This spring, SHS Alumni Maggie Dunne was honored by Glamour Magazine who named her the winner of the grand prize of $20,000 in the magazine’s competition for the Top 10 College Women for 2012. She was selected for her work on behalf of the Lakota Pine Ridge Indians in South Dakota who she has helped via the Lakota Pine Ridge Children’s Enrichment Program which she launched. Now a student at Colgate University, Dunne didn’t stop and rest when she won the grand prize …. instead she leveraged the $20,000 to find two additional matching gifts – raising even more money for the Lakota.
An inspiration to children and adults, Dunne has worked tirelessly to address Native American poverty. Dunne agreed to an interview for Scarsdale10583. Here is what she shared about growing up in Scarsdale and becoming an activist for those less fortunate:
What are the roots of your volunteerism? What were some of your earliest philanthropic activities as a student in Scarsdale?
From the age of 4 years old I was involved with a very active Girl Scout troop that placed a large emphasis on community service. My family moved to Scarsdale when I was in third grade and I remained active in my old troop, which did a lot of service throughout the school year, ranging from singing at senior facilities to hosting after school cubs. I began figure skating in Middle School and proposed that the rink offer free group lessons to girls with juvenile diabetes, which I taught for a few years. In eighth grade I became one of the founding members of the Youth Action Committee, Founded by Reverend Frances Grenley at the Scarsdale Congregational Church, and which is still going strong and does service activities throughout the school year. Through YAC, in turn, I became a frequent participant in the Midnight Run, which was one of my favorite activities. In my sophomore year, two seniors wanted to do something meaningful for spring break and asked Frances Grenley if she would consider putting together a service trip, and that trip was to the Pine Ridge Reservation (my first trip to the reservation). At SHS I was also Co-President of the “Make it Green” club and we raised awareness about ways for students to be more eco-friendly, and organized a program to sell eco-friendly school supplies packages to Scarsdale students.
Who influenced you to advocate for those who are less fortunate?
The primary influences have been the women around me. My little sister is low functioning autistic and has experienced discrimination in many aspects of her life. Her condition and our close relationship has had a tremendous impact on my ability to connect to those less fortunate and, also, to put the problems of daily life into perspective. My girl scout leader juggled a demanding career and always made time for service, running a troop of 17 girls with 17 working mothers and about 12 service activities every year. When I returned from my first trip to Pine Ridge I felt a need to do more than just volunteer but the problems on the reservation seemed so overwhelming that I did not know where to begin. I brainstormed with Frances Grenley, who encouraged me to take action and helped me narrow my focus so that I could act on my passion. A local attorney followed my progress and offered to create the corporation that I now run to help the children of Pine Ridge. Of course, my mom is always there for me and my family is incredibly supportive! We are a great team!
Are there any teachers at SHS or SMS who helped you along the way – or people you met in the community?
The most supportive influences at SHS were Chris Renino, who was my Senior Options mentor for a fundraiser that brought representatives from Pine Ridge to Scarsdale and raised over $4000. He was always extremely supportive of my projects and a great mentor. He has continued to be an occasional box filler and hauler for the Scarsdale shipments. Mr. Klemme always encouraged me to follow through with my outreach efforts and to follow my heart. He was my reference for an internship at the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh the summer after I graduated from High School.
Tell us something about your visits to South Dakota:
It is hard to get there from NY! It takes about 10 hours, two flights, and then a 2 ½ hour drive. There are only two motels that I know of on the Reservation, which is roughly the size of Connecticut. I often stay at Re-Member, an outreach group on the Reservation, where we sleep in triple bunk beds and sleeping bags. I bring a group of students from my university every spring break to volunteer on the reservation.
What have your learned at Colgate about community organizing and fundraising?
Before attending Colgate, I learned from the Scarsdale community not to be afraid to ask people for help -- our community has risen to the challenge every time I have asked for help; the response to every drive and fundraiser has been overwhelmingly positive!
Working with the support of Colgate University has been amazing. Before entering Colgate I attended their Outreach orientation and learned how the process worked and also got involved in local charities. Last spring I was employed by the Center for Outreach, Volunteerism and Education. The college environment has presented endless opportunities for me to expand my reach, through the school newspaper, clubs, community outreach and fundraisers. Over the years I have developed a network of people who help with most of my efforts. Through my various commitments on-campus I have really grown as a leader and learned how to fundraise and organize successfully. Our current VP is Kelsey John, an education major at Colgate. Kelsey is committed to education reform and to providing Native American children with the tools they need to succeed in education and also pursue higher education.
How many hours a week do you spend on your fundraising – is it difficult to balance this with your school work?
It really varies but the last two years I spent about 20-40 hours per week, and often more. This past spring was very difficult because I travelled a lot, due in part, to the recognition I received for my outreach efforts. It has been exciting to see the response from the public and it has become extremely important to build a team that has a strong work ethic.
What are your goals for the future for the Lakota?
My goal is to support their goals. So far I have concentrated on helping the children and supporting families and schools. I would also like to do more to help make culturally sensitive and appropriate mental health services available to the community.
Describe the Glamour Magazine award and how you leveraged it to receive a matching gift:
I was notified at a three- day event in New York City that I was receiving the Grand Prize of $20,000. About a week later Richard Branson was scheduled to speak at Colgate University and as a member of the entrepreneur club, Thought Into Action, I was invited to a closed question and answer session. I raised my hand, Richard Branson called on me and I gave my 60 second pitch on Lakota Children’s Enrichment, told him about the Glamour Award, held up the big pink check and said that I was going to donate the money to my nonprofit. Then I said: “So my question to you is: do you know of a potential celebrity, philanthropist or humanitarian who might be willing to match my own contribution?” He laughed and said that if I could get a Colgate Alumnus to give me $20,000, so would Virgin Unite, his nonprofit company.
Any advice to younger students who want to follow your path?
Go for it now. You do not have to wait until you are 30, 40 or 50 to make a difference in the world and follow your passions. Young people across the country have taken part in our drives and have done amazing things. Edgewood School is mobilized and helping – just last month 10 fourth grade girls raised over $900 and the classes all filled backpacks for children on the Reservation.