Ishika Gupta, 17, of Fargo, North Dakota, a senior at Davies High School, started a nonprofit organization two years ago that donates bassinets for babies whose families lack a secure place for them to sleep. While volunteering at the American Indian Resource Center, Ishika met a young mother with a son who was born eight weeks prematurely and did not have a safe place of his own to sleep. “He was pale and barely moving,” said Ishika, who also was a premature infant. “I thought of my own bassinet, how it kept me warm, safe, and healthy.” As a volunteer at the center, she had visited several Native American reservations and from conversations with center staff knew that the rate of sudden infant death syndrome was higher than average in this population and was sometimes due to unsafe sleeping arrangements.
So Ishika began researching the issue and decided to create “Cradle Me Care” to try to reduce infant mortality in her state. After gaining nonprofit status, she developed a website, began organizing fundraisers such as raffles and door-to-door appeals, applied for grants, contacted the media to promote her events, and developed relationships with local healthcare and social services agencies for referrals. So far, she has purchased more than 100 bassinets and distributed them to organizations that help parents in need in two states and three tribal communities. In addition to her bassinet project, Ishika continues to be an active volunteer at the American Indian Resource Center, where she helped organize and lead a summit on disparities in tribal oral health. She also has helped monitor and analyze local, state and federal policies that impact the health of Native Americans.