Interview by Stephanie M. Schwartz, Wambli Ho News Editor and Correspondent
Member, Native American Journalists Association
© January 27, 2006 Brighton, Colorado
Good Morning, Audrey. Your non-profit organization, Link Center Foundation, in Longmont, Colorado has been doing a fundraiser this winter so as to be able to assist the Lakota Elders on the South Dakota Reservations with their heat/utility expenses. I'd like to ask you a few questions about this.
* Why has your organization chosen to do this?
In September 2005, a friend of mine received a request from a 74 year old lady on Pine Ridge in South Dakota needing help paying an electric and a telephone bill (the total of both bills was $ 77.29). My friend searched for previously-known websites where help had been available. The websites were no longer there. I know for a fact that MANY smaller non-profits have had their funding sources "dry up" after 9/11. I told my friend I would personally pay the bills and that I wished I had enough funds to help everyone that needed a little helping hand. I never dreamed that, a couple of weeks after my remark, I would have so many people offering to help me find funding.
* What is the primary type of fuel used for heating on the Reservations?
Most of the applications that I have received indicated they are using propane. One person is all electric due to illness and one person uses wood because the propane is too expensive for them. There are also people who use wood only and have no propane tanks.
* Has there been an increase in cost this year?
We have been told by Reservation sources that the costs have tripled. Certainly, there has been an increase in costs over the entire USA. I do know that in the past, in South Dakota, individuals could order $50.00 in propane but now one company's minimum is $100.00 per sale and three others I have contacted have minimums of $150.00 per sale.
* Can wood for wood-burning stoves be used everywhere on the Reservations?
One person I visited with December 2005 said they would love to have a wood stove but where they lived wood-burning stoves were not allowed. It all depends on the regulations governing various Districts and communities on the Reservations.
* How available is wood?
I know that some wood is available but, at this time, I do not have a clear understanding of the wood situation. I have heard that there have been some donations of wood that have been sent, or are being sent, to South Dakota to help with this winter's heating. I have also heard some of the State Parks have allowed people to have wood that would normally be cleared out of the Parks. However, I have also been told that the National Parks cannot do this because of regulations forbidding them to give away anything.
I do know that a wood vendor in the Pine Ridge district delivers a cord of wood for $200.00 but I am told that if the distance is "way out" then there is an extra charge for fuel (gasoline).
* What has been the response on the Reservations? How many Elders have applied for assistance?
The responses we have had so far seem to be favorable. Some people were very skeptical of our intentions in the beginning, until we were able to answer their questions. I gather that many have been "ripped off" in the past and some "new do-gooder" showing up needs to be thoroughly checked-out. If I were in their shoes, I would be doing the same thing. Our first applications arrived November 11, 2005 and, to date (January 27, 2006), we have received 24 applications for assistance. More applications arrive all the time and I have been told that many more people are in need.
* How serious is the need? How many Elders need assistance?
The need is extreme. Weather conditions are unbelievably harsh and incomes are exceptionally low. The average income on one reservation is less than $3,000 per YEAR. Furthermore, many of the social services programs available in the mainstream society are not available on the reservations.
The media has carried a figure of over 600 families without heat on just one reservation alone. And there are eight reservations in South Dakota. Many of the elders are seriously ill and many have small children living with them, many of whom are also sick.
* Are there organizations on the Reservations who have contacted you regarding your program?
Yes, I have been contacted by Reservation organizations such as the Porcupine Clinic on Pine Ridge. We printed out and mailed them 65 applications, as I understood 65 elderly people needed assistance. When the applications were going to be handed-out, I explained that we would do our very best to help everyone who applied but that we could not guarantee the funds would be there. In the District where these folk live, the minimum propane delivery is $100.00.
65 people x $100.00 per month = $6500.00 x 3 months = $ 19,500.00
However, I have not received any applications from this group to date that I know specifically came from them. I don't blame them for not sending in any requests. After all, who wants to apply for assistance that might not be there? Life is hard enough without being let down again and again.
* What happens when there is no money to help someone?
In many cases, I have personally funded fuel for several dire emergency cases as have some of my volunteers and associates. However, I am on limited income myself and I can't do that all the time and they can't either.
We have also referred people to other non-profit organizations. There are several good, small non-profit organizations trying to do the same or similar work and we have found that most of them have been wonderful in cooperating and pooling efforts to help the Elders.
Sadly, sometimes there simply aren't any funds available anywhere.
However, we keep trying and we don't forget someone just because we can't help them the minute their application arrives. We keep every application on file and we keep trying.
* Why isn't the Federal Government helping?
There is a Federal program, administered by the state, with the acronym of LLEAP. This program for the western part of South Dakota is run out of Rapid City. However, I was told that their funds are very limited. For example, one family was granted a one-time only payment of $60 for this winter. That does not purchase much fuel.
* Why isn't the Tribal Government helping?
They do what they can. However, they have very few funds and cannot begin to address the needs. The reservations in South Dakota are not wealthy reservations at all. I have been told that their programs are similar to LLEAP, granting very small one or two-time per winter payments.
* Does even a small donation help?
Of course! Every penny adds up! And, in fact, our success in this heating assistance project has been mostly because of small donations.
* Do all the donations you receive for this program go to it?
100% of all cash and check donations sent for the heating/utility assistance goes to this program.
* What are the administrative costs for this particular heating-assistance fundraising program and who is paying them?
As I am an affiliate of the National Heritage Foundation (www.nhf.org), I have to pay the NHF administrative costs which amount to only 2.5% of all cash and check donations (many other non-profits have a 5 -10 % fee). But I am currently personally paying this cost for the heat assistance program because I feel the need at this time is so great and the dollars so few. If we ever get any large grants, I won't be able to afford to do so but, so far, the donations have all been relatively small and I have been able to cover the NHF fees.
* Can people donate to this heating assistance program using their credit card?
Yes, they can make credit card donations to the Link Center Foundation through the National Heritage Foundation website (www.nhf.org).
However, we have not encouraged the use of credit cards because the administrative and processing fees are higher (5-1/2%). I am financially unable to pay these higher fees myself like I currently do for the cash/check donations so the 5-1/2% will be deducted from the donations.
Nonetheless, we certainly wouldn't turn down a credit card donation. If someone wants to do that, they can go to our website, www.linkcenterfoundation.com, and click on the "How To Donate" button. That will take them to a webpage that gives step-by-step instructions how to do so. www.linkcenterfoundation.com/id8.html
* Can people take a tax deduction for their donations?
All donations to the Link Center Foundation (www.LinkCenterFoundation.com) are tax-deductible.
* Does your Link Center Foundation have a Federal 501(c)3 Non-Profit Tax Designation?
Yes, Link Center Foundation has 501(c)3 tax-exempt status through our affiliation with the National Heritage Foundation. (www.nhf.org)
* Do you intend for this heat assistance program to be on-going?
I have every intention of keeping this program going. I will be learning Grant Writing this year, something I have always shied away from. But the need is great enough that I need to "roll up my sleeves", get to work, and explore EVERY avenue for funds. I want to be able to have the funds available for such as the Porcupine Clinic group just as soon as possible.
* Who all is involved with your organization? Are your people Native Americans?
Those involved with my organization are folk I have worked with in various projects in the past, and who have become personal friends, as well as some who are family members. I have some Native American advisors, some African American advisors, and some advisors who, like me, are considered white folk.
* Does the Link Center Foundation have any paid employees?
No, at this time, no one connected with Link Center Foundation is paid anything, including myself. We are all volunteers. We may need to hire a grant writer in the future, or some other professional, but we are a small group and it is likely that we will remain basically a volunteer organization.
* Where can people find out more information about your organization?
* Where can people find out more information about this heat assistance program?
* How can people donate to this heat assistance program?
The information on how to donate can be found on our website at this webpage:
Or they can send cash or check donations to the
Link Center Foundation
P.O. Box 2253 Longmont, CO 80502-2253
(Be sure to indicate the donation is for the heating/utility program)
Thanks Audrey! I really appreciate you taking the time to talk briefly with me this morning. I know our readers will want to know all about this worthy program. Hopefully, with understanding, more support will arrive.