This month, the Cheyenne River Youth Project would like to shine the spotlight on one of our newest teen participants at Cokata Wiconi (Center of Life). Eagle Butte resident Maliyah Lee, 14, first started coming to our campus this past December, and she’s already completed her first internship. 

Maliyah says she immediately liked CRYP because the staff and volunteers were friendly and welcoming. Then she saw the application for the teen internship program.

“I knew it was something different that I wanted to try,” she remembers. “I was told you get to meet people from all over the world, and that seemed pretty awesome to me.”

Maliyah tackled the Social Enterprise Internship in December, serving in CRYP’s farm-to-table Keya Cafe. Not only is the cafe a full-service coffeeshop and restaurant, it’s a valuable hands-on classroom and learning laboratory for the youth project’s teen interns.

“I assisted with the cooking and clean-up, and I learned to make the coffee, which I loved,” Maliyah says. “I enjoyed the customer service part of the job. The one job that was challenging for me was the frothing on the cappuccino machine, because I didn’t like the loud noise it made when it was done.

“The First Aid and CPR training was interesting,” she continues. “That was my first time doing anything like that. I also liked the ‘Bring Your A Game’ training, because I learned about having a good attitude at work and following work rules.”

This holiday season, Maliyah also worked on CRYP’s annual Christmas Toy Drive, which served a record-breaking 1,700-plus children in 20 communities across the Cheyenne River reservation. She joined forces with the rest of the youth project’s staff, interns and volunteers as they wrapped thousands of presents and once again brought Santa Claus to Cheyenne River.

For these and many other reasons, Maliyah says CRYP is an important resource for her community.

“They have a lot of good opportunities for children and families,” she explains. “They have after-school activities, physical activities, and of course the internships to help kids experience something positive.”

When she’s not busy at CRYP, Maliyah enjoys studying history, science and math at school. She also loves spending time with her family and community.

“I enjoy helping my grandpa with community activities, and helping the elders,” she says. “I like riding bikes with my siblings. I also enjoy doing church events. In the summer, I also am a pipe carrier and tree cutter at my family sundance.”

Maliyah plans to attend college, although at this point, she’s unsure about her degree path. For now, she’s happy to be part of her Cheyenne River community. She loves her small town, and she says there is a lot more to it than might meet the eye—from church youth groups and community feeds to internship and work opportunities.

“There are nice people who live here and do good things for the children,” she says. “I also think people would be surprised to learn about how rich our traditional Lakota culture is here. There are natural medicines, sweat lodges and sundance ceremonies. (If they visited) I think people would see that our culture is a beautiful way of life.”