The beating heart of the Cheyenne River Youth Project’s Cokata Wiconi (Center of Life) teen center is its internship program. Created three years ago to provide Cheyenne River’s teens with opportunities to learn valuable job and life skills, the program now includes robust, innovative internships in sustainable agriculture, social enterprises, wellness and the arts.

Some teens gravitate to internships in just one area. Others, like Claudia Iron Hawk, are so inspired by what they’ve learned, they seek new opportunities at every turn. Claudia, 16, has already completed three sustainable agriculture internships, an arts internship focused on graffiti and street art, and a social enterprises internship, which involves operations in the youth project’s Keya (Turtle) Cafe and Keya Gift Shop.

Claudia hails from Red Scaffold/Frazier, at the west end of the Cheyenne River Lakota reservation. She completed her first two sustainable agriculture internships last June and July; she was so inspired by her work in the 2-acre, organically grown Winyan Toka Win (Leading Lady) garden, she opted to complete a third internship in September so she could wrap up the year’s growing and harvest seasons.

Then she rolled right into art and social enterprise. Along the way, she earned her First Aid, CPR and AED certifications, she received her Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Food Handlers Card, and she completed CRYP’s customer service training program.

“I like learning new things and having new experiences,” Claudia says. “I want to be more active in terms of gaining work experience, because it’s so good to start as soon as you can. I gained so much, in terms of social skills and knowledge.”

Claudia says she has been particularly interested in customer service, and that was a major focus during her social enterprise internship.

“I want to be better at customer service, and to learn how to be really responsible in this type of environment, in my own right and as part of a well-functioning team,” she explains. “This opportunity has meant so much to me, and to the other youths on the reservation, because it teaches us what we need to know to survive in this world.”

When she’s not working, Claudia is enjoying her junior year of high school—especially drawing, reading and socializing. After graduation, she hopes to attend Sitting Bull College and pursue Lakota language studies.