The Ain Dah Yung Center Executive Director
Interviewed by Erika Schwichtenberg
Describe your role with ADYC. Why are you passionate about ADYC’s mission and work?
As a Native woman from the St. Croix Ojibwe – WI, I frequently tell the story about how I never saw myself working within the Native communities. Instead I spent my entire career working in the non-profit sector in about every facet possible. Then I was guided to the Ain Dah Yung Center for their Executive Director position and attended the interview to just simply check it out. Eleven years later, I have come to realize that everything I did and experienced prior to that interview was to prepare me for this role – and to work within our Native communities.
It is an honor to stand with our people, walk alongside them, and do whatever I am humanly capable of, to provide pathways for them to achieve their visions. We have a young generation that is ready to take the lead, carry on the beautiful Native teachings and traditions, and continue our resilience and prosperity. Watching this transpire all around me is priceless.
How long have you worked with Fox Advancement, and in what capacity? What do you appreciate about your partnership with Fox Advancement?
One of the major gaps within the homeless youth arena is young people turning 18, instantly losing all their benefits, aging out of foster care and thus losing grips with continuing their education, employment and sustainment of housing. We knew our kids (ages 18 – 24) needed long-term permanent supportive housing with the resources and time they needed to effectively escape homelessness. And that’s when our partner Fox Advancement joined us.
If we were going to build a new culturally responsive 42-unit housing complex, we needed the millions to make it happen. Four years ago, Fox Advancement listened, captured our reverie and then helped make this $17.5 million dollar capital campaign dream come to life – all the while facilitating all our grant writing. We opened our new Mino Oski Ain Dah Yung (“Good New Home” – Ojibwe) housing project on November 20, 2019.
Aside from Fox’s vast experience and connections, what I appreciate the most about the folks at Fox is their unique ability to conceptualize our mission, capture who we are as an agency and peoples, thus providing guidance that is specifically catered to our undertaking and wishes. The vast success of our capital campaign and now sustainment campaign lies within their unique capacity to embrace the people they work with. Plus, they are simply fun and genuinely kind people!
What do you enjoy most about fundraising? What is an example of a fundraising challenge you have faced, and how did you overcome it?
This reminds me of the first time a boss asked me to take the lead on some fundraising efforts many years ago. I adamantly fought back, claiming, “This is not in my job description!” I was horrified. That was the entryway to years of learning to love fundraising as it’s truly all about creating relationships with people that care about the same things that you do. It is about sharing stories, making new friends, and creating alliances that are glued together with shared love and passion.
The biggest challenge that we as an American Indian agency face, is helping people understand the decades of vast historical trauma faced by Native people. We are not just continually working to address homelessness; we must create programming and housing that is 100% culturally relevant and provides the means for our young people to not only heal from the past historical trauma that is still affecting our people today, but the present trauma of homelessness. We are constantly providing cultural learning opportunities for funders and donors that enhance their perspectives and shape genuine, long-term partnerships.
What is a particularly memorable interaction you have had with a donor, board member, or volunteer?
We are blessed to have an immense, diverse platform of funders and donors who help ensure our youth and families thrive and become existing and future trailblazers. They safeguard our operations, and we are overwhelmingly grateful.
However, when I think about what is most memorable or heartwarming, it is the donors that come to us and say – “I just read about the Dakota War” or “I just read a book by an author that talks about the Native people.” They then reach out to us because they were moved and experienced a moment of understanding of what our people have and continue to face. They are typically smaller gifts; however, they mean the world to us because it already comes from a special place in their hearts.
On a personal note: Describe your perfect day!
My perfect day – honestly, it’s when I’m with my family, at a secluded log cabin, on a lake, waking to the quietness of the wilderness, experiencing solitude, surrounded only by the sounds of the breeze, water, trees and animals. Being detached from the city life and preparing our nightly meals to be cooked over an open fire. And then sitting outside into the night with a blazing fire that brings unlimited thoughts of contentment.