Creating opportunities for kids and youth on the Cheyenne River reservation
Heart-driven. Grassroots. Empowering. Committed.
Executive Director Julie Garreau identified these four words to best describe the Cheyenne River Youth Project, a nonprofit organization that has been serving kids and teens on the Cheyenne River reservation for over 25 years.
“I love the fact that we’re able to move with what our needs as a community are,” Julie explains. “If there’s a new challenge, we can rise to meet it. I am very motivated by the fact that we can stay adaptable to create opportunities.”
The organization — located in Eagle Butte, South Dakota — is youth & family services oriented with a focus on four interconnected components: a Youth Center (ages 4-12), a Teen Center (ages 13-18), an Organic Garden, and Family Services.
In 1988, the Chairman of the Tribe was not at all pleased with the fact that a bar on Main Street was what greeted people into the community. In response, the building was purchased and converted for the community to turn into a youth center. It was at that point that Julie Garreau founded the organization and still leads as its Executive Director today. Reflecting on the organization’s history, Julie noted that an organization like this to have lasted 25 years is “something that doesn’t happen often.”
One of the organization’s biggest strengths is its sustainability model that began with what Julie calls “the banana bread phenomenon.” The “banana bread phenomenon” happened in the early days of the organization when holding bake sales was the main way the organization made money. Julie explains that staff and volunteers were pleasantly surprised when they found they could support the organization through private donations and foundation support, so that the organization could maintain a sense of self-reliance.
Despite having one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation (75-80%) and being in a rural, remote area, the organization has been able to rely on the support of those with whom they have built solid, lasting relationships.
A Collaborative Effort
Another strength of the organization is the hardworking, committed volunteers involved who sign onto the work even with the understanding that they’ll be wearing many hats. “Our volunteers are part of a team,” Julie says. “Everybody carries a load and everybody lifts each other up. There’s no single unit here, and everyone cares a lot.”
“When people leave at the end of the day, they feel like they’ve truly been a part of something good. It’s so organic- the model was created in a community, it is for the community, and it is about the community.”
Another one of the most important aspects of the organization, as Julie explains, is the fact that they are sovereign. “We can do what our community needs us to do,” Julie comments. “The most motivating part of my work is the sovereign roots of the organization. That means a lot for me as an indigenous person.”
“To have sovereignty is the backbone of our organization.”
Learn more about the Cheyenne River Youth Project by visiting http://www.lakotayouth.org.
Photo provided by Cheyenne River Youth Project.