Before the Cheyenne River Youth Project® was founded in 1988, children growing up on the Cheyenne River Lakota reservation didn’t have many options for safe, positive places to go outside of school. When CRYP opened the doors to its Main youth center, 4- to 12-year-olds finally had their own space for playing, learning, and enjoying healthy meals and snacks.
When the Cokata Wiconi (Center of Life) teen center opened in 2006, local teens were able to take advantage of the same opportunities. Not only could they socialize with friends, get homework help, play sports and get something to eat, they could learn valuable new skills, have access to mentors, gain valuable experience and insights, and pursue their passions in a way that leads to greater successes in higher education, in careers and in life.
How does CRYP measure success? It looks toward its “regulars,” teens who grow and blossom in so many ways during their years at Cokata Wiconi. Serena Eagle, 16, is a perfect example. She has been coming to the teen center for three years; while playing basketball in the Morgan Yellowhead Gymnasium was the initial draw, Serena now actively participates in CRYP’s ongoing teen fitness classes and in its innovative, edgy arts programming.
“I like being involved in a lot of things,” Serena says. “There are so many opportunities here, and that’s great for our community. It keeps kids active.”
Serena still is an active basketball player. She says she also loves powwow dancing, and in school, her favorite subjects are math and Lakota. She also expresses her love for the Cheyenne River community and its rich Lakota culture and traditions.
“It would be nice to have even more powwows here, and to have classes that teach people how to make the outfits,” she reflects. “I’d love to have our own dance group that travels together, like Rapid City’s dance group.”
After high school, Serena is planning to join the U.S. Marine Corps. Until then, she remains a regular at Cokata Wiconi, and she continues to make her presence known on the court, in the fitness center and in the art studio.
“We love to see large numbers of kids come through our doors and participate in our programs and events,” says Tammy Eagle Hunter, CRYP’s youth programs director, “but what’s perhaps even more rewarding is recognizing the lasting impact we’re having on individual children. It’s why we work so hard to build relationships, and trust, with each of them. Some will only come to play ball, but others will go on to do so much more—and that means everything to us.”