This Christmas, we will use a format similar to the 2015 Blackfeet Children Christmas Party, namely: 1. Host a large, boisterous 4-hour party just before Christmas where case workers round up and bring in their kids for gifts, games, movies, food, and activities. 2. Purchase major items for the Nurturing Center (the tribal orphanage) and other group homes. 3. Deliver gifts to the Blackfeet Hospital for the doctors and nurses to give to kids who are hospitalized in December and January. 4. Provide gifts for special cases: kids and families who need something extra or special for Christmas (we have a few referred to us every year).
We aren’t like some other 501(c)3 nonprofits that pester, hard sell, or play the pity card. Rather, we simply tell you what we have planned, how we will spend your money, and what good we aim to do. Your heart will tell you if you want to help. Your checkbook will tell you if you can.
Every donor receives a Thank You certificate and appears on our periodically-updated donor list which includes everyone who has ever donated, highlights current donors in color, and groups everyone in broad dollar totals based on cumulative lifetime giving. We do it this way because we consider all donors to be permanent friends and benefactors. We never stop being grateful for your donations and goodwill, even if finances or absentmindedness causes our friends to skip a year or two.
Again this year, anyone who donates $250 or more will be sent a beaded medicine wheel or beaded dreamcatcher (you can choose) made by a Blackfeet artist.
Thank you so much for your help in making Christmas brighter for our children!
As an aside, because the vast majority of you donate every year, I know from your comments that you have a great interest in life here and what can be done to drive social and economic progress, particularly to lift members up from pervasive, grinding poverty. I hear similar comments and questions from the thousands of visitors on the Blackfeet Reservation that visit the various companies and organizations I operate, oversee, assist, mentor, or have invested in. So, recently I’ve been working on a document that provides perspective, analysis, and ideas that might interest you. If you have a few minutes to read further, scroll down past my sign-off just below to find the Table of Contents, excerpts, and the link to download the full document. I welcome your input and thoughts. One more thing: Please, if you have friends who might like to know about the Christmas Fund or have an interest in the Blackfeet or Indian Country, forward this email to them.
To make a donation: please go to: www.americanindianpartnership.org Thanks again,
308 N. Piegan, Browning, MT
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November 20, 2013
For the last four years, the second best day of my year has been December 30th, when the Blackfeet Children Christmas Fund holds our annual event. (The very best day being Christmas morning with my own young kids.)
Every year we try something new, and it just keeps getting better and better. It all began in November 2010 when my staff and I were sitting around in a big old building I own in Browning talking about how sad it is that so many kids on the reservation don’t get much of a Christmas.
We had nearly 5,000 square feet of open space, so I suggested we try to raise some money, mainly online from off-reservation folks, and do something fun for the kids. It was a huge success that overflowed the building. So in 2011 we held it at one of the schools, which overflowed as well.
By the way, aside from much better volunteer availability, it turns out the best thing about having our events after Christmas is that we get great deals in Great Falls from retailers, especially WalMart and Sam’s Club who work closely with us to provide pallets of great toys at deep discounts. Averaged over the thousands of toys we buy on Dec 26th – 29th, we get about $3 worth of toys for every $1 we spend, and that makes a huge difference.
My part in this has always been to create the materials, do the large-scale emailings, raise the money, suggest ideas for the event to our army of volunteers, and oversee shopping. Then the volunteers make it happen, always beyond my wildest imaginings. It is something to behold watching all these good-hearted Blackfeet do anything and everything they can to make a special day for our children.
But strictly speaking, we are all volunteers, because everyone including me works for free on the Christmas Fund. And this might surprise people (especially those that don’t understand how Indian tribes are organized and govern themselves) but we never ask for or get a penny from Tribal government or the Tribal Council.
In 2012, I think I may have surprised the volunteers when on December 15th I said that given the tragedy at Newtown, CT of December 14th, I didn’t want to put on a big raucous party. Just didn’t seem right to me. I asked if instead we could enlist Tribal police and firefighters to go door-to-door delivering gifts in those neighborhoods with the highest concentrations of financially struggling households. It is not uncommon in these neighborhoods to have 6, 8, or more kids living in small houses, and these are the kids we wanted to surprise with gifts. What an amazing day that was, as you can gather from the pictures. Many of us thought that reaching the kids that need it the most and making it more personal was the best format so far.
In November I was reading the news and came across that Bat Kid story in San Francisco. It really inspired me to think about trying to focus on the neediest of the needy on the reservation, and rather than do small things for a large number of children, this year do something really big for a smaller number. I remembered that we had sent gifts up to our shelters and children’s protective custody houses every year, since those kids either had to stay on premises or didn’t have transportation. So I called around and found that the schools keep a roster of kids that are homeless.
There are 143 names on the list. And when I heard some of their stories it was like a kick in the stomach. For example, kids whose parents cook meth, so when police removed them they had to leave contaminated clothes and blankets behind. These kids literally have nothing --not even the clothes on their back. Think about that for a moment. A child is born in just about the poorest place in America, a place where violence, lawlessness, substance abuse, soul-crushing poverty, and despair is all around you. On top of that, the child is dealt a hand that includes parents that are drug addicts?
What chance has that child got? So the least we can do is let these children know that someone loves them and cares about them. The least we can do is give them a little happiness, and look them long and straight in the eye so they believe people really do care about them. Even little gestures like that can help get a child on a better path to a better place.
So that’s what we are gonna do in 2013: raise all the money we can and do something big for those 143 children that will not just make them happy and lift their spirits, but create a meaningful memory for them that will, we hope, help carry them through to a better place.
If you can help us do that with a donation, THANK YOU SO MUCH!
Helping Our People Overcome Economic & Social Disadvantage
Message From Gregg
December 5, 2016
Dear Friend and Benefactor,
For the last seven years, in early December, I have written to let you know our plans to deliver a brighter Christmas to the most disadvantaged children on the Blackfeet Reservation. Thanks to your kindness and generosity, every year has been a joyously spectacular event, better than the last. To date, we have given out thousands of gifts to happy, excited kids.
To ensure your money goes where it does the most good, every year we call Tribal and federal child services on the reservation to find out how many children are on the homeless list (i.e. living in our orphanage / foster / group homes) and what is on their wish lists. We also ask what sort of major communal gifts would benefit the homes (e.g. playground equipment, PCs, tablets, game consoles, etc.). Then we plan parties, buy truckloads of gifts, and our many volunteers --we are all volunteers, including me-- create magic for surprised, delighted, gleeful children, many of whom have been dealt the worst hands you can imagine. There is a slide show on our website home page so you can see for yourself.
What feels better than showering a deeply disadvantaged child with love, showing them you value and care about them? I am sure you will agree with me that the answer is… Nothing.
Message From Gregg
November 15, 2014
Thanks to your generous donations, every year for the last five years the Blackfeet Children Christmas Fund has found new and better ways to do something good for those Blackfeet Reservation children dealt the worst hands.
Our press page has articles that tell the story of our evolution from throwing huge come-one-come-all parties with thousands of kids and mountains of presents, to focusing ever more tightly on doing big, high impact things for children that have nothing and desperately need something good in their lives: displaced children, children abused and neglected in unimaginable ways, children that Tribal police pulled out of drug houses wrapped only in new blankets because everything in the house was contaminated.
As happens everywhere, it is adults guilty of bad decisions that makes hell on earth... but it is the innocent little ones that have to live in it.In 2013 I asked our various Tribal and federal child-protective agencies to find us the innocent little ones most in need. I got a lengthy list and on it were details of the child’s background (with their full names redacted for obvious reasons). So in one of the poorest, hardest places in America I’ve had children sit on my lap whose terrible stories were known to me: Children whose parents are dead or in prison, often for crimes against their own families. Children that have been abused, molested, beaten, starved. Children that literally have nothing other than what you and other kind hearted people were able to give them that day.
It’s one thing to read about it, another thing entirely to have your arms around these victims and know their stories. You smile outside, scream and cry inside, and never want to let go. This is nightmare stuff, as my own nightmares can attest.
But, you know, every single one of those children, at least on that day, was full of life, laughter, happiness, excitement, goodness, and hope. Children are resilient and even after the terrible road they've traveled it’s not too late for them. Little gestures like giving them a Christmas they didn’t dare hope for can, by the power of love, caring, and generosity, help them stay on the road to a better place and brighter future.
So this year we take it a step further. Here’s the plan:
1. Between December 1st and 20th, volunteers, my family, and I will be traveling the Reservation, visiting group and protective homes, distressed households, and the hospital, meeting with house parents and caregivers to find out what major Christmas gifts would be just right for those individual children, and what supplies, decorations, etc. we can provide the home to make Christmas morning memorable, exciting, and joyous. All those gifts will be wrapped and delivered to the homes by the 23rd.
2. We will also find out what the home can use to communally benefit all the children –e.g. a big screen TV with gaming console and games, outdoor play equipment, playhouses, toys, PCs / laptops / tablets / printers, etc. We will deliver and set up those gifts after Christmas and in to 2015 as funds and manpower becomes available. That’s what we will do with your money this year.
Thank you so much! Gregg
Message From Gregg
December 8, 2018
As I have done every December for nine years, I write to ask your help in making Christmas brighter for our displaced children on our large, remote Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana.
I don’t know what it’s like to grow up neglected, unloved, abused, unprotected, bullied, ashamed, afraid, despairing. As a child I was never put to bed dirty and hungry, or woken up by violence or police at the door, or watched other children have everything I wanted while I had nothing. No, I don’t know what it’s like, and as the greatest of all my blessings, neither do my own three children (who are all Blackfeet / Navajo).
But here on the rez, far too many children do know what it’s like.
Fortunately, Tribal Child Services and their many devoted case workers, our orphanage, and numerous group / foster / emergency placement homes are taking good care of our children on the “homeless list.” These are the birth-18 age children in the care of tribal or federal child welfare agencies because the parents are absent, deceased, incarcerated, or otherwise unable to raise their child. The homeless list usually has 150 or more names on it.
Some of these children are rescued by Tribal Police and Child Services from meth houses, stripped of their toxic clothes, and carried to safety and a new life in an emergency blanket. So they enter the system with nothing, not even the clothes on their back. (This is why we use some of your money to buy hundreds of nice Indian-design and Disney / Marvel / Pixar / etc. blankets --they are the single most popular item because every child wants their own blanket to wrap themselves in and to use as a bedspread.)
Now that you know what some of our children go through, when you look at our website and see these beautiful kids smiling and laughing, it really means something, doesn’t it? It means they are bouncing back and now have a chance at a good life.
It also means the Tribe is doing a good job with meager budgets for housing / clothing / food / necessities. But in budgetary terms, Christmas is not a necessity. Our goodhearted donors from around the world believe Christmas IS a necessity. They send us money and we use every tactic we know to stretch the budget to buy as many gifts as possible, get every kid possible delivered to the party, and make as fun, happy, raucous, and memorable a day as we know how for our most disadvantaged and vulnerable children.
Every year we learn new ways to improve the big event, often by solving an unforeseen problem. For example, last year the winter was so freakishly brutal that at the last minute we had no choice but to postpone the Dec 30 party until the weather eased up. But my daughter, who helps every year, needed to get back to Seattle for school so we fled Browning across Marias Pass hoping to outrun the storm (we got stuck anyway and other travelers had to stop in the arctic white-out and pull us out). Highway 2 (the only route over the northernmost Rockies) closed, and I couldn’t get back into Browning for over a week. So we had the party in early January, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise: We discovered that by having the party in early January, all the case workers are back in town after the holidays which means more kids in outlying areas can be rounded up and transported to us.
Also last year we experimented with having the party in a big old building I own in downtown Browning, rather than at a school or the senior center. We carved out about 2,000 square feet in the 6,000 sf building. This location worked great because kids get really excited and keyed up having fun and rough-housing (ntm, a sugar high from soda and candy) and they can’t damage much in that room. Kids don’t care what the room looks like so long as it’s warm, full of gifts, movies, and tons of fun activities. Plus, we didn’t have to haul everything back across town in the snow and ice after the party and stay up all night cleaning.
So this year we will have the party on January 3 in my building (with some extra space for more large screen TVs, air hockey, maybe an additional bouncy house). Most of these children live in small, overcrowded houses and facilities. In the winter, they are cooped up and not able to blow off steam, so you can imagine how out of control they get at our parties. Let them be kids and run wild, I think, just keep them safe.
Having their party after Christmas is good for another reason. These are the have-nots, often feeling left out and disappointed watching others have better birthdays, Christmases, everything. Giving them their gifts and party last gives them something no one else is getting. For once, they are the haves. For once, their better-off peers are a little jealous of them. For a few hours and in school the next day, these children are the most special on the reservation. Last year, other kids from around town peered in the windows, wanting to come in to the party and choose from the walls of gifts, but only those on the homeless list were admitted (along with the biological children of foster / group home parents --we don’t want to exclude “siblings”).
I split my time between MT and W WA, and Christmas is a big deal in our house, so I will be with my own children on Christmas at our place near Seattle. But Christmas night we will hop in the car and drive directly to Great Falls so we can get to Sam’s Club and Walmart on Dec 26 to see what toys have been marked down. I know from years of doing this that the larger the toys, the greater the discount because stores need to make room and don’t want to send merchandise back. I buy a mountain of toys and other gifts then call up to Browning to have a truck sent down. You would be amazed at all the great stuff we get for, overall, about half the pre-Christmas price. That’s one way we stretch donor dollars. Last year, every kid got six gifts at the party, and we were still able to send hundreds of gifts to the Tribal Hospital, orphanage, and households with kids who couldn’t get to the party.
Like most guys, I would rather dig ditches for eight hours than shop for four, but in December I love it because when I find great stuff I can just see little eyes light up. I also buy hundreds of items online (for example, basketballs, blankets, and other popular items) because I know stores won’t have the quantities and selection I need.
Thanks again for your kindness and generosity. It’s not money you are donating, you are sending love, hope, encouragement, and proof to little kids that the mysterious world over the horizon is full of people that care about them.
December 6, 2017
As I have done every December for the last eight years, I write to ask your help in making Christmas brighter for our displaced children on our large, remote Blackfeet Reservation in Montana. These are the birth-through-18 age children on what we call the “homeless list.” This means they are in the care of tribal or federal child welfare agencies (usually, in group / orphanage / transition homes on the rez) because the parents are absent, deceased, incarcerated, or otherwise unable to raise their child.
Social services agencies staffed by our wonderful caregivers and protectors do the best they can for our children. They struggle to stretch Tribal budgets for housing / clothing / food / necessities, but in budgetary terms, Christmas is not a necessity. Our goodhearted donors from around the world believe Christmas IS a necessity for these children, and that’s why we do this every year.
Our reservation borders Canada to the north, Rocky Mountains to the west, endless rolling prairie to the south and east, and is one of the coldest, windiest places in the lower 48. Inside the reservation, if every man, woman, and child spread out evenly across our land, each would have 150 acres to themselves. Sparser yet is employment, money, health… and, for far too many, hope, inspiration, and spirit. Substance abuse, short lifespans, and violence persists at staggering, heartbreaking levels.
But this is not a woe-is-us plea: We stay here because we choose to. With 400 generations of blood under our feet, this high plains heaven is where we belong. Here, the Blackfeet Tribe began 13,000 years ago, and if the day ever comes, here is where it will end. Yes, after thousands of years of glorious freedom, happiness, and sunlight, the last 180 years have been dispiriting, bitter, and dark. Yes, starting in 1837 when smallpox brought to our lodges by non-Indians wiped out two-thirds of our tribe, one raw deal after another eventually forced us onto this 1.5 million acre reservation (1/20 the size of our original, homeland).
But for us, past cannot and must not be prologue. So now it is up to the adults here to pick ourselves up, remember who we are --and above all we are warriors, shake off bad outlooks and old habits that hold us back, and make our home a better place. We will get there. But today, I don’t know anyone who thinks we have been doing a good job of it so far. And…
…as always, it is the most vulnerable children that must pay for the mistakes and failures of us adults.
So, again, that is why you hear from me every year: to ask for help giving something exciting, joyful and gleeful, memorable, and spiritually-uplifting to these children dealt the very worst hands imaginable, to give them something their parents cannot. It’s not money you are donating, you are sending love, hope, encouragement, and proof to little kids that the mysterious world over the distant horizon is full of people that care about them.
Speaking of the world, think about this: Most Americans have awareness of Third World places overseas, but rarely do they consider the hundreds of desperate Third World pockets they can drive to without ever leaving the United States. Indian Country and the million-plus Indians living there are largely invisible to most Americans, as well as being absent from national dialogue. Today, Americans are, like never before, fiercely and passionately crowding on to the national stage to debate the question of who and what America is and should be. On that stage, there is not an Indian in sight, not even an empty chair reserved for the first Americans. Is it any wonder that adults and children alike on reservations feel forgotten, alone, isolated?
(Note: There are 326 Indian reservations and 567 federally-recognized and numerous unrecognized tribes in the U.S. 329 of those tribes do not operate casinos, and only 72 that do have casinos pay out per capitas to members from gaming revenues --most of those are near big cities. The Blackfeet have a small casino but it is so remote it historically makes little or no contribution to tribal services or per capitas.)
There are usually about 150 children on our homeless list. But thanks to your generosity, we have in recent years been able to buy major, multiple gifts for over 300 children so we have enough for group home parents’ biological children, too (we invite everyone in the home to the big parties so no child feels left out). We also send gifts up to the tribal hospital and maintain a stash for upcoming birthdays. And now we are also funding new projects and programs, noted below (”3 New Things for 2017”).
This year, as in recent years, we will have our children’s parties and gift handouts in the slow week between Christmas and New Year’s. Volunteers have more free time then, and we can really stretch donation dollars thanks to post-Christmas discounts on toys and other gifts in big stores in Great Falls and Kalispell. For example, $5,000 spent after 12/25 gets us about twice as much stuff as $5,000 spent before 12/25, and that’s a huge deal with our limited budget stretched over hundreds of children. Here’s the schedule:
Saturday December 30: Big party in Browning. 1 - 4 pm, Fun and games 1-3:30, gift handout at 3:30.
Sunday December 31: Smaller party(ies) in Heart Butte. (Local caseworkers arrange these.)
December 30: Gifts delivered to Blackfeet Community Hospital.
December 31, 2017: Last day to donate for 2017 tax deduction (we are a 501(c)3 non-profit).
January 31, 2018: Last day to donate to appear on final 2017 Donor List. (We buy birthday & special gifts year-round with January donations.)
3 THINGS NEW FOR 2017!:
1. We noticed at the gift handout last year that nice blankets were really popular. Within minutes, a mountain of plush Indian-design and Disney / Marvel / action hero / princess etc. blankets disappeared. That was puzzling until a caseworker told us lots of kids like to decorate their bedroom (makes sense, it’s the only place they can call their own). So this year we will be adding all sorts of stuff suitable for decorating bedrooms.
2. We have a secured a new, large permanent, year-round event room for children events in “downtown” Browning. There is no longer a youth center in Browning, and now we can start doing something we have wanted to do for years: regular events and a place to hang out for everyone on the homeless list --e.g. Movie / fun and games nights, birthday parties, and after-school study areas. Four large donors last year (Andrew Forman, Tony Sitzmann, Michelle Robles, and my kid brother, Scott Paisley) provided enough capital to buy big screen TVs and lots of other electronics and indoor play equipment that can be used year-round to give our neediest, most-excluded children a fun, recreational, educational, inspirational place of their own. A place they can bond with their peers: have lots of fun, help and encourage each other, feel a part of something good.
3. The new event room also gives us a place for a permanent “Donor Wall,” listing everyone who has donated to the Blackfeet Children Christmas Fund over the years. Besides honoring donor kindness and generosity, it is meant to serve as a constant reminder to our children that people all over the world care about them.
Thanks very much!