CRYP youth outside the National Museum of the American Indian, with the U.S. Capitol in the background.

CRYP youth outside the National Museum of the American Indian, with the U.S. Capitol in the background.

When I started my own business more than eight years ago, I realized very quickly that I had to strike a balance with the types of work I accepted. It’s all too easy to get hung up on accounts payable and accounts receivable, taking every job over the transom that promises a decent paycheck.

The thing is, I’m kind of an idealist. In fact, when I had my first staff magazine job, my dad used to scoff that it was “like a religion.” Well, yeah. I had to believe that the work I produced would educate or, at the very least, entertain. I wanted to know that what I put out there might make the world a little better, even if it were just for one person.

When I went out on my own, it was scary. In the years since, it’s still had its terrifying moments… but I’ve done a better job of balancing out the strictly for-pay jobs with not-for-profit work, editorial pieces in new, exciting markets and a few purely creative projects.

In summer 2006, I volunteered for a summer with the Cheyenne River Youth Project in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, working with children on the remote, 2.8-million-acre Cheyenne River reservation. When I returned home in August, I discovered I couldn’t let go… I wanted to stay involved with this nearly 25-year-old, grassroots, not-for-profit organization whose mission is simply to provide a vibrant and more secure future for Cheyenne River children and their families, who live in two of this country’s poorest counties. So I joined the staff, part-time, as public relations manager.

This role has some givens: issuing press releases, maintaining media relations, producing an electronic newsletter and so on. But it also has its surprises: delivering a truck full of Christmas presents from Fairview High School in Boulder, helping to staff the joyous Passion for Fashion event, arranging storytelling sessions with respected Lakota elders and, most recently, serving as a chaperone for eight Lakota children on a trip to Washington, D.C.

CRYP wanted to give these youth leaders, part of the impressive “Power of Four” program, a chance to see the heart of American democracy and one of this country’s great cities. But the trip was more than that: It gave them an opportunity to see how many native people are living and working there, either in government or for one of the many not-for-profit organizations, dedicated to making life better for everyone in Indian Country.

For many of the kids, the trip meant a first airplane flight, a first trip east of the Mississippi, a first escalator ride, a first trip on a subway and the first time hailing a cab. And it meant seeing what was possible for them if they set their sights high and dreamed big.

American writer and painter Henry Miller once famously noted, “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” And it was extraordinary to engage otherwise shy kids in discussions about scholarships and internships, to watch them nearly collide with trees as they busily scribbled copious notes in their journals and, upon leaving the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian, to hear one young lady remark, “It’s so cool to be native.”

Several of these young people were my “Main kids” back in 2006. They have constantly opened my eyes, and my heart… and through them, I’ve found the work that is truly good for my soul.