Department of Indian Work and Ain Dah Yung Center Expand Partnership

When Ain Dah Yung interim executive director Sheri Riemers asked Kelly Miller, director of Interfaith Action’s Department of Indian Work, to open and operate a small food shelf in the Mino Oski building, it was a natural extension of the work the two organizations have done together over many years. “We were excited to be asked and started working on logistics to open another food shelf,” says Miller. Riemers and Miller recently sat down to talk about their work together.

How did this partnership come about?
Riemers: Ain Dah Yung Center (ADYC) has had a long-standing relationship with our community organizations for decades, Department of Indian Work being one of them. Over the decades, we’ve had several program collaborations that addressed the needs of our community, including diabetes education and youth enrichment.

In 2019, AYDC built a 42-unit permanent supportive housing development called the Mino Oski Ain Dah Yung (meaning New Good Home in Ojibwe) for homeless youth and those exiting our foster care system. We wanted to help these young people not fall victim to long-term homelessness, predatory abuses of human trafficking, and substance abuse. We provide a host of supportive services that include case management, cultural and traditional teachings, and connections to employment counseling and training programming. In addition, it was important for us to provide basic needs such as food and clothing. We wanted to add a food pantry and clothing closet but this was difficult to get underway during COVID. I asked Kelly Miller if she would consider working with ADYC and without hesitation she jumped right in and said “Yes, let me find out what we need in order to do so.” I’ve been very appreciative of that conversation ever since.

How will this on-site food shelf help the young adults with their journey to stability and success?
Miller: These young adults come from a background with a lot of challenges and barriers. By offering an onsite food shelf, we can help remove the big barrier of access to healthy and culturally specific food. The food shelf is located within a space where they feel welcomed, safe, and are greeted by American Indian staff.

Riemers: The food pantry fills a critical void for our young people. They are often coming directly from extreme homelessness into their own studio apartment with few skills about how to manage a budget, keep an apartment clean, or maintain adequate, nutritional food. Most come to us without resources and it takes time to get those county resources in place. Having immediate access to the food shelf and getting groceries in their fridge is vitally important as they prepare to move forward. It is one less thing to worry about.

How will the two organizations work together?
Miller: We’ve always worked together! This newest project is a natural extension of our partnership.

Riemers: Our community and those we serve are in a much better place when we all work together. We each have our superpowers, and when we leverage each other’s resources, we all win, especially those we serve.