A ceaseless sense of purpose can cause a lot of change in the world, but only if someone steps forward with the courage to initiate it.
“People have to know before they can care, and they have to care before they can take action,” Glamour magazine’s newest grand prize winner of the “Top 10 College Women” competition, junior Maggie Dunne said.
Since first volunteering at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota as a sophomore in high school, Dunne has guided enormous advancement to the aid of the Lakota tribe. Grow-ing up in Scarsdale, New York, she had always been involved with local volunteer activities, yet she held no focused single cause. Traveling to Pine Ridge for service was merely a whim.
“I knew reservations existed, but I didn’t know about the state of reservations in the United States. I had only ever experienced urban poverty in New York,” Dunne said.
Upon arrival, she was immediately shocked by this new variety of poverty, as well as awed by the unique language and culture of the Lakota tribe. With a growing sense of moral obligation, Dunne’s purpose was set in motion.
“I decided I wanted to go back there every year of my life,” she said. One year later, Dunne wrote an article for her local newspaper, asking for coats and book items to donate to the people of the reservation. It was an action, she said, that took a great deal of courage because the subject was so near to her heart. The thought of failing to communicate her message was a legitimate fear. However, with a single article she generated enough attention to garner do-nations of 2,000 books and 300 coats. Dunne continued her efforts that year and returned to Pine Ridge with 20 new student volunteers. Many articles documenting her experiences inevitably followed.
Dunne can rattle off a series of numbers, clarifying the dire privation so prevalent at Pine Ridge.
“It’s the second poorest county in the United States. High school dropout rates are at 60 percent, there’s an 80 percent unemployment rate and suicide rates are six times higher than the national average. Alcoholism is a major issue.” Dunne continued, “A lot of conditions are hidden that you wouldn’t realize just driving around the community.”
Dunne’s unrelenting passion for these people emanated from each article she published. One corporate lawyer saw Dunne’s genuine compassion and energy and approached her, of-fering to help her start a non-profit organization pro-bono. Thus, the Lakota Pine Ridge Enrichment Project was born.
“I see my role as creating a platform for the movement,” Dunne said.
Now at Colgate, she utilizes her non-profit organization to raise awareness about reservation life and help sponsor different enrichment opportunities in the community. Dunne quickly found a similarly-minded group of people on campus to create Colgate’s Project Peace, which extends the work she set in motion such as the fill-a-backpack drive. Alternative break trips to the reservation were also turned into reality.
The idea of entering Glamour magazine’s “Top Ten College Women” competition was prompted by Career Services when they encouraged her to apply as a rising sophomore. Six months ago, she began the intensive interview process and only recently was notified that she not only qualified in the top 10, but she also was announced the grand prize winner, receiving a $20,000 prize. Even with this recognition, Dunne brushes off the at-tention and notes that this is a tremendous opportunity to raise awareness for her cause. Glamour even came to the reservation in South Dakota to capture footage of her among the land and the Lakota people.
Dunne admits that apart from this experience, Colgate has offered her tremendous growth opportunity.
“Before you come to Colgate, you have an idea of what you want to experience. If you graduate with that same picture, you haven’t done your job,” she said.
Moreover, Dunne’s story offers wisdom toward pursuing a cause.
“Often people think you need to learn, and then earn. You think you need to wait until you’re 40 or 50 to make a difference. If you think no one else cares about what you care about, then you’re wrong.” She paused before stating, “The sooner the better.”
Contact Hadley Rahrig at [email protected]