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RAI planned expansion set to begin, demonstrates values

Groundbreaking for RAI expansion. From left to right: Richard Moves Camp (spiritual leader), Bruce Long Fox (RAI Executive Director), Anne Reddy (RAI Head Start Director), Jim Scull (Capital Campaign Steering Committee), Jack Lynass (Steering Comm, Pres BHCB), Paulette Davidson (Steering Comm, CEO Monument Health) and Andy Scull from Scull Construction. (Photo by Marnie Cook)

RAPID CITY – Rural America Initiatives (RAI) is expanding again, with plans to add eight classrooms for their Early Head Start program. The groundbreaking for the expansion was held on Friday December 1, with the staff and RAI leadership hosting guests at a private event. The same purpose that has sustained the program through numerous governorship’s and continued fulfilment of the original mission added to the excitement, as did news that RAI will begin this new phase of the project, debt free.

A small portion of the $7.2 million dollar project still needed to be raised, a total of $125,000, which was to be added to the expansion costs for the new capital campaign but an anonymous donor stepped forward and “retired our mortgage”. Executive Director Bruce Long Fox said that 100 percent of the funds collected during this campaign will be used for construction. The cost of eight classrooms, including inflation, is estimated to be $4,057,170. RAI has $2 million for the project and will be raising the same amount.

“Hopefully that will help us serve 80 more kids,” Executive Director Bruce Long Fox said. Rapid City’s population continues to grow and Long Fox said that the Native population is growing at a greater rate than non-Natives. “We have many on our waiting list, so we know there is a need in Rapid City,” said Long Fox.

RAI has been successfully serving at-risk Native American children and their families, uninterrupted, since 1986. The first organization to convince the federal government to use tribally controlled Head Start dollars earmarked to reservations, to serve Urban Indians by prioritizing services for families moving from the reservation to Rapid City.

The “Urban Indian” era of U.S. policy in the mid-20th century encouraged Native Americans to leave their reservations and flock to the cities where they would find the American dream. This however, created a separation from community, language, tribal support and land that have added to the trauma this population had experienced by previous U.S. policy that deliberately separated them from tribe, family and language. Today, Native Americans still come to Rapid City from the reservation for the same reasons – in search of economic opportunity for themselves and their families.

True to its original mission, RAI focuses on the whole family of Native American children to thrive in a contemporary environment and retain their cultural values. Their focus is to develop a community of Lakota men and women to work together, much like the traditional ways, to strengthen families and practice the values of respect, honesty, language, generosity and courage. RAI offers Early Head Start and Head Start for younger kids as well as their Ateyapi role-modeling mentorship program for middle and high-schools in Rapid City which offers the entire family unit the skills to break the crippling cycle of poverty that many in Rapid City experience.

“The children are the priority,” said Long Fox. “We know the families, mothers and fathers can’t work unless they have affordable trustable childcare. That’s what we provide for them: professionally trained sober, adult role models. We really emphasize the sobriety. We are hoping we will be able to get those classrooms going again the fall of 2024. It will continue to grow.”

In 2015, RAI began a targeted fundraising campaign to replace failing modular and trailer buildings that had been in use for 30 years and had lasted a decade longer than they should have. Excellent planning and a generous community allowed them to open their new school in January of 2019 with the administrative offices and classrooms under one roof. Because growth has always been anticipated, the new building was designed to accommodate eventual expansion.

Head Start has been serving at-risk kids for more than 50 years. Created during the Johnson Administration’s “War on Poverty” after a panel of childhood development experts recommended a comprehensive child development program that promoted early education as well as health, nutrition, and parental education. What began as a summer program to break the cycle of poverty has served more than 37 million children and their families. Head Start promotes school readiness for children as well as providing services and programs for the whole family.

During the 1990’s, the Clinton administration expanded the program to serve infants and toddlers through the Early Head Start program.

Long Fox said the unemployment rate is below 2 percent. “Its’ not just providing free child care,” he said “we’re doing economic development and there are partners with us, who have invested in us. And they understand that giving money to a program like this, an early childhood program, actually is economic development providing for the future growth of Rapid City. For us it’s really important because , we used to be the only Native American organization here in town, there is another one now, it feels good to have people support us and believe in us and believe in our mission. We know that they care about the kids and care about the community.

“We want to give them a safe, healthy place to be. Our mothers and fathers would not work without having affordable, in this case, free, child care. As Jim Scull always says, let’s build these kids a state- of –art-school where they can really get a head start on life, thank you Jim.”

Long Fox continued , “You, our friends, have helped us to create that state-of-the-art school. We are thankful and want to share our appreciation with you. In our Lakota way, we do that by praying with and for you, and by feeding you. We’ve asked Richard Moves Camp here today to say a prayer and bless the crowd.”

Moves Camp said “Thank you all our relatives for coming. Today, another special day, we dedicate Unci Maka, to Grandmother Earth, the future of our children and future generations. We want children to have a good life. We want children to have a good head start. So, as always before we do anything else we acknowledge Unci Maka, Grandmother Earth. And the gathering here today, we ask Creator God to bless each and every one of the people who are here. Bless the gathering and a new start for the future as we prepare a way of life.”

Moves Camp finished the prayer in Lakota followed by a smudge. Long Fox noted with appreciation that many had been with the project since RIA was in the old building.

As the group moved inside to find shelter from the increasingly bitter wind, there was a feeling of accomplishment and cooperation, perhaps generated by the practice of Lakota values, like sharing a meal of buffalo chili and fry bread from Fork Real. And burritos from QDoba.

(Contact Marnie Cook at staffwriter@nativesunnews.today)

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