Teen center offers options

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<Cheyenne River Youth Project

EAGLE BUTTE, S.D. - Ask any youth from most reservations what they want and the answer will most likely be a teen center, recreation center and more youth activities.

The Cheyenne River Youth Project, in existence for almost 20 years, has answered that call: and the new teen center, a high-tech, upscale facility, will be opened officially this summer.

What the teen center, or Cokata Wiconi (''Center of Life''), doesn't have, the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation may not need. Teens can spend their idle time at the center entertaining themselves with sports, educational activities, dance, art, reading, socializing and eating.

The center is culturally decorated with an inviting atmosphere depicting the location and the four bands of the Lakota on the reservation.

The teen center features a large gym with several hoops for basketball, a weight room, large locker rooms and a concession stand for public sporting events. The weight room is not yet furnished with equipment, but Julie Garreau, executive director of CRYP, said the equipment will come in time, and that to wait means to do things right.

A cyber cafe, with 10 computers that any community would be proud of, is located conveniently near the restaurant-style kitchen where both teen-friendly and healthy food will be served. The cafe is also designed as a social area.

A gift shop is part of the center, where T-shirts and other gift items will be sold as part of the efforts to raise funds for the facility.

Lynn Burnett Sr., an artist from the Rosebud Reservation, has turned over the copyright to some of his artwork so the center can sell prints to raise money. People in the community offer their skills to frame some of the prints with aged wood, and make jams and jellies and other items from the youth project garden to sell.

A classroom, library and computer lab that will contain 18 computers is part of the center's educational atmosphere. The library has no furniture, but books were donated. Garreau said the students were asked what they wanted in the library and the response was to make it look like one on a college campus. Garreau is sure that donations will bring in the shelves and furniture for the library. There are enough computers for half those needed for the lab at this point.

An art studio, decorated with ceiling tiles painted by the students, and a dance studio that is very urban and upscale are impressive on their own.

A special feature of the center is the volunteer room, an entire apartment complex for volunteers, who are essential to the success of the youth project, to relax, cook meals and sleep.

Garreau wants the center to open this summer, but more staff will be required and more money; where that will come from is uncertain, but she has faith that it will happen. The past 20 years have been successful with faith and hard work.

The teen center will be more than a facility; it will represent positive changes in the young people on the reservation.

People under the age of 18 make up the majority of the reservation's population.

''There is a new breed of activist; we have to get them to vote, to get involved,'' Garreau said.

There are few topics the youth project is afraid to tackle, and the facility will be a prime location to allow young people to discuss issues that affect their lives.

''We are not afraid to talk about things, like suicide, gay and lesbian issues. We have to talk about things,'' Garreau said.

The youth project sponsored a successful suicide crisis line, but funding ran out and it closed.

''Most people support what we do, but we won't please everybody. We are more about trying to make it better for kids.

''We become advocates for kids, we become educators and activists. Give us two years and we will learn how to deal with teens,'' Garreau said.

She said there will be a generation of kids from The Main coming to the teen center and that she feels the new center will be a success.

''I have this vision of the place, a place with opportunities to help with kids to communicate and ask them how they are,'' Garreau said.