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Amazon founder's ex-wife donates millions to Boys & Girls Clubs on 3 regional reservations

MacKenzie Scott, former wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, is giving away billions of dollars to charity.

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This is the Boys & Girls Clubs logo. Several regional clubs on Native American reservations have received substantial donations.
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MAHNOMEN, Minn. — White Earth Nation Director of Education Dana Goodwin said it feels like they won the lottery for the tribe's youth.

She is referring to the $1.25 million grant they received from billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, the former wife of Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos.

The tribe is one of six in Minnesota and one in North Dakota to receive funding for their Boys & Girls Clubs that work with children and teens on their reservations.

The nearby Red Lake Nation received $875,000 from Scott, and the clubs on the Fort Berthold Reservation, home of the Three Affiliated Tribes in western North Dakota, received a donation of an undisclosed amount.

Kirsten Morsette, the principal officer for the clubs, wouldn't reveal the amount given as she said she wanted it to remain "low key." She said her board of directors still had to approve the gift and that word about the gift hadn't been shared much.

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"It was awesome, though," she said.

In all, 62 clubs across the nation are sharing in $281 million, the largest individual donation in the organization's 160-year history.

The unexpected donations are part of the latest round of giving from Scott's foundation in the past week, which focused on underrepresented people and equity.

Also receiving funds is Planned Parenthood North Central States, which operates 28 facilities in South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska, including one in Moorhead.

The organization's gift of $20 million is its largest ever.

Another group receiving a major donation is the national Habitat for Humanity organization and individual chapters in the region. The Lake Agassiz group based in Moorhead, however, didn't receive any funds, at least this time around, although the Twin Cities and Sioux Falls chapters received donations.

Goodwin said they haven't decided how the funds will be spent on the White Earth's six clubs spread around the state's largest reservation in Callaway, Mahnomen, White Earth, Rice Lake, Waubun and Naytahwaush. A club is in the works for the tiny community of Elbow Lake on the reservation.

They have a long list of needs, she said, but they can now begin the job of prioritizing them and checking them off with approval from tribal leadership.

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One likely option is renovating facilities and making safety improvements.

Each of the clubs serve about 10 to 60 children and teens, Goodwin said, providing after-school and summer activities. In Mahnomen they serve up to 100 children per day during the summer, she said.

The clubs offer snacks and meals, mentoring, culture and language activities, homework assistance, sports and recreation, art, leadership opportunities, field trips and health needs such as an anti-diabetes program, she said.

They are "so excited" about the extra funding, Goodwin said, adding, "After all, they are our future."

Nearby at Red Lake, club CEO Thomas Barrett said they will use the funds to help build a drop-in youth shelter, a project that was already in the works.

He said the gift was equal to the Boys & Girls Club annual budget and the largest gift ever received by the organization. The two clubs on the reservation have about 2,100 enrolled youth, although the number attending each day is much lower.

He said the new shelter will help homeless youth and provide medical, chemical dependency and mental health treatment for the reservation's young people.

A temporary shelter will hopefully open this summer in Red Lake, with a permanent shelter being built in Redby by next summer on a plot of land already reserved for the facility.

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On the Fort Berthold Reservation, the Three Affiliated Tribes has five club locations in New Town, Mandaree, Parshall, Twin Buttes and White Shield, according to its website.

According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy , Scott — whose net worth is about $50 billion — has now given out about $12 billion in two years.

"We don't advocate for particular policies or reforms," she wrote in her blog post about the latest round of giving that totaled $3.9 billion. "Instead, we seek a portfolio of organizations that supports the ability of all people to participate in solutions. This means a focus on the needs of those whose voices have been underrepresented."

An almost 50-year veteran of the newspaper business, Amundson has worked for The Forum and Forum News Service for 15 years. He started as a sport reporter in Minnesota. He is currently the city and night reporter for The Forum. bamundson@forumcomm.com 701-451-5665
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