Periclean Scholars help obtain thousands in funding for indigenous children’s organization

Members of the Periclean Scholar Class of 2021 have helped the Oglala Lakota Children’s Justice Center obtain more than $50,000 in funding to support its mission of supporting and advocating for abused Lakota tribe children.

A program supporting abused children on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation will receive tens of thousands of dollars in grant funding, thanks to the support of a group of seniors in Elon’s Periclean Scholars Program.

The Periclean Scholars Program is a three-year, cohort-based learning experience that focuses on forming mutually beneficial partnerships locally and abroad. Students in the program take a series of academic courses, culminating in a partnership related to social justice initiatives. Each cohort has the opportunity to work with partners from around the world, but the Periclean Scholars senior class decided its efforts were most needed domestically, turning their attention to the Pine Ridge Reservation’s Oglala Lakota Sioux tribe.

“Why would you go somewhere across the world to help, when there are people in your own backyard having trouble,” asked Abby Noyes ’21, an international global studies and Spanish double major and Periclean Scholar. “That was something we really connected with.”

A marker located at the Pine Ridge Reservation.

The Periclean Scholar cohort considered taking on a number of issues facing the Lakota tribe, including an 80 percent unemployment rate, 90 percent dropout rate and food insecurity. But the area they felt would most benefit from their services was the reservation’s work in supporting children.

The senior cohort selected the Oglala Lakota Children’s Justice Center as its partner in 2019, when students visited the reservation to learn about the Lakota culture and people. Since that visit, the Periclean Scholars have worked with the OLCJC to produce newsletters, fundraise and write grants to help the organization advance its mission of advocating for the well-being of physically and sexually abused Lakota children.

Students assisting in the OLCJC’s grant-writing work – Noyes, Mackenzie Martinez, Kitty Helm, Alexa Rasmussen, Lily Apple, Nell Geer, Sarah Kitslaar and Mary Beth Rowell – have already helped the organization receive more than $50,000 in grants.

Recently, scholars worked alongside the OLCJC to write a successful grant proposal for the $30,000 Thriving Women’s Grant from the Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples. The grant will support the OLCJC’s women’s society, which focuses on empowering Lakota women through discussions, the teaching of traditional skill and other opportunities. The grant will also help with the OLCJC’s efforts to create a group for young girls that works in conjunction with the women’s society to promote intergenerational bonds and empowerment.

“The money is important,” said Martinez, an anthropology and Spanish double major. “But it’s also about this program that’s going to have a really long-lasting and profound impact on their community, which is just mind-blowing to think about.”

The Periclean Scholars have since helped the OLCJC obtain a $25,000 Life Comes From It grant and are awaiting word from the Seventh Generation Fund on another $30,000 Girl’s Vitality grant. Students say the ability to make such an impact for a community hoping to recover from centuries of disenfranchisement, mistreatment and abuse, has been a worthwhile experience – especially given all that’s happening in the world today.

“It’s been hard with COVID-19 and many of the challenges we’ve faced to really feel like we’re making a difference, especially since we’re so far from South Dakota and not there doing hands-on work,” said Helm, an environmental studies major. “But, with these grants, it’s exciting that we were able to work with the OLCJC and do this together. So I’d say it’s been very meaningful.”

Partnerships like the one with the OLCJC are part of the 20-credit hour Periclean Scholars curriculum. Scholars apply for the opportunity as first-year students at Elon and take part in the program as sophomores, juniors and seniors. Cohorts take courses together, learning about service and culture, and then apply those lessons to projects with real-world partners.

The Periclean Scholars posing for a photo at Mt. Rushmore during their 2019 visit to the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Each cohort is led by a faculty mentor, who guides students through their Periclean Scholar journey. The Class of 2021 is under the mentorship of Bud Warner, associate professor of human service studies and chair of the Department of Human Service Studies. Warner initially learned about the Lakota Tribe when he lived in Rapid City, South Dakota, years ago. He saw the issues facing the community and encouraged students to consider taking on a partner within the Pine Ridge community. Now, in his final year working with the Periclean Scholar Program before retirement, Warner is pleased to see the progress of this group of seniors in their work with the OLCJC and their studies at Elon.

“The joy of Periclean Scholars is watching people grow over time,” Warner said. “And the fun part with this cohort has been watching them take their knowledge and skills that they’ve learned from their college experience and apply it to help a people that they really have no direct connection to. They’re learning how to be change agents in the world.”

The Periclean Scholars Program is the centerpiece of Elon’s Project Pericles, which is committed to raising the level of civic engagement and social responsibility throughout the university community. Learn more about Project Pericles and the Periclean Scholars Program here.