VISTA Volunteers Pamela Stolz and Annie Sonnenberg
EAGLE BUTTE, SOUTH DAKOTA – When Pamela Stolz and Annie Sonnenberg graduated from college, both women were seeking opportunities that went beyond the normal 8-5 routine, a job that not only would give them meaningful work, but also provide a window to a culture with which they had very little exposure. By joining AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers In Service to America), they are getting hands-on experience in capacity-building and community program development at the Cheyenne River Youth Project that other entry-level jobs may not be able to provide.
“I have always had a desire to create more in this world than I take. This led me to leave my small town in Central Massachusetts to study Fine Arts in Brooklyn, New York. After graduating from Pratt Institute I began to work odd jobs in the city just to get by and I started to feel cut off from the reasons that brought me there,” says Stolz, who came to CRYP in November 2013. “I had the desire to create understanding, stronger communities, and sustainable ways of life. When I found out about VISTA, it presented an opportunity for me to learn how I can begin to bring all of those things into my future career or work.”
Although neither of the two young women knew each other before they arrived in Eagle Butte, their paths have crossed in a way that compliments the work that each has been charged with implementing.
“I discovered the VISTA program while I was looking for different job opportunities as I was preparing to graduate with my Bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee,” says Sonnenberg, who arrived at CRYP in February of this year. “I was looking for a job that had more to offer than just the normal humdrum of office work. I have always been passionate about helping others, and I’m looking for more out of life than money and material possessions. VISTA is all about battling poverty and helping individuals and communities help themselves out of poverty to become more sustainable. From this motivation to seek more out of life and helping others, I decided that the VISTA program seemed like the right fit for me.”
Stolz says that her main focus has been overseeing and building capacity for CRYP’s Family
Services program. This includes working on family service renewals, distributions, the Heat Match Assistance and Home Repair programs, as well as other events and fundraisers. She also assists with development and volunteer programming along with organization wide events like the Christmas Toy Drive and Passion for Fashion.
“Honestly I came to CRYP through chance. My wanderlust drew me to South Dakota; a place few people from the East Coast believe really exists,” says Stolz. “I applied to the VISTA State Office and was directed to The Cheyenne River Youth Project from there and CRYP was my top choice. It was important to me that the organization was started and is run by members of the community who understand the particular struggles and interests of families here on the Cheyenne River Reservation. And I was excited to work with an organization with such a diverse range of programs.
Sonnenberg’s responsibilities will consist of working on a number of programs, including community outreach, youth leadership program development, while further developing and expanding CRYP’s social enterprises including the Keya Café, the Farmers’ Market, and the Gift Shop.
“I looked through many programs that were looking for VISTA volunteers to be placed at their sites to help them in a staff role with capacity building for their programs,” says Sonnenberg. “I knew that I wanted to do something that impacted and helped youth, also I grew up in a rural area and I have always loved wide open spaces. So when I came across the Cheyenne River Youth Project’s job offer it just made sense.”
Stolz and Sonnenberg have been assigned one-year contracts through the VISTA program, but CRYP is also looking for volunteers for a wide range of jobs that the organization needs help with, including the gardening program and the youth activities.
“You don’t have to be with VISTA to volunteer with CRYP,” says executive director Julie Garreau. “We welcome volunteers from all over the world every year. We invite anyone who wishes to help empower the Cheyenne River Lakota Nation toward self-determination and sustainability to apply for one of our volunteer positions. The work can be hard, but it is rewarding to see the results on the faces of our kids.”
Garreau says CRYP has developed its own international volunteer program throughout its 25 year history whose model has worked very well for the organization.
“It’s very organic and we’ve had amazing volunteers – an incredible army of volunteers who continue to support CRYP in a variety of ways even after they leave us,” says Garreau. “Our volunteers not only work hard for our kids, but also we see this as an opportunity to educate the masses, because they gain some understanding of what’s really happening in Indian country. They can leave as ambassadors and help break down barriers about who we are as well as bring some reality to their discussions with their friends and relatives. It’s a long term investment but its really paid off in the long run.”
To volunteer for the Cheyenne River Youth Project, please visit our website at www.lakotayouth.org and click on our volunteer application link.
Founded in 1988, the Cheyenne River Youth Project is dedicated to providing the youth of the Cheyenne River reservation with access to a vibrant and secure future through a variety of culturally sensitive and enduring programs, projects and facilities, ensuring strong, self-sufficient families and communities. Today, CRYP provides a wide variety of programs and services to the community, covering nearly 3 million acres in South Dakota.