Volunteers are key to youth project

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Cheyenne River Youth Project

EAGLE BUTTE, S.D. - College students from the University of Wisconsin said they will leave the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation changed by their experiences with children of the Cheyenne River Youth Project.

The students spent a week on the Cheyenne River reservation with the CRYP at ''The Main,'' which is open year-round and provides various activities for youth, to volunteer and also conduct a college awareness night for all students.

''I prepared a meal with meager stock and buffalo meat, and having the kids ask for seconds was wonderful for me,'' one UW student said.

What the college students experienced was the positive attitude of the young people and ''how respectful they are.''

The college students said they saw the potential in the young people.

Jim Kearney, a teacher at Marquette University High School in Milwaukee, has brought students from each year for the past six years to volunteer for the CRYP.

''Our boys benefit so much from this trip. They take back so much more than what they contribute,'' Kearney said.

''Everyone is very generous with their time and feelings. We feel welcome. We are only here for a few days, but it will be with us for a lifetime,'' he said.

Last year, the volunteer group from Marquette University High School spent their time in the garden. This spring, a snowstorm hit the area and cold temperatures kept the students inside, so their task was to not just work with the children but also clean the facility.

Volunteers who come from around the globe to The Main can expect to perform multiple tasks like reading stories or helping children with artwork or schoolwork. They can also expect to cook meals, clean the facility, work in the garden and just be a companion for a child - whatever needs to be done.

Close by The Main is the elder's nutrition center, where some volunteers also spend their time.

When the volunteers come to the reservation, the lessons learned tend to eliminate the stereotypes of reservation life, Kearney said. Milwaukee has a large American Indian community, but the students interact infrequently with that population.

The stereotypes about alcohol and poverty are soon broken when the students discover the intense spirituality of the people of Cheyenne River, Kearney said. ''We don't want the students to leave with a bad image.''

Volunteers mingle with the community members and most often leave with the intent of returning.

The youth project was the dream of Executive Director Julie Garreau.

''This is not rocket science; for a kid who needs shoes or a pencil for school, if he has tools, he won't feel so bad. For a little kid who is being shaped, it is everything,'' she said.