This post is part of #GivingTuesday's #WomenWhoGive series, which celebrates women who are making a difference in their communities.

Mary L. Collins, Founder Lakota Tiny House Nation (+ serial volunteer)

What inspired you to start giving?

Since I was about 5 years old and watching the civil rights movement unfold on television, seeing people shot with water cannon and attacked by police and dogs, I thought, “Why?” I wondered, at 5 years old, “What had these people done to be treated so badly?” I didn’t understand. I still don’t understand privilege at the expense of the wellbeing of others. So, I give. My involvement spans a variety of locations, initiatives, and people. Mostly it is centered on being a trusted ally for the most vulnerable; our children, elders, animals. If I can be a resource, provide creative solutions and inspire others to participate; I do.

I’ve given 4 cars to needy families. I do this by driving my cars a few years longer than average and rather than trading them in, donate the still very usable vehicle to someone in need. So...

  • I launched a Tiny House project on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation called, Lakota Tiny House Nation, to help alleviate overcrowding and stress in a place where the lack of housing masks many other ills. (See attached info and link). I also sponsor many projects and people there.
  • I've served on numerous Boards (Chamber of Commerce, United Way, Crimestoppers, Advertising Council) to be connected to my community in a positive way.
  • I've housed numerous foreign exchange students.
  • I maintain a presence in a young child’s life who lives with a single parent who struggles with lack of transportation, full-time employment, no family close by. She spends a lot of time with me. We’ve begun raising chickens together and all money goes to her college fund. She is also now taking violin lessons each week.
  • I sing to seniors in our local nursing home.

(Note from Mary: This all sounds boastful. Ugh. But if it helps to explain how one person can do things, then I hope it’s helpful.)

What does giving mean to you? Why do you continue to give your time, talents, money, or more to your community?

I say to people, “Giving is not just an altruistic endeavor. It is a smart way of being in the world.” When we recognize our connection to everyone and all things we begin to understand how that connection is like the threads of a rope. Each one contributes to the strength of all others. As one, we are indestructible. Giving is just smart. Beyond that, I recognize that I have the capacity to be generous in ways that are quite do-able for any of us. I’m not rich but I am also not poor in ideas, energy, compassion, or commitment. If I can make a space for others, so can everyone else.

What would you tell others who are looking to start giving back? Share a piece of advice will help them get started.

Here’s one of my favorite quotes. It is from the 13th Century Mystic, Hafiz. And it is this, “The small man builds cages for everyone he knows. While the sage, who has to duck his head when the moon is low, keeps dropping keys all night long for the beautiful rowdy prisoners.” I think of us all as “beautiful rowdy prisoners” who want to be resources for the good that we want to be in the world. Many of us think we need permission. We don’t. That’s my advice. Do not ask permission to act in a way that is good, helpful or caring. Just do it. Your release of goodness in the world releases all the other “beautiful rowdy prisoners” who only want to join you but need your example to have the courage to act. So, be that courage. Act.

Please share a favorite moment or story from when you volunteered or donated to an organization.

I will share this. Being inspired to act in a giving way, inspires others to give. My story is about Lakota Tiny House Nation – a purely imagined solution to a very serious problem on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. I was moved to action by the suicide of a 13-year-old girl. Knowing that some of the deep stress is caused by toxic environments and poverty, I thought, “What is one tangible thing I can help create that will show children they matter, that they have the resources within themselves to make a better world and that their care of others will restore a sense of accomplishment and pride within themselves?” 

With that I launched LTHN which inspired others to contribute – A roofing company in Colorado donated a roof and a team from that company came up to install it; a tiny house builder here in Vermont donated his time to teach and build our first tiny house just outside of Wounded Knee; a contractor friend donated his time to help build the house; a world-renowned luthier (guitar craftsman) and friend donated a custom-crafted guitar built especially for us to be raffled and proceeds donated to us to help finish building the house and numerous donors donated money to the project – including a mother whose son had committed suicide. She wanted to do something meaningful in his honor and in recognition of the spirit in which this project was launched. So, my “story” is the story of how hundreds of people are inspired to act in a collectively generous way to support others. I think that’s amazing and I’m humbled and grateful for their trust and generosity.