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Pine Ridge treatment program saved

PINE RIDGE, S.D. - An unexpected surprise of more money has left the staff of the Flowering Tree program ecstatic and very grateful to their senator.

The Flowering Tree program for women and their children was closed for three months due to a lack of funding. Through Sen. Tom Daschle's office, it has found new life.

Illa Red Owl, acting director of Flowering Tree always knew that $300,000 was coming Oct. 1, but didn't realize that an additional $200,000 would be added to the figure by Sen. Daschle.

"The staff said they would kiss him if he got close. He and his wife have seen the program and know the work we do. When Daschle added that $200,000 to the grant it made us jump for joy," Red Owl said.

Sept. 15 was opening day and with returning women and their children and others on the waiting list, the program will be full.

Flowering Tree conducts an alcohol and drug treatment program for women which allows participants to have their children with them. The women are taught parenting skills, acquire a GED if needed, and receive counseling for drug and alcohol abuse.

IHS provides a nutritionist to educate the women about healthy eating and menu shopping and the women cook for themselves. The IHS also teaches the women how to determine if a child has a fever or a cold or other everyday ailments children may have.

While the women are in counseling or classes, their children are in daycare at the facility. If a child becomes ill, the parent is expected to take the child, with transportation help from the staff, to the hospital or clinic - all part of the parenting process.

Classes in household management, bill paying and personal finances must also be mastered before a woman can graduate.

At the heart of the program and the secret of its success is the spiritual and cultural education the women and children receive, staff and graduates said. It uses the Lakota Cultural traditions as the basis for treatment and family values.

The program has been touted as exemplary throughout Indian country. Many tribes come to Pine Ridge to learn how it works. People from foreign countries have also studied the program.

"The Flowering Tree program is essential to ending fetal alcohol syndrome and alcoholism among mothers in Pine Ridge that result in the devastating consequences of fetal alcohol syndrome in so many children," said Daschle.

"FAS is 100 percent preventable, but treatment services are scarce. The education and treatment programs provided by Flowering Tree improve the health of hundreds of women and their children and provide participants with skills necessary to succeed in life."

Since its inception in 1992, Flowering Tree has graduated more than 400 women and their families from the program. Many have since moved on to find meaningful jobs and have remained alcohol and drug free, former director Alma Brewer said.

Many of the women at the program when it shut down on May 29, were either sent home, or to other treatment programs in the state. Some women and families at Flowering Tree were there by court order or sent their by social service departments. They could have lost their children or been ordered to serve prison time. Letters sent to the courts and social service agencies before the program closed helped many who would have otherwise been forced into harsher environments.

Red Owl said they have contacted most all of the families that were in the program before and only three or four of them will not return. Some had just started the program and she feared they may have gone back to drug or alcohol abuse, others were close to ending, one person was graduated one week early and others had finished half of their one-year treatment.

It takes about $300,000 to operate Flowering Tree for one year, and on a reservation that puts alcohol and drug abuse equal to or above the problems of diabetes and other health-related issues, the program's continuation is of paramount importance.

Red Owl said she and the staff members were moving toward implementation of third party billing to help become self-sufficient and less dependent on federal and other grants. However, grants are a major source of income and new sources will be sought out, she said.

Housing and Urban Development will also be contacted and asked for help to find, fund or build a different facility. Red Owl said there was asbestos in the basement of the building they are in and it is in need of expansion and repair.

Flowering Tree limped along from September 2002 on carry-over funds from a Center for Substance Abuse and Treatment grant and an $84,000 grant from the Running Strong for American Indian Youth, a non-profit organization started by Billy Mills, Oglala Lakota. The Oglala Sioux Tribe also contributed $60,000 to the program.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe made an executive decision to not provide additional funds and close the program on May 29.

"We need to get self-sustained and have a new building and look for new ways of helping ourselves, it's really intense," Red Owl said.