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EAGLE BUTTE, SD  — The Cheyenne River Youth Project announced today that five Lakota teens have joined its Youth Employment Trainee Initiative for summer 2024. They are: David Brave Heart, 16; Sarah Berndt, 16; E’von Brown, 16; Nation Cowins, 17; and Alaceyia Adams, 18.
 
 
With critical support from the Northwest Area Foundation, CRYP launched the Youth Employment Trainee Initiative in 2023 as part of its long-term workforce development planning. It allows teens who have completed one or more of the youth project’s teen internships to continue to build their job and life skills.
 
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“We’ve always known this was the right thing for us, but we had to acquire the necessary funding to support it,” explained Julie Garreau, CRYP’s chief executive officer. “We have an amazing group of young people who want to work and are yearning for opportunities to learn. The magical part of this training initiative is that they can do both, every day, alongside our staff.” 
 
First and foremost, the staff are dedicated to building and strengthening the trainees’ connections to Lakota culture. As the teens pursue their daily tasks, they also are learning Lakota language, values and traditional life ways; they are interacting with Lakota elders, who come to CRYP to share their knowledge; and they are serving as mentors for the 4- to 12-year-olds at “The Main” youth center and younger teens at the Cokata Wiconi teen center. 
 
“As Lakota people, we cannot thrive if we are not connected to our culture, because it is who we are,” Garreau said. “After nearly 36 years of working with our young people here on Cheyenne River, we know that cultural health has a direct impact on their future success as healthy, well-rounded and resilient adults. Colonization tried to destroy that cultural health. CRYP is dedicated to restoring it.” 
 
During their time with CRYP, the trainees develop a work ethic that is grounded in the Lakota values and life principles, learn how to manage their finances, and gain an understanding of what it means to engage in heart- and purpose-driven work. They also participate in various trainings that are designed to empower as well as educate. 
 
Wambli Quintana, 18, is a graduate of the Youth Employment Trainee Initiative. Now a CRYP programs assistant, he has taken the lead on providing comprehensive training for the new cohort.
 
“In addition to cultural education, our recent practical lessons included money management, personal finance, situation handling, conflict resolution, communication skills and safety protocols,” Quintana said. “Participants also completed food handler’s training and gained hands-on experience in event planning. They learned to create action plans and manage purchase orders.”
 
To date, the trainees’ favorite jobs involve planning and implementing youth programs for the children at The Main. They plan and host monthly “Camp Mató” birthday parties, assist with classes for Main University, plan and serve daily snacks and meals, and serve as positive role models and mentors for the youth project’s youngest participants.
 
Additional job duties include maintaining CRYP's grounds and facilities, providing programming support, working in the garden, and helping to organize and execute special community events. 
 
Going forward, trainees will have opportunities to learn a variety of more advanced workplace skills. Planned lessons include internet communication proficiency, professional email and messaging etiquette, survey design and data analysis, leadership in group dynamics, public speaking, social media professionalism, event promotional strategies and interview skills.
 
For some trainees, this valuable work experience might lead to full-time employment with CRYP. For others, it will build and shape them into strong candidates for employment elsewhere — whether that is a part-time job while they attend college, or an entry-level position on a new career path.
 
In the meantime, however, the teens are focused on making the most of their time at CRYP. 
 
“One of our trainees told us that they like working at CRYP because they feel safe here,” Garreau said. “Sometimes, that need to feel safe is overlooked, but it is essential to a young person’s healthy development.” 
 
As she observed, children will flourish in positive, safe spaces. They will be more likely to step outside their comfort zones, expand their horizons, and build healthy relationships.
 
“Throughout the program, I’ve witnessed remarkable personal growth among the participants,” Quintana said. “Initially, they were quite reserved, but they have transformed into confident individuals who actively engage in meetings and training sessions. Their initiative and efficiency reflect their dedication and progress. I truly love working with these kids, and watching them grow.” 
 
“It’s a special thing,” Garreau said. “I feel the same way, even after all these years. I have always learned from the kids, and listened to the kids. I’m still doing it, and they still amaze me on a daily basis.” 
 
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 visit www.lakotayouth.org. And, to stay up to date on the latest CRYP news and events, follow the youth project on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

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