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TALKING IT OVER
August 23, 2000
When her friends and family talk about SuAnne Big Crow, they describe an energetic and good-hearted young woman -- a gifted athlete who led the Pine Ridge High School girls' basketball team to the South Dakota state championship. An inspiration both on and off the court, SuAnne dreamed of returning to the reservation after college to work with young people, helping them avoid the pitfalls and dangers that confront so many young Native Americans.
Tragically, SuAnne would not live to see her dreams come true -- she died in a horrible automobile accident. Her mother refused to let SuAnne's spirit die with her, seizing instead on the idea of building a center where the reservation's young people could find support, friends, recreation and counseling.
At a time when America is enjoying unprecedented prosperity, Pine Ridge has an unemployment rate approaching a staggering 75 percent. That is why the President included Pine Ridge in last summer's New Markets Initiative tour. Speaking to a large crowd on an incredibly hot and sticky day, he put the nation on notice that Pine Ridge is a good place to invest and that the government would take the lead in developing private-public and government-nonprofit partnerships to improve the tribe's living conditions.
Private lenders working with the Department of Housing and Urban Development agreed to double the number of home mortgages over the next three years. The Department of Agriculture agreed to put nearly $16 million into water projects throughout Indian country. The Department of Energy promised to harness the power and profits of wind and solar energy -- both of which are in ample supply on the plains. And the Federal Communications Commission pledged to work with tribal leaders to improve telephone service -- critical to gaining access to computers, the Internet and other 21st century technologies.
One year later, the work being done by hundreds on the reservation -- local tribal members, the tribal government, social service delivery agencies, federal government employees and private and non-profit organizations -- is fulfilling the President's promise, and despair is giving way to hope.
While the President was on the reservation, he stopped to talk to some children playing along the road. Frustrat ed by the fact that they had nowhere else to play, he turned to Secretary Cuomo and Secretary Glickman and said, "I want to do something for these kids. I want you to find a way to build a youth center." So it happened that a partnership including HUD's Office of Native American Programs, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Interior and the Boys and Girls Club was formed to build the center.
Earlier this month, just a year after the President's visit -- HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo was back at Pine Ridge. Along with several other federal officials and tribal leaders, he traveled there to participate in the traditional "ground blessing" of the site where soon the SuAnne Big Crow Boys and Girls Club Youth Opportunity and Wellness Center will stand.
Located on 40 acres of land, the 30,000 square foot memorial to this inspirational teenager will feature a gymnasium, a learning center, conference and counseling rooms, an Olympic-size swimming pool, an exercise and fitness center, a cultural arts center, a kitchen, a gift shop and a Native American library. "The Wellness Center is about hope," said Secretary Cuomo. "It is about giving the young people of Pine Ridge a positive outlet for their energy and talent."
The facility's primary focus is on youth, but it will also offer services for adults, including classes in preventing diabetes and heart disease, rehabilitation services, mental health and wellness counseling and job preparedness.
The President and I came to Washington with strong convictions about the role of government -- convictions best summed up by my husband's forceful declaration at the beginning of his 1996 State of the Union address: "The era of big government is over." He went on to say, "I believe our new, smaller government must work in an old-fashioned American way -- together with all our citizens, through state and local governments, in the workplace, in religious, charitable and civic associations."
Last October, at the first-ever White House Conference on Philanthropy, the President announced the creation of an Interagency Task Force on Nonprofits and Government, a group of federal agency representatives that would identify the best collaborations between the federal government and nonprofits.
What is happening on Pine Ridge today, just one year after the President's visit, is a testament to the effectiveness of this sort of collaboration. The SuAnne Big Crow Boys and Girls Club Youth Opportunity and Wellness Center will always stand, not just as a memorial to an exceptional young woman, but also to the power of partners working together.
To find out more about Hillary Rodham Clinton and read her past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
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