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In September 2020, she moderated a panel discussion featuring remarks by Tawney Brunsch, executive director of Lakota Funds, the first Native community development financial institution.
The panel was part of the Rural Opportunity and Development (ROAD) Sessions, a series of virtual conversations focused on the rural response to COVID-19 and long-term rebuilding and recovery. ROAD Sessions were co-hosted by HAC, the Aspen Institute, the Rural Community Assistance Partnership, Rural LISC, and the Federal Reserve.
Brunsch described an overwhelming shortage of housing on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. This shortage has resulted in as many as 17 people living in a 1,200-square-foot home.
“It’s literally, the house is worn out from the inside out,” Brunsch said. “The floors are wobbly. There’s one bathroom. People are sleeping in crawl spaces sometimes.”
Brunsch detailed how her organization and the South Dakota Native Homeownership Coalition worked with local builders on an internship program that connects local youth with local contractors to address the shortages in both housing and jobs on the reservation. At the beginning of last year, the program had 100 interns placed with local contractors, rehabbing old homes and building new ones.
It’s stories like this that hearten Charleston. “I always focus on what keeps me here [at HAC]. It’s the work and the mission of the organization. I am really bought into the mission of serving of the poor.”