When the Cheyenne River Youth Project first launched its innovative teen internship programs in 2014, its primary goal was to give Cheyenne River’s young people new opportunities to learn job and life skills that would serve them well into adulthood. That goal is now being realized, as some of their more experienced interns are entering the workforce with talent, ability and enthusiasm.

Lisa Littleton, 18, started attending CRYP’s programs in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, when she was a young child. Three years ago, she decided to tackle the first-ever Sustainable Agriculture internship. She served as a intern for three years, becoming intimately familiar with the youth project’s 2-acre Winyan Toka Win (Leading Lady) garden.

Then she heard CRYP needed a staff gardener for summer 2016. Lisa says it was an easy decision to apply for the job.

“I love being involved in work and activities,” she explains, “and I think CRYP is a special place, because they have so many programs to get our youth more involved in our community.”

When she’s not working in the Winyan Toka Win garden, Lisa enjoys being outside and spending time in nature. She also has a favorite sport.

“My favorite thing is swimming,” she says. “When I was in middle school, I took swimming lessons. I learned how to dive properly, and the techniques to save someone’s life. I like helping people.”

Lisa will be a senior this fall, and she already has big plans for her life after high school. One of her goals is to start running marathons and ramp up her training so she can hit the 100-mile mark. She says she was deeply inspired by the 2016 Peace & Dignity Journeys runners, who spent several days at the CRYP campus during the RedCan graffiti jam earlier this month.

“During RedCan, I had the opportunity to run with them onto the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation,” Lisa says. “They were from different states and different countries, and they were so kind-hearted. They were helpful to each other, and they respected our elders. I became close to them, and they called me their family.”

Not only did the runners motivate Lisa to strengthen her connection to her own Lakota culture, they inspired her to set her sights on the next Peace & Dignity Journeys run, scheduled for 2020. Once again, runners will start in Alaska and Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, and run toward a meeting place in Central American, uniting the Eagle and the Condor. Lisa hopes to join them.

“I’m preparing myself physically and emotionally,” she says.

Lisa plans to attend college and eventually earn her PhD in psychology. Until then, she’s focusing on her life here on Cheyenne River, and her work with the Cheyenne River Youth Project.

“I’m thankful that I got the opportunity to work here,” she says. “Whenever I come to work, I see so many positive people. They have such uplifting spirits.”