Our speaker today was Dr. Valeriah Big Eagle, Executive Director of Friends of the Children.  She received her Bachelor's degree in Sociology, Master's in Education and Doctorate in Education Leadership.  She has proven leadership experience as a graduate of Leadership South Dakota, Leadership Rapid City, John T. Vucurevich Emerging Leaders Program, and a 2020 Bush Fellow with the Bush Foundation.
Dr. Big Eagle shared information about Friends–He Sapa (friendshesapa.org) that was launched in summer 2022 as an independent nonprofit that is the first Indigenous-led, culturally specific location of the national Friends of the Children network. They use an evidenced based model that focuses on serving children facing the greatest risk factors.  They hire highly trained professional mentors with skills and knowledge to work with children and families with histories of personal and cultural trauma. Mentors spend 3 to 4 hours per week with each child, including 2 hours in school.   Children are enrolled around age 4-6, and the program is grounded in Lakota culture and committed to the participants through high school graduation.  She shared that there are currently 32 youth in the program - 16 in Rapid City and 16 within Oglala Sioux Tribe.  Each year an additional 32 students will be added.  Dr. Big Eagle pointed out that the program is about prevention not intervention.  FriendsHeSapa has partnered with many other entities: CASA, Rural America Initiatives, RCAS, DSS Child Welfare, etc.  Thank you for sharing your passion for this program and making an impact/investment in youth.