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CRYP junior volunteers embrace healthy lifestyles

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EAGLE BUTTE, S.D. – Last summer, the Cheyenne River Youth Project in Eagle Butte, S.D., launched a program that would quickly become one of its proudest achievements: the Junior Volunteer Program. Through this new initiative, local teens serve alongside CRYP staff and long-term volunteers at the Cokata Wiconi Teen Center, helping to prepare meals, plan and execute activities, clean and maintain the facilities, and work with the younger children.

More than 20 community teens are now part of the program. To thank them for their service and dedication, CRYP offers activities and events just for them, including sleepovers and field trips. On Feb. 26, long-term volunteers Laure Lachaud – now CRYP’s youth programs assistant – and Valerie Chan organized a special program called “Chef for a Day.” The program gave the junior volunteers an opportunity to prepare and enjoy a six-course meal as they learned how to embrace a healthier lifestyle.

During the opening presentation, participants learned about diabetes, how to know if they are at risk, how to identify the warning signs and key steps for diabetes prevention. They received guidelines for eating healthier foods, with information about appropriate portions and serving sizes. They also received guidelines for working in the kitchen, including tips for grooming, clothing and personal hygiene, and they learned how to handle food properly.

Then it was time to cook. The teens trooped into Cokata Wiconi’s commercial-grade kitchen and, with supervision, prepared Waldorf salad, chicken fajitas, baked potato wedges, cumin carrots, cranberry muffins and berry parfaits. Child Fund International provided the funding for Lachaud and Chan to purchase all necessary food items.

“Everyone had such a good time,” said Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director. “It’s sometimes hard to engage teens with information about diabetes and healthier lifestyles, but when we tied it to food handling and preparation and then set them free to create a six-course meal, they got really excited. Health education comes to life when you’re actually handling the foods and enjoying the meals.

“Health and wellness are core components of our youth programs here, so it’s important to the staff that the junior volunteers embrace the lessons from ‘Chef for a Day.’ Every volunteer needs to set an example and act as a teacher for the younger children.”

Enthusiasm for the Junior Volunteer Program among Cheyenne River’s teens is growing, and not only due to the social aspects of joining with other teens, CRYP staff members and long-term volunteers from around the world volunteer in a dynamic setting. The program gives them opportunities to develop job skills and provides valuable references for their futures, all of which can be in short supply in reservation communities.

And the teens’ enthusiasm bodes well for CRYP. As a grassroots nonprofit organization, enduring community support is essential for long-term survival.

“We’ve already been here for a generation, and now we have to look toward future generations to carry our mission forward,” Garreau said. “The Junior Volunteer Program teaches our local teens about responsibility and what it means to be a volunteer, and it gives them a greater sense of ownership in Cokata Wiconi, which we built for them and all the children that follow.

“Without a doubt, we know that to be here for the children of tomorrow, we need to inspire the children of today.”

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 CRYP’s recently redesigned Web site. To stay up to date on the latest CRYP news and events, visit the youth project’s new Facebook cause page. All cause members will receive regular updates through Facebook.