Youth have options on Cheyenne River

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Cheyenne River Youth Project

EAGLE BUTTE, S.D. - In 1984, the first visual impression of the main street of Eagle Butte, home of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, was that of the Little Brown Jug, a bar.

Then-Chairman Wayne Ducheneaux tried to find a way to close the bar because of its negative image. When the building became available, the tribal council, under the direction of Ducheneaux, bought it.

What happened next was monumental for the youth of the Cheyenne River Reservation. Julie Garreau, executive director of the Cheyenne River Youth Project, took charge of the building, calling it ''The Main'' and providing services, hot meals and companionship for many of the reservation's 4- to 12-year-old children.

''She [Garreau] has done a tremendous job,'' Ducheneaux said.

The tribal government also set up a $20,000 yearly donation to the project. The Main and CRYP have been in existence for almost 20 years.

The Main is an institution on the reservation, and volunteers from across the nation and abroad come to help, raise money, supervise the children, and perform janitorial services and other needed tasks.

The CRYP is governed by a board of directors with the input of an advisory board; most members are American Indian and Cheyenne River Sioux tribal members.

The CRYP is a nonprofit, grass-roots organization that helps children who are the victims of poverty. The Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation is located in one of the five poorest counties in the country.

''This gave a place for the kids to go,'' Ducheneaux said. ''We have a lot of single moms with children who have no place to go after school.''

The Main, which has a new location in an upscale building, provides a safe location for children after school and during the summer. The Main volunteers and staff provide an environment that helps the children cope with daily problems that occur when they have to struggle for survival. The volunteers and staff help the children develop life-coping skills as well.

The Main provides an educational element that helps students with school classes. It also offers classes in various subjects, including Lakota language and culture. The Main uses a two and one-half-acre plot as a garden to teach the children about gardening and the value of healthy eating. The garden yields fruits and vegetables that are eaten by the children, and some of the fruits are turned into jams for sale in the new gift shop in the teen center.

''This is life-changing. It alters you somehow; it challenges you,'' Garreau said.

She said 90 percent of the kids on the reservation have passed through the project.

''We are touching kids' lives from other communities.''

The Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, home to 14,000 members, is located in a vast expanse of central South Dakota. Communities can be an hour's drive from the tribal headquarters in Eagle Butte.

There was a time when The Main was not cool for poor people, Garreau said; but today, The Main is filled with children and volunteers daily.

Funding has always been a problem for CRYP. In the beginning, Garreau said the project may have had two rolls of quarters; but today, local donations come in as well as donations from many parts of the country.

''We go on faith a lot of times. It will all come; when we say it and believe it, it will all come,'' Garreau said.

Running Strong for American Indian Youth was the first organization to offer a grant; the organization also acts as the project's fiscal agent. The Main was built on its new location in 1999, and next door is a new teen center that will open this summer.

Now, some 300 youth participate in the project's programs and families receive assistance for heat, essential personal and household items, school supplies, clothing and some food items.

CRYP provides wellness, literacy, gardening and educational programs throughout the year, but the parties they throw are very important. The monthly birthday parties that help make the children feel special, as well as Halloween, Christmas, Easter and other holidays, bring about gatherings filled with food, fun and healthy activities.

The majority of the reservation's teens are ''Mainers,'' as they refer to themselves, and an increasing number of teen-

oriented programs are beginning and are planned for the future.

What The Main offers is hope - a chance to build self-esteem and a future.

''You can't measure an act of kindness. I told a young woman when she was 11 that she was beautiful. She always remembered that. It had a large impact on her life,'' Garreau said.

''We are doing small, positive things for children.''