In the nearly 13 years since CRYP officially opened the doors to its Cokata Wiconi (Center of Life) teen center in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, we’ve learned that our teens participate in activities here for a variety of reasons. They might want to play basketball in the full-size gymnasium, use the fitness center, sign up for internships so they can pursue their passions and earn a stipend, pursue leadership training and serve as mentors for the younger kids, learn how to work in different art mediums, or simply have a safe place to hang out with friends after school.

We also know, in some cases, parents are urging them to give us a try. Avya Blanco, 14, admits that her mom wanted her to participate at the youth project, but she says she got involved right away once she saw what the programs were all about. First, she turned to CRYP’s Waniyetu Wowapi (Winter Count) Lakota Youth Arts & Culture Institute.

“I did an Arts internship because I loved all the graffiti and art,” she says. “I learned how to make moccasins as well. Then, when I got bored at home and saw friends making traditional native foods, I realized I wanted to do the Indigenous Cooking internship as well.”

Through the Indigenous Cooking internship, Blanco became familiar with Cokata Wiconi’s commercial kitchen—and how to prepare a variety of Lakota foods, including ceyaka tea, flat cedar tea, chokecherry juice, wojapi, chokecherry patties, dried buffalo meat, wasna, ba’pa soup, squash flour and more. Along with her fellow interns, she documented her experiences in a journal.

“I like to make the different foods,” Blanco says. “It’s challenging, and it’s been good for me to learn all the steps.”

She says she also appreciated the CPR training, which is part of all five teen internship tracks. In addition to Arts and Indigenous Cooking, CRYP currently offers internships in Social Enterprise, Native Wellness and Native Food Sovereignty and, through its Waniyetu Wowapi (Winter Count)  Lakota Youth & Culture Institute, the Arts.

“CRYP is special, because it’s so much fun here,” she says, “and there are so many opportunities for teens to learn new things.”

Blanco says she enjoys origami and is a big fan of movies and video games. She plans to go to college after she graduates from high school, and she’s proud of her tightly knit Cheyenne River community.

“I love that almost everyone knows each other,” she says.