Sophomore Maggie Dunne first visited the Lakota Pine Ridge Reservation on a church service trip to South Dakota during her sophomore year of high school. The Oglala Sioux Native American reservation lies within two of the poorest counties in the U.S.
“I had never been exposed to that type of poverty and, it was shocking that it was in our own country,” Dunne said. “I felt like I had to do something more.”
Dunne made a pledge to return to the Pine Ridge Reservation once a year and try to give back to the community. Five years later, Dunne has far exceeded that ambitious pledge, starting a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit corporation dedicated to providing resources to Lakota children.
Three weeks before her second trip back to Lakota, Dunne decided to write articles in local newspapers and magazines asking people to donate children’s books and coats. “It was just a last-minute thing,” Dunne said. Dunne’s articles prompted donations of over 2,000 books and 500 coats in only three weeks. “Seeing that result changed everything for me,” Dunne said. “It didn’t take that much effort. Just a little outside-the-box thinking and putting yourself out there.”
Dunne and some recruited friends distributed the donated items to schools in Lakota. Dunne went to one school that had only three books in their library. When she left, their library had more than 500 and every student went home with a new coat. Dunne said, “Just seeing that made me realize that I can do something and I don’t have to wait until I graduate to do it.”
Dunne continued to write about the cause in local newspapers. One of her articles caught the attention of a local corporate lawyer who specializes in not-for-profits. Dunne recalls that the lawyers said to her, “‘I usually charge an absurd amount of money for my services, but I can see you’re really passionate about this.'”
Despite the large time commitment needed to start a non-profit, Dunne was eager to legitimize the cause. Lakota Pine Ridge Children’s Enrichment Project Limited (LPRCEP) has helped her gather resources and attention for the cause. In 2010, LPRCEP shipped over 3,300 pounds of donations (books, clothing, school supplies, etc.) to the Reservation, an illustration of their tremendous growth since 2009 when they shipped 1,300 pounds of donations.
Dunne credits her Thought into Action Entrepreneurship Seminar for helping her set goals and figuring out ways to meet them. At the start of the school year, Dunne set the goal of starting a summer camp for kids on the reservation.
She says, “Thought into Action has allowed me to create a clearer vision of what I want to do and the input of everyone in the class has been really valuable.” This May, in cooperation with two other non-for-profit organizations, Dunne will be holding a one-week pilot camp that will focus on leadership and team-building.