Rhonda Hawk, area director for Boys and Girls Club at Crow Creek, Jason Yates, Silas Blaine, superintendent for Crow Creek Tribal Schools and Dustin Miller discuss plans for the economic development project.
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Two Drake University Law School
students are forming a nonprofit organization to help spur economic development
at the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe Reservation in Buffalo County, S.D. — the
poorest county in the United States.
Dustin Miller and Jason Yates, who
will graduate in May, are developing the Harvest Initiative with support from
Principal Financial Group Chairman and CEO J. Barry Griswell and his wife,
Michele. The Griswells have made a significant gift to cover the project’s
start up costs for two years.
Drake Law School’s Agricultural
Law Association will host an event to kick off the initiative at 5:30 p.m.
Thursday, April 17, in room 206 of Cartwright Hall, 27th Street and Carpenter
Avenue. Miller and Yates will present their plans and explain how their
experiences at Drake have provided the necessary tools to prepare them to
tackle the project. Barry Griswell is expected to attend the presentation.
“Michele and I are honored to be part of the work on
Crow Creek reservation,” Griswell said. “We have made several trips
there and have made some wonderful friends. The work Dustin and Jason are
undertaking, to provide economic development opportunities, represents a
long-term commitment on all our parts to lessen the affects of poverty
The Reservation is named after the Crow Creek.
Griswell, Miller and Yates began their involvement with the Crow Creek Reservation through their church, Ashworth Road Baptist Church in West Des Moines. The students and Griswell discussed their interest in getting more involved with the reservation. Miller and Yates proposed and developed the initiative, which emphasizes, “offering a hand up as opposed to a hand out.”
Buffalo County has the highest poverty rate of any county in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. More than 64 percent of Buffalo County’s children under the age of 5 are living at or below the official poverty line.
“Our mission is to create and facilitate economic activity on the Crow Creek Sioux Reservation by assisting tribal members, individually or cooperatively, through access to capital and enhanced financial literacy,” Miller said.
“There are lots of barriers to business development on the reservation,” he added. “We plan to create incentives for entrepreneurship and provide access to capital, business legal services and commercial development.”
Yates said the Harvest Initiative will include teaching financial literacy and job skills to high school students. In addition, the initiative will explore the possibility of establishing a cooperatively owned grocery store that would provide access to quality food at affordable prices.
“All of us at Drake Law School are proud and excited about what Dustin and Jason are planning,” said Neil D. Hamilton, the Opperman professor law and director of the Drake Agricultural Law Center, where Miller and Yates have studied. “I am especially pleased the center has provided these two bright young men with the classes, internships, and other insights, which enabled them to propose this dynamic initiative,” Hamilton said.
“Their good work is just one more example of how Drake’s Agricultural Law Center is giving students opportunities to help bring positive changes to rural America,” he added.
Miller is a native of Lacona, Iowa. He will graduate from Drake Law School with an Agricultural Law Certificate. His experience internships with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development and an economic development think tank, International Food Poverty Research Institute, in Washington, D.C.
Miller spent the summer after his first year of law school in Kisumu, Kenya, with Opportunity International, assisting a microfinance institution. He helped establish the institution through internal development and oversaw the implementation of financial instruments developed at the grassroots level.
Yates, a native of Kirksville, Mo., also will graduate from Drake Law School with an Agricultural Law Certificate. His experience includes internships with USDA Rural Development, the Iowa Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division and the County Attorney’s Office in Dallas County. He also worked on a project through Drake’s Agricultural Law Center to research cooperatively owned grocery stores in rural Iowa.