When the Cheyenne River Youth Project opened the doors to its Cokata Wiconi (Center of Life) teen center 10 years ago, staff members envisioned that the 26,000-square-foot facility would become a true center of life in the Cheyenne River community. And, they hoped teens would use the center and its offerings to find their true passions, their authentic voices and a variety of healthy, culturally relevant ways to move effectively toward achieving their dreams.
That’s exactly what Cokata Wiconi has done for young people like Sapphire Lucero, 14. Sapphire has been attending CRYP programs and events since 2012; and, while she enjoys hanging out with friends in the teen center and the Keya Cafe, she also has become an accomplished teen art intern.
“I wanted to get better at art,” she explains. “I thought this would be a great opportunity.”
CRYP launched its teen art internship program in spring 2015. The comprehensive, innovative program provides teens on the Cheyenne River reservation with the opportunity to build their skills in a variety of artistic disciplines, including traditional art, graffiti art, and street art. It also provides them with valuable job and life skills while giving them a positive creative outlet to express their life experiences.
Sapphire was part of the first cohort of teen art interns a year ago, and she says she had to come back.
“I love it,” she says simply. “My favorite medium is stenciling. I’m also really excited about finishing my first collage.
“I’d like to sell my art one day,” she continues. “Someone might like it as much as I did.”
In addition to art, Sapphire also is interested in math and English. This active teen is a student athlete as well, participating in volleyball, basketball, track and walking. (And sleeping, she notes.) She has big plans for her future.
“I want to go to Duke University in Durham, North Carolina,” she reports. “I want to play college volleyball or basketball. I (also) want to go into the U.S. Army, and I eventually want to be a music producer or a movie director/producer.”
While she’s not quite sure where she’d like to live as an adult, she does has a travel bucket-list: Scotland, France, Italy and Greece. In particular, she’d like to visit Paris and Rome. Until then, however, Sapphire is happy to call Cheyenne River home.
“I love so many things in my community,” she says. “The park, the basketball courts, the track, friends and family. It’s all important to me. And I think people would be surprised to know how much we have going on here — powwows, internships, sports programs. So many activities.”
CRYP is an important piece of that puzzle, according to Sapphire.
“Parents can drop their kids off at The Main while they run errands,” she explains. “Teens can hang out and play ball at the teen center. The staff is helpful. The Keya Cafe is great… the food and drinks are legit.
“CRYP is important to our community because it gets kids from K to 12 active, so they’re not just sitting around all day,” she adds. “I think everything is special about it.”