There is a wide array of nonprofit organizations that serve the 1.6 million Native Americans in the U.S. They address high poverty, a huge epidemic of diabetes, the high school dropout rate that is double the American average, and several other issues.

The American Indian Resource Center, Inc. in Oklahoma is one of the frontline organizations that addresses these and other issues in a very interesting way – starting with the children.

I spoke with them recently about how they've used the software donations received through TechSoup to help run their programs. They've benefited particularly from getting a whole host of donations from the Microsoft Software Donation Program and Adobe Donation Program through TechSoup.

Who They Serve

The American Indian Resource Center is located in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, which is the capitol of the Cherokee Nation. Among the 564 Native American tribes in the U.S. the Cherokee Tribe is the second largest, nearly as large as the Navajo Tribe in Arizona and New Mexico.

The Cherokee Nation is the largest part of the Cherokee Tribe, spanning 14 counties in the northeastern part of Oklahoma. It is one of the tribal leaders in the Native American environmental movement. They have for many years led the Inter-Tribal Environmental Council.

American Indian Resource Center’s mission is to develop culturally appropriate resources to meet the needs of Native American communities in the areas of education, health, and social services. The organization has multiple youth focused programs, has 10 employees, and supports several tribes in addition to the Cherokees in the U.S. The organization is mainly funded through federal grants from the U.S. departments of Justice, Education, and Health and Human Services.

How IT Donations Help Meet Their Mission

I had a chance to chat with Heather Hale who is their web and publications director, and primary IT person in the organization. She is a classic accidental techie, having joined the organization 15 years ago straight out of high school. Because she had a knack for doing computer stuff, she became the de facto IT person and over time developed their infrastructure, which is now based on Microsoft Server 2008, with the help of consultants from time to time.

She mainly does marketing support though, running four web domains, running social media campaigns, and all their graphic and web design. She is a power user of Adobe Photoshop, Dreamweaver for her websites, InDesign for newsletters and pamphlets, and Flash for animations (all available to eligible nonprofits in the Adobe Creative Design Suite and some also individually available.)

Helping Native Kids, Using Tech

Heather is pretty proud of the work they’re doing on behalf of Native American children. Their Educational Talent Search program prepares middle and high school kids to prepare for going to college. Most Native American students do not go to college, so many Educational Talent Search kids are the first in their families to attend college.

The program serves 750 students in 14 rural schools. Heather designs Microsoft PowerPoint-based games, like the Jeopardy inspired one she did that prepares kids for OHLAP, which is a scholarship program for Oklahoma students to attend Oklahoma colleges and universities. The kids have a great time playing the games and learn about how to apply for college scholarships.

She also creates PowerPoint presentations, brochures, and flyers for their domestic violence and sexual assault prevention programs called ARRA Track and TRACES. Heather says that they are technology heavy programs.

Because they are national programs, Heather has to keep track of a traveling staff with complex scheduling. She uses Microsoft Outlook to coordinate this work, keeping track of travel and expenses for caseworkers and consultants. She’s a serious power user. She uses the other tools in Microsoft Office, but is one of those people that can do amazing things with Outlook.

Finally the other technology heavy program that American Indian Resource Center will be doing is called NATIVE, the Native American Teaming and Visual Empowerment project. This is a new program that will teach visually impaired Native Americans to use text readers and text magnifiers, which is a serious need in a high diabetes population.

It looks like Heather is right where she belongs doing this good work. Her advice to her teenage son is: “Make sure you really love what you do, and your work will not seem like a job.”

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