For nearly 30 years, the Cheyenne River Youth Project® has been dedicated to building and nurturing healthy children through its innovative, resourceful youth programs. The launch of CRYP’S teen internship program at the Cokata Wiconi (Center of Life) teen center nearly three years ago took this vision to the next level.
Not only does CRYP offer teen wellness internships, it has designed wellness-oriented activities for all four cohorts, allowing the teen interns in the arts, social enterprise and sustainable agriculture to participate as well.
In the last four weeks, for example, CRYP has hosted Native Wellness training and physical assessments, comprehensive empowerment and team-building exercises, and cooking classes.
“One evening, we made food for all the teens who were coming to Cokata Wiconi for Midnight Basketball,” said CRYP staff member Jerica Widow-Rivers, who is responsible for overseeing the interns. “We prepared goulash, Italian chicken, and fruit and veggie trays for the kids, and then the interns made berry and cucumber smoothies for themselves.”
Learning to prepare healthy meals is just one component of the youth project’s ongoing holistic wellness initiatives, which also include physical fitness, nutrition, diabetes prevention, and positive lifestyle choices.
“It doesn’t matter which cohort the teens are part of, whether they’re focusing on their continuing arts education through the Waniyetu Wowapi (Winter Count) Lakota Arts Institute or on food sovereignty through our Winyan Toka Win (Leading Lady) garden,” said Tammy Granados, CRYP’s youth programs director. “We encourage all of them to participate in our cooking classes and nutrition programs so they learn about healthy foods, how to prepare them, how those foods support and fuel their bodies and, conversely, the damage that highly processed foods can do.”
During their internships, the teens take part in a variety of sporting activities and fitness challenges, and they can earn special trips to sites of cultural and spiritual significance, like Black Elk Peak and Bear Butte (see above photo). Through it all, they strengthen their connection to Lakota values, traditions and life ways. That connection is critical, according to Executive Director Julie Garreau.
“Our Lakota culture is a critical piece of our wholeness,” Garreau explained. “Strengthening the connection our kids have to their traditional values and native wisdom builds an enduring foundation for lasting wellness, for themselves and for our community.”
The interns also attend regular trainings in Native Wellness, Traditional Values, Historical Trauma, Healthy Communication, Healthy Relationships, Healthy Sexuality, Traditional Leadership, Decision Making, Job Skills, Financial Aid and Visions for the Future. These trainings prepare the young people for responsible youth mentorship; and CRYP’s teen interns do take an active role as leaders for the younger children at The Main youth center, as peer mentors at Cokata Wiconi, and even as leaders in their community as a whole.
“A key piece of their leadership training involves organizing events,” Granados said. “During the wellness internship, for example, we require our interns to plan a fitness event—like a color run or glow run—and engage the community. This teaches them planning and organizational skills, as well as methods for engaging our community in healthy activities.”
In addition, the teens have valuable opportunities to earn Customer Service, CPR, Financial Literacy and Food Handler’s certifications.
“We’ve always provided a safe, positive place to play, study and socialize with friends, and that remains a vital piece of who we are,” Garreau said. “Through our internships, however, we seek to guide and support our young people as they transition into their teen and young adult years, providing a broad range of job and life skills that will serve them well.”
CRYP’s wellness programming is made possible by grant support from the NB3 Foundation, the N7 Fund, Diabetes Action and Research (DARE) and the Wellmark Foundation. These organizations provide critical support for the youth project as it pursues its ongoing mission in the Cheyenne River community.
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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.