be a good fit.
How did you learn about the Pine Ridge Reservation?
A friend from the Collette Foundation mentioned the SuAnne Big Crow Boys and Girls Club on the Pine Ridge Reservation to me; I was instantly intrigued, but I always research a project before jumping in. What I discovered in my research astonished me. SuAnne Big Crow was a star athlete, standout student… and an inspiration to the youth of Pine Ridge. She always encouraged them and wanted the best for all of them. When an NBC broadcast negatively portrayed the youth from the Pine Ridge Reservation, SuAnne was infuriated. She told her family of her dream to someday have a building where children at Pine Ridge could be safe, learn and be encouraged to excel.
When SuAnne tragically perished in a car accident at just 17 years old, her mother Chick Big Crow, decided to fulfill her daughter’s dream in her honor. Chick – along with the help of the National Boys and Girls Club of America – created the first site for a Native American Boys and Girls Club. I learned the story and I knew that I had to help.
What was the site like upon your first visit?
When I arrived at the club, I saw a beautiful building that had been built 10 years ago. The outside filled me with a sense of hope. When I stepped inside, however, I saw that the building was in disrepair. Most of the lighting did not work, the facility was very dirty and the pool had no cycling water, which created a foul smell throughout the building. The facility didn’t have enough funds to open on a regular basis and there were only two employees, Chick and a single volunteer. 130 Native American children were signed up for the club, but there would be 20 kids at most on an average day. During that first visit, there were only three children there. It was sad and made me want to immediately get to work.
What kind of work have you done?
I’ve met with people who could potentially improve this club – from the Health Education and Promotion Council of South Dakota and the American Red Cross to Tribal leaders, Indian health services and executives from the Governor’s Office.
During my next four visits, I examined the club in detail, taking inventory of what was needed. I studied their accounting and attendance records while making sure the funds the Collette Foundation had donated were being spent properly. I got my hands dirty with fixing things and cleaning up the club making it a more appealing place for kids in hopes to boost attendance. I had also become a member of the Board of Directors for the club and was able to meet some of the other members to brainstorm plans for the club.
What has improved since your first visit?
The biggest improvement that I have seen at the club is its morale. There is hope now. While the club still cannot afford to hire employees, Chick has at her side enough volunteers to feed and work with the children. The club is now open three days a week and in the past twelve months there have been substantial improvements in the club’s equipment. All the lights have been fixed, their restaurant is working on a 5-day schedule, the pool is cleaned, there are fully functional pool tables. There is an art room and six working computers. Since getting involved, I am happy to note that the club has received more financial contributions and an increased amount of children attending on a daily basis.
So what’s next for you and the Club?
One of the main short-term goals is to have the club fully operating almost every day of the week. We want to make sure that the key programs of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America are re-instated into this club and children are participating in them on a regular basis. We are looking to build an endowment of $7 million within the next two years and are hoping to raise $350,000 in small grants and donations.
We hope to improve the restaurant as well – so the children can enjoy healthier food. We are hoping to build a wellness center for members and to create some work preparation programs for older members.
I imagine that Chick is pretty happy with the partnership…
She’s so grateful and happy to work with the Collette Foundation – just as we’re so elated to work with her in achieving SuAnne’s dreams. She’s come so far. From the seed of an idea planted after tragedy, she’s watched the club grow from a tiny building to where it is now. She’s watched that building flourish into the place it is today… and I think she has hope it can be all SuAnne wanted it to be. And more.
Any plans to return?
Of course! I actually just returned from a visit last week. The club celebrated its 20th anniversary… and 10th anniversary of the main building. What’s truly moving is that June 2nd has now been declared SuAnne Big Crow Day in South Dakota! It was a wonderful celebration with a lot of faces to show how much support it now has behind it. It was full of promise.
We have so many great plans ahead. Stay tuned!