I’ve gotten several inquiries recently on what a sponsor is and does, as well as how to be a sponsor. I have to admit that my first inclination was to give the easy answer and let you all do the work. I could just refer you to the ONE Spirit link ( http://nativeprogress.org ).
But I’ve discovered over nearly 60 years that the easiest way is not necessarily the best way. So I will first give the technical information and then I will give you the experiences I have had during 5 years of sponsoring. If you’ve never seen Pine Ridge Reservation, you may want to view these videos: http://youtu.be/-gHXmlUpVvs or http://youtu.be/t8UYGSBl4yU .
I should preface by adding that one of the 5 years we sponsored was with a different organization than ONE Spirit. It was a very unsatisfactory experience. A monthly cash donation went to the organization. Gifts to the girl we sponsored had to be sent to the group, then delivered to her on their time. We were not given accurate size information. When we visited, we had to be chaperoned the entire time, could not exchange address or phone numbers and could not visit their home. After that first year, both we and the family left the first organization and went to ONE Spirit, where we have been happy ever since.
A sponsor is someone who commits to help a child, elder or handicapped adult for at least a year. In that year, ONE Spirit suggests a minimum of 4 gifts of whatever amount the sponsor can manage financially. We suggest perhaps birthday, Christmas, the start of school for children and whatever other holiday or occasion the family and the sponsor work out. The concept of sponsoring through ONE Spirit is that by giving the family something they would normally have to purchase out of their own meager income, they can take the money and use it for other necessary items like propane, electricity or food. We ask sponsors to NOT send money, as it is too easily stolen. We do not ask sponsors to pay for utilities.
A person interested in sponsoring should contact the current Sponsor Coordinator Regina Hay at email@example.com . She will explain the program in more detail as well as send out a checklist to complete and return (all email). She then assigns the sponsor to an Area Service Coordinator (like me) who will contact the sponsor by phone, review the list of many children and elders who are hoping for sponsors and try to make the best match possible. The best match is one that will bring a friendship as well as gifts for the person.
When the sponsor receives the assignment, it is the sponsor who reaches out to the contact person for the child or to the elder. It may take a few conversations or notes before you really get to know the family – after all, most of us don’t tell our needs and stories to perfect strangers. But often sponsors will send out a small gift right after they make that first contact. From that point on, it is up to the sponsor and sponsored party to maintain contact between themselves. The Area Service Coordinator is available to answer questions, give suggestions or help solve problems if asked and needed, but otherwise does not interfere in the relationship.
Sponsorship is that simple. A few phone calls or notes. A few gifts. A new friend.
Sponsorship helps the sponsored person stretch their money further than it would ordinarily go. But the support and friendship does more. At least that has been my experience.
We began by sponsoring a 10 year old girl in a family. The family became our friends. I became someone the mom could talk to who was “off the rez” and wouldn’t take her stories to use for gossip. Living on the rez is very much like living in any very small town: other people’s lives become the fodder for gossip, every mistake or argument known soon after it occurs. If you share your anger or bad feelings, soon everyone knows.
The girl went through many experiences that I was not familiar with in raising my own children, many of which I have documented in this blog (search under Lakota friends or Lakota categories). But I could still listen and understand because we had the same love and hope for our children.
I was a bit nervous and shy when I first began sponsoring – I think that is normal. I read because I did not want to make a cultural faux pas. I didn’t really need to worry. The Lakota are a warm, generous, caring people when they come to know you.
ONE Spirit has a number of programs, but the aim of all of them, even direct sponsorship, is to empower the people of Pine Ridge Reservation for self-sufficiency. The sponsorship program is aimed at meeting some of the immediate needs of people who live below the federal poverty level – things like clothing, blankets, school supplies, shoes, personal hygiene products. Other programs provide other support.
The OKINI (Lakota for “sharing”) program is a list of urgent needs for persons who do not yet have sponsors. Some people who are sponsors also participate in this program. Some who feel they cannot be regular sponsors will check the list and send what they can, when they can.
ONE Spirit has a food program that helps bring fresh meat and produce that are affordable to a people who find it difficult to get these things. The program is administered by volunteers on the reservation with the aid of ONE Spirit. When the food arrives by truck, the volunteers sort and deliver the orders to the homes. In exchange for their work, the volunteers are paid for their mileage and given food from the program. The food is purchased either by families on the reservation, by sponsors for their families or by general donations to ONE Spirit.
There is also a Wood Program. Men on the reservation, using wood splitters provided by ONE Spirit, cut and deliver wood to those who heat with wood but cannot afford to buy wood. There is no charge to the person receiving the wood. The men doing the work are paid for each truckload they deliver by ONE Spirit. The funds for this program also come from donations to ONE Spirit.
ONE Spirit is in the process of building a “safe house” for youngsters who do not feel safe in their own homes. More can be read about that project on the ONE Spirit website.
ONE Spirit supports programs for the youth of the reservation and for the artists on the reservation. These can also be seen on the website.
I hope this has answered questions about the sponsorship program. I would like to take a moment to point out one other thing about ONE Spirit that make it unique. No one in the organization except the attorney who files the legal papers required for a non-profit organization, gets paid. That’s right, we are all volunteers. Most of us supply our own office materials, etc. There are occasional expenses that are covered from the general funds. It is estimated that 98% of what is donated to ONE Spirit goes to the reservation for one program or another.
If you have further questions or would like to sponsor, please contact Regina Hay at ONE Spirit: firstname.lastname@example.org .