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SuAnne Big Crow Center to become a reality

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PINE RIDGE, S.D. - Despite intense heat and dust, a large crowd gathered here for a groundbreaking ceremony to begin construction of a $4 million youth center.

Called the SuAnne Big Crow Boys and Girls Youth Wellness and Opportunity Center, the 30,000 square foot building will rise on 40 acres, a mile east of Pine Ridge. Actual construction will begin the first week in September.

Plans call for the completed state-of-the-art building to house a multipurpose gymnasium, an Olympic-size swimming pool, exercise and fitness center, cultural arts center, learning center, several conference and counseling rooms, office space, and more.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo, who attended the groundbreaking, said construction of the site is a high priority within his department. Weather permitting, the construction schedule calls for completion by October of next year.

Along with strategic planning and project development resources, HUD is providing $1.5 million in construction costs through its Neighborhood Investment Program. Secretary Cuomo accompanied President Clinton to the Pine Ridge Reservation a year ago in July as a part of the president's New Markets Initiative.

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Other sources financing construction are the BIA with $750,000, and the Department of Agriculture with $500,000 in Rural Business Enterprise Grants, plus an additional $1.15 million through two Rural Development Community Facilities Grants.

Planners say, "As this center is expected to draw interests of tourists, ultimately the HUD investment will help to stimulate community revitalization, economic diversification, and energized investment in the local area."

An additional $4.45 million in funding was raised to establish and continue operation of the center. Taken apart the funding consists of a $4 million Department of Labor Youth Opportunities Grant, $200,000 from the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and $225,000 through the Pine Ridge Empowerment Board. All federal funding will be routed through the National Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

Much of the credit for initiating the center effort has gone to Oglala Lakota tribal member Leatrice "Chick" Big Crow. She says the idea for a safe and healthy place for Oglala children to come and grow was the dream of her late daughter SuAnne Big Crow.

An area high school basketball standout, SuAnne Big Crow died in a car accident Feb. 9, 1992. To honor her daughter's goal, the following September, Big Crow, with the help of many local supporters and friends, opened a Girls and Boys Club in an abandoned plastics factory in Pine Ridge. Dubbed "Happy Town," a name chosen by her daughter, the club consists of a 1950s-period theme restaurant, a dance floor, game room, arts and crafts center, library and lounge.

Currently the club at Happy Town is sponsoring a summer science program called Zoom, which is offered by the National Public Broadcasting Network.