In the nearly three years since the Cheyenne River Youth Project® launched its innovative teen internship program at the Cokata Wiconi (Center of Life) teen center, 184 teenagers have completed internships in sustainable agriculture, social enterprise, wellness and art. Not only have these young people gained valuable skills that will serve them well all their lives, they are having a lasting impact on the Cheyenne River reservation’s economy.
For CRYP, it’s all about the development of the Lakota workforce—and building healthy, resilient, well-rounded adults in the process. Since 2014, the nonprofit youth organization has invested $36,950 in Cheyenne River’s teenagers, providing instruction, mentorship, workshops, certifications, real-life job experience and wages. According to Julie Garreau, executive director, that’s making a difference on more than one level.
“When the kids earn their own money, they’re able to buy things they need,” Garreau explained. “Even more importantly, they’re thinking about how to earn more money, and about their own futures. One teen used his stipend to buy a lawn mower and started providing local lawn-care services. Others have purchased musical equipment. It’s really exciting to see that.”
She also pointed out that when young people spend their money at local businesses, that supports local families. And, they’re easing the burden on their own families by helping to purchase essentials, like school clothes, gas and food.
“But the impact goes even further,” Garreau said. “The internships give them work experience, and the job and life skills that will increase their future earning potential. These kids, as they become adults, will be the preferred new hires. And they’ll pass on their work ethic, values and entrepreneurial spirit to their own children one day.”
According to Tammy Eagle Hunter, CRYP’s youth programs director, some of the teen interns are becoming preferred new hires already. Several have applied for jobs at local businesses—including the new Eagle Butte movie theater—and they’re receiving encouraging feedback.
“We’ve been told by several local businesses that teens who completed internships with us were more prepared for the job application and interview processes,” Eagle Hunter said.
Although CRYP is perhaps best known for “The Main,” the youth center that has been a mainstay of the Cheyenne River community since 1988, the youth project’s vision extends far beyond daily meals and snacks, homework help, arts and crafts, movie nights, and sports activities. Those things are important, and local youth rely on CRYP to be there to meet those needs, but staff members are constantly evaluating how each program can have a positive, lasting impact on youth of all ages.
“We introduce our young children to gardening, meal preparation and preservation, art, craftsmanship, community service and leadership through clubs, workshops and fun daily activities at The Main,” Garreau said. “Those programs are designed to give our 4- to 12-year-olds the foundation they need to successfully transition to the Cokata Wiconi teen center at age 13.”
At Cokata Wiconi, teens continue their growth and learning through the internship program, whether they’re working in CRYP’s farm-to-table Keya (Turtle) Cafe, assisting customers in the Keya Gift Shop, nurturing locally grown foods in the Winyan Toka Win (Leading Lady) garden, creating original art and preparing public exhibitions in the Cokata Wiconi art studio or ground-breaking Waniyetu Wowapi (Winter Count) Art Park, or mentoring the young children in nutrition, fitness and holistic wellness at The Main.
Garreau said the benefits of the internship program vastly exceed the investment.
“We don’t have programs at CRYP that exist just for their own sake,” she noted. “There’s always a larger purpose, a deeper meaning. In the case of the internships, we are playing an active role in workforce development, which is so critical in an economically disadvantaged area. It’s not just about the jobs we’re providing right now—it’s about the enthusiastic young people who are graduating from our internships, because they have incredible potential to effect meaningful change within this community.”
Garreau also acknowledged CRYP’s vital partnership with Tribal Ventures, which has awarded the youth project approximately $115,000 for workforce development. This critical funding allows CRYP to increase the number of available teen internships at Cokata Wiconi, and to provide important professional development resources for interns and employees alike.
To stay up to date on the latest CRYP news and events, follow the youth project on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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.