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Youth center stimulates community

Children's needs come first

EAGLE BUTTE, S.D. - The hard work and dream of a better future is taking
place on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation. Action is replacing talk and
kids are involved in the change.

Julie Garreau, executive director of The Main, a youth center in Eagle
Butte, dreams big and includes youths in those dreams. A new center that
will accommodate hundreds of kids in a variety of activities will be
completed next year. The new center, a building that will house an Internet
cafe, art rooms, a basketball court and more, will be more than an activity
center. It will represent the future for the reservation, families and the
youths.

"The kids can change the face of the future, of the state. I see artists
and lawyers and doctors. I know some will die, but we must say to them that
you have an amazing gift and let's develop it," Garreau said.

What takes place in the new facility is up to the kids. Garreau went to the
Cheyenne-Eagle Butte High School and asked for suggestions. One of the
first suggestions was to provide a counselor. "They know there are needs,"
Garreau said. "We needed to hear from them. I made them a promise that it
would be about them."

Suggestions covered a wide range from a go-kart track to a bowling alley.
Because of budget restraints not all of the students' wish list will be
included in the new building.

"We had some criticism about the Internet cafe, it's not big in town. That
doesn't mean we can't, we can be the first. It will provide employment,"
Garreau said.

The board of directors of The Main is keeping the planning and programming
of the new facility at the local level. Garreau said that when some
organizations come in with pre-determined programs it may not fit the
community.

"No one knows better than us what we need."

Yet it is a project that is larger than a small rural, poor community can
tackle alone. Outside help with financing and support was needed, and some
of it came willingly. Running Strong for American Indian Youth has been a
staunch supporter of The Main for many years and has come forward with
funding to help with the new building.

"As people learn about Cheyenne River, they want to be part of building
this teen center," said Billy Mills, Oglala Lakota, national spokesperson
for Running Strong.

"The Cheyenne River Youth Project offers one of the few safe places where
children can gather," he continued.

Also partnering with the youth center is the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux
Community. The community offered a $250,000 matching grant toward the new
facility.

"We are pleased that the SMSC is able to support the teen center with a
$250,000 matching grant. We hope that the young people who use the facility
will make healthy choices in their lives and grow to become positive role
models in their community," said Stanley Crooks, Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux
Community chairman.

To help match that grant, 12-year-old R.J. Lawrence of Eagle Butte raised,
in one day, $350 for the new center. The Main is for kids ages 4 - 12. The
new center will be able to accommodate youths through the high school years
and after.

Garreau said the board recognized that not all young people are athletes,
may not like basketball or volleyball or other sports. So, an art room and
a dance room will be included as well as computers for those with the
interest. In addition, reading and study rooms and some areas where young
people can just be by themselves if they have a tough day will be present
as well. It's a way to encourage all youths no matter what their interest
to be part of something.

The Main is a drop-off center where young people can come and go as they
please. There are programs like the new organic garden to keep them busy,
teach them about healthy food choices and elevate self-esteem.

Garreau said the garden's shed was destroyed by arsonists. "I was
heartbroken. Sheds can be replaced, I just felt bad for all the people who
invested time and money and effort for all the kids who come to work in the
garden," Garreau said.

But those involved with the center came together and cleaned up the burned
mess by early morning after working all night. Garreau said they weren't
going to let the arsonists think they had won.

On the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation there is little for young people to
do. There are few jobs, and with idleness comes bad behavior. Garreau said
crystal and meth has taken a hold on the community and with the help of the
new center's programs and community involvement she hopes to provide an
alternative lifestyle.

"I told the kids in the government class that I wanted them to own [the center], and they will take care of it. We will have challenges and
problems, but kids respond when you talk to them and not at them.

"They do think, they respond so well. Some seniors asked if they could
volunteer," Garreau said.

The student council has taken the lead for the center among the students.
They will take the message to the different classes. They will also follow
Garreau through her efforts to make the center become reality, tagging
along with her when she meets with the tribal council and other
organizations.

"I saw some incredible leadership. Every day I think it is confirmed that
they know what they need. They know they want a counselor's office - they
know its wrong for them to be dying," Garreau said.

The cost of the new facility is estimated at $2 million and that's just the
building, no furnishings. If more money can be raised, a weight room can be
added and a boxing area and more baskets in the gym and other amenities.

Fundraising is an ongoing process for Garreau, the board and the youths.

Through Running Strong grants families as well as youths benefit. When a
family needs money for heat, The Main is there to help its members.

"We can't take care of the child without taking care of the family. When a
family doesn't have heat, one of our kids doesn't have heat."

Families become members of The Main for $20 per year. That makes them
eligible for not just heat assistance, but hats, clothing, gloves, shoes
and school supplies.

"They invest in us. They have to give something, it's not a welfare
program. We ask the families to donate something."

A large donation of bicycles became available to the youths, but they had
to work for them, either in the organic garden or elsewhere. "It's very
much about giving back," Garreau said.

Meals and snacks are also available. Buffalo meat, vegetables and fruit are
all on the menu.

An overnight program for girls is designed to let girls be girls and is
very popular with the younger members. Prom dresses were donated and they
were given make-up kits and nurses came in to speak about things young
girls need to know.

"They have that right to be a kid, to have youthful memories and not to
have to take care of siblings because their parents are off doing whatever
it is they are doing."

The Main and the new center will take advantage of a local and
international cadre of volunteers. And with the new facility and expanded
program offerings, some employment will be available.

Garreau said the goal is to provide an environment for youths to learn and
expand, have dreams, go away to college and return to the community. Some
will come back with the skills to become entrepreneurs, others will be able
to create a niche for themselves, but the future will change because of
them, she said.

The Main is not connected to the tribe, it is a non-profit organization
chartered through the state. There is no government connection and no
national affiliation.

On a daily basis up to 75 youths will use The Main, and there are 350
students in high school, and a middle school adds more students that could
potentially take advantage of the new center.

"We need to listen to our kids to have a good community and learn about
what is happening in our community. We need to give them an opportunity to
be listened to," Garreau said.

Construction for the new center has just started. Fundraising is still
under way. To contact The Main, call (605) 964-8200. To reach Julie
Garreau, call (605) 694-8203 or e-mail jgarreau@indianyouth.org.