My name is Lara Benteler. I’m 28 years old, and I’m from Osnabrück, Germany. I volunteered at the Cheyenne River Youth Project for six months, from summer 2010 to January 2011. 

I first came across CRYP online, while I was searching for an opportunity to work with indigenous peoples in the United States. I had been reading a lot about First Nations’ history—especially Lakota history—and wanted to learn more about contemporary life in the area I had been reading about extensively. 

After my time in Eagle Butte, I returned to Germany and got a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and a specialized Master’s degree in cross-cultural psychology. The rights of indigenous peoples remained an important topic in my life, and I was lucky to be able to attend the United Nations Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a visitor in 2017. 

Also that year, I started working for an association that offers consultations, provides language classes, and facilitates encounters for migrants and refugees in Germany. As a volunteer coordinator, I support people with and without refugee/migrant background as they realize their own project ideas and get involved in their fields of interests. 

This past summer, I had the opportunity to visit CRYP again. A lot of things had changed since my first visit: the Keya Café was open, RedCan murals were visible all over town, and a variety of special art and garden programs for the kids and teens had emerged. I was impressed by how much the project had grown! It’s great to see how CRYP doesn’t only offer safe places for kids and teens now; it also has broadened its influence in the community by enriching parts of town with professional-caliber artwork; selling fresh, nutritious, locally grown produce from the Winyan Toka Win (Leading Lady) Garden; and so much more.

During this second visit, lots of memories came up. I recalled daily trips with the kids to the rodeo or powwow grounds in summer, a lock-in with teens at the Cokata Wiconi (Center of Life) teen center, a big garden party with dozens of pumpkins for Halloween… and I never will forget how staff, volunteers and community members came together to wrap thousands of Christmas gifts for more than 1,500 children. 

Christmas was definitely one of my highlights. Despite all the hours spent with wrapping paper and tape, it was the most rewarding experience during my time as a volunteer. Not only did a great team spirit emerge, but we also got to visit “our” kids and see the happiness in their eyes as they saw their wishes and dreams come true.

I can definitely say that the Cheyenne River community has an important place in my heart. I think of it as a place filled with beautiful and strong souls, and with incomparable nature.