Thanks to its participation in “The Hero Effect” on the Oprah Winfrey Network and with the support of the United Way, the Cheyenne River Youth Project® was able to take seven teenagers on a life-changing, all-expenses-paid trip to Washington D.C. this summer. Bryanna Ducheneaux-Clown, Tyra Lends His Horse, Hailee Eagleman, Blake Big Eagle, Wyatt Hill, Wagacan Ducheneaux and Ryanne Nezzie spent four days in the nation’s capital on July 27-31.

The teens were selected through an intensive process that included an application, biography, video or audio essay, and recommendations. CRYP Youth Programs Director Tammy Granados and Youth Programs Assistants Anthony Potter and McKinzie Circle Eagle accompanied the young people on the trip.

The trip incorporated tours at the United States Capitol and the White House, as well as visits to the Washington, FDR, Martin Luther King Jr., Thomas Jefferson, Lincoln, World War II, Vietnam and Marine Corps memorials. The teens also spent time in the Spy Museum, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park (more commonly known as the National Zoo), the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Other highlights included Union Station, Georgetown, and an iMax movie. For the young people from Cheyenne River, however, the most memorable moments involved the trip itself.

“For many of the kids, this trip meant their first airplane flight, first trip east of the Mississippi, first escalator, first metro ride and first time hailing a cab,” Granados said. “They were super excited.”

Acknowledging that travel can change a person’s perspective in often profound ways, Granados noted that the young people were astonished at the plight of the homeless in the city — and at how desensitized passers-by seemed to be. Many of the group’s conversations revolved around how people treat one another, rather than on the marvels they were witnessing during their tours.

“During lunch one day, there was a man sitting outside the Shake Shack with a sign that read, ‘Seeking Kindness,’” Granados recalled. “I watched just about every kid on our trip take him something, a drink, a pie, a little change. All on their own. I watched a city of people walk by him without even offering a smile, the smallest kindness, but our Lakota teens remembered his humanity and theirs. And they offered him what he was seeking. Kindness.”

At the time, one of the teens observed, “Well, he’s probably hungry. I’ve been hungry. We know what that’s like.”

“We came to America’s capital to grow a little and gain some worldly experience, but we also learned the world is missing a little of what we have at home, too,” Granados reflected. “I am proud of the compassionate and generous nature of our kids. Altogether, this was an eye-opening and enlightening experience for all of us, and we’re grateful to the United Way and The Hero Effect for making it happen.”

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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.