Cheyenne River Youth Project hosts Wellstone Action training, local teens provide important feedback

Image of youth at Native Youth Organizing Training conference

EAGLE BUTTE, SD (August 15, 2010) — In late July, the Cheyenne River Youth Project® in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, hosted a special “Native Youth Organizing Training” conference, part of Wellstone Action’s Native American Leadership Program. Twenty-nine local teens between the ages of 14 to 19 attended the daylong leadership training event.

“Our goal was to have 30 young people participate, so we were thrilled to see 29 teens sign up and offer so much energy and enthusiasm,” said Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director. “It was tremendously rewarding. Our staff and volunteers also were excited to experience the training, which focused on progressive leadership, citizen activism and community organizing. And in the process, we learned a lot from our kids.”One component of the curriculum, titled “Help Wanted: Finding the Leaders We Need in Our Communities,” required the teens to develop a Help Wanted ad and then work within groups to develop their own ads and standards. Some common themes emerged during the exercises.

“The teens were very specific about the qualities they seek in leaders,” Garreau said. “Honesty, responsibility, reliability, courage, trustworthiness, dependability, wisdom, generosity — these traits came up over and over again. They said they want leaders who are hard-working, who are team players, and who can be good role models. They said true leadership is about understanding what people need, not being power-hungry.” One ad noted, “Must be sensitive to others… caring.” Another emphasized, “No anger issues.” And several insisted that the ideal candidate would be drug- and alcohol-free. Laziness, poor sportsmanship and rudeness would simply be unacceptable.

In another interesting exercise, Wellstone Action trainers asked the teens to split into six groups and work within their groups to decide what they would change in the community.The groups’ biggest common concerns were suicide prevention, teen pregnancy, gang violence, alcohol and drug abuse, child neglect, reservation cleanup (in particular, they worried about property destruction, graffiti and trash pickup), animal cruelty, quality education, quality health care, good housing, job opportunities and gun control. They even discussed the merits of increasing seatbelt use on the reservation and the benefits of a dress code at school.

In addition, the teens wanted to see more strict school policies, an animal shelter, treatment programs for alcoholics and for those who attempt suicide, a homeless shelter or mission, a cleaner environment, recycling services and higher numbers of college-bound students. Some wanted even more specific things — an indoor skate park, a McDonald’s, more rodeos, more basketball tournaments, more parks for toddlers and even a new, distant location for the wastewater treatment facility.“This really showed us how aware our children are,” Garreau said. “They want a stronger community and better lives for future generations, and they see what’s necessary to get there.”

Next, the groups determined what parts of their community they’re most proud of. The top answers: CRYP’s Cokata Wiconi Teen Center, the Boys & Girls Club, the outdoor skateboard park, the local swimming pool, the local fitness center, the city park, area schools and colleges, available food in the community, Lakota culture and heritage, family, friends, school and pets. One group said it was most proud of those students who graduated every year.“This was such a great experience for everyone involved, and we hope to host Wellstone Action again in the future,” Garreau said. “Not only is it a wonderful opportunity for our teens to learn and add some weight to a resume or job application, it’s a chance for us to understand what our teens are thinking. Listening to the next generation and encouraging them to get involved is the only way to foster real and lasting change.”

CRYP provided meeting space and meals for the Wellstone Action leadership conference, as well as overnight accommodations for the two attending trainers. Garreau noted, however, that the conference wouldn’t have happened without the support of Running Strong for American Indian Youth®.

“We have a Running Strong grant that provides dedicated scholarship funding for youth-focused organizations and projects,” she explained. “Those scholarship funds support CRYP’s general operation and help bring youth-oriented programming to the teen center. In this case, the scholarship money rented our facilities for the Wellstone Action conference, and we’re grateful to our partners and friends at Running Strong for making this amazing experience possible for our teens.”

To learn more about the Cheyenne River Youth Project and its programs, and for information about making donations and volunteering, call (605) 964-8200 or or visit www.lakotayouth.organd, to stay up to date on the latest CRYP news and events, visit the youth project’s Facebook “Cause” page. All Cause members will receive regular updates through Facebook.

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.