On Wednesday, September 24, the Cheyenne River Youth Project® hosted 130 guests at its 2nd annual Community Harvest Festival Dinner. Held in the Cokata Wiconi teen center, this community-wide celebration of the 2-acre Winyan Toka Win garden and 2014 growing season included a bountiful, free community meal and a special ceremony to honor eight former teen interns.

On the menu for this year’s event: Squish Squash Lasagna; roasted Brussels sprouts and carrots; a local roast with carrots, onions and potatoes; beans; garden salad; cauliflower cheese soup; Harvest Delight; jalapeño cornbread; apple crisp, and pumpkin pie. According to Ryan Devlin, CRYP’s sustainable agriculture manager, staff incorporated more than 200 pounds of fresh produce from the naturally grown, non-GMO, pesticide-free garden into the meal.“We used our own cauliflower, carrots, onions, Brussels sprouts, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, spinach, squash and pumpkins,” he reported. “It was a lot.”

During the evening’s festivities, staff and volunteers at the 25-year-old, not-for-profit youth project held various sporting events for children and gave away four raffle prizes that included two pumpkins and two gift baskets. Local elder Carmelita Eagle Chasing provided the prayer for this special community evening.

A particular highlight was the honoring ceremony for CRYP’s teen interns. During the summer months, 17 interns worked in the Winyan Toka Win garden, and 16 interns were devoted to the youth project’s social enterprises; eight of the former interns were on hand Wednesday evening to accept certificates of completion, along with certificates recognizing their participation in various workshops.

CRYP hosted three sessions for garden interns. The teens worked in the garden; participated in wellness workshops that included CPR, food handling, and money saving; participated in a weekly healthy-food cooking class; participated in job-training sessions that incorporated skills such as interview practices; harvested food for the Leading Lady Farmers Market, and much more. They also helped to plant, water and harvest more than 2,000 pounds of food and sell more than $1,000 worth of healthy produce to the community.

“Each intern worked 60 hours and earned a $500 stipend,” Devlin said. “Kendron Bowker, a first-session intern, used part of his stipend to buy a lawn mower and start a popular lawn-mowing business. Linsey LeBeau, a second-session intern, used hers to buy a violin she’d wanted for a long time. Other interns used their stipends to buy school and sports supplies, or to save for college. Several teens talked about starting their own gardens as well.”

In addition, the youth project hosted four sessions of social enterprise interns, who worked in the Keya Café & Coffeeshop and in the Keya Gift Shop. These teens learned job skills such as how to work as a barista, take inventory, organize, clean, and process fresh garden produce, and they participated in various workshops, including marketing basics, financial literacy, native wellness, customer service and CPR.

Like the garden interns, the social enterprise interns each worked a total of 60 hours and earned a $500 stipend; and they, too, reported that they would use their stipends to buy school supplies, to buy new clothes and athletic gear for school sports, and for college savings.

“Many of the interns mentioned that they gained so much confidence through the program and were very glad they were able to participate,” said Annie Sonnenberg, one of CRYP’s AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers.

“I think the (Keya Cafe) is an awesome place to have a first job experience,” said intern Tana Charging Eagle, “and the food and coffee is great.”

“I gained more confidence when I was accepted, and when I make something right, like making a specialty coffee,” said intern Tori Jensen. “I loved this internship. It was a lot of fun, and I hope I’ll be able to do it next year! It was a great experience.”

This year’s internships were made possible with the support of Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE), Cheyenne River Tribal Ventures, the JR Albert Foundation, and the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe’s TECA program. Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director, said the youth project is deeply grateful for the organizations’ support.

“It means so much to us, because our teens had an unparalleled learning experience this summer,” she explained. “Our garden, cafe, and gift shop are critical venues for teaching our young people about food sovereignty, holistic wellness, local entrepreneurship, lifting up their home community, and developing a solid work ethic. These are skills that will serve them well for a lifetime.”

Garreau and Devlin both noted that the 2nd annual Community Harvest Festival and the special honoring for the teen interns were a great success.

“We thank the members of our Cheyenne River community for attending, and for showing their support as we pursue our sustainable agriculture and teen leadership initiatives,” Garreau said. “Together, we’re demonstrating how a community can work toward real food sovereignty and security, and toward regaining its health physically, mentally, and spiritually through connection with the earth.”

The Cheyenne River Youth Project, founded in 1988, is a grassroots, not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing the youth of the Cheyenne River reservation with access to a vibrant and secure future through a wide variety of culturally sensitive and enduring programs, projects and facilities that ensure strong, self-sufficient families and communities.