Bringing hope to the Lakota people

Published 4:39 PM ET, Fri December 4, 2015
01 CNN Hero Rochelle Ripley01 CNN Hero Rochelle Ripley
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Rochelle Ripley and her nonprofit, hawkwing, provide healthcare and education opportunities to the Lakota people in South Dakota. David S. Holloway/CNN
The Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation is located in an isolated area of South Dakota -- a three-hour drive from the nearest large city. Poverty runs rampant on the reservation. So does unemployment, alcoholism and diabetes. David S. Holloway/CNN
"The spirit of the people, it's alive," said Ripley, whose group works alongside the tribe. David S. Holloway/CNN
Ripley's efforts started with the group providing holiday boxes to every child on the reservation, about 2,600, she said. They all get new clothes, toys, books, personal care products and school supplies. "It was to form and build relationships. We continue that to this day." David S. Holloway/CNN
Four to five times a year, Ripley makes the trip from her home in Connecticut to the Cheyenne River Reservation. To date, her nonprofit has delivered an estimated $9 million in services and goods to the Lakota people. David S. Holloway/CNN
When Ripley was young and visiting her grandmother's farm in Indiana, her grandmother told Rochelle stories about her Native American heritage and asked that Rochelle one day go and help the Lakota people. David S. Holloway/CNN
Ripley and volunteers help run a food bank and provide free health services, home renovations and educational opportunities. David S. Holloway/CNN
Ripley: "We're all children of this earth, and we need to work together so that everyone has a chance at having a decent life. David S. Holloway/CNN
The tribe calls her "Wa Okiye Winyan," which roughly means woman who is helping people. David S. Holloway/CNN