The Young & the Restless? Why Youth Programs Are More Than Keeping Busy

August 13, 2017

By: Thunder Valley CDC

ArtPlace Funded project Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation deploys Lakota culture by design and architecture to address the negative health effects of unemployment and poverty on the Pine Ridge Reservation in Porcupine, SD.  50% of the population there is under the age of 18, and they believe that this is the community’s biggest asset. 'We help develop them as movement builders and leaders. We look to them for solutions to our community’s biggest challenges. We engage youth to develop their healthy living skills, to increase their fluency and understanding of Lakota language and culture, and to nurture their participation in the community.  Youth have many ideas about how to create a better future, but they also need space to enjoy being kids, and we provide the opportunities for them to dedicate time to both.'

The latest Thunder Valley Blog talks about their two youth programs:


While the lazy days of summer have their appeal, participants in our two Youth Programs are trading in their time away from the classroom for packed daily schedules. The two programs, the Summer Youth Leadership Program and the Lakȟótiya Škíŋčiyapi Program, both have over 20 youth participants and run for 6-7 hours per day. Each day is spent full of constant activity and innovation.

“I like to keep busy,” says 13-year-old Summer Youth Leadership participant, Cydell Patton. “And I want to improve my leadership skills, so I thought this program would help me become a better leader.”

The Summer Youth Leadership Program empowers youth by providing them with the resources to plan and host activities that contribute to community wellness. For all their events they come up with on their own budgets, order materials, create marketing, and staff each event. This year the students have planned a wide array of activities, including community clean-ups, sports tournaments, and visits to local elders.

“I just like seeing joy on people’s faces,” says Cydell, “Especially on the faces of our youth and elders. We’re planning on making time to go talk to some of our elders who might not have people to to talk to and might be lonely, so they have some company.”

While Cydell is working each day at our Porcupine location, Lakȟótiya Škíŋčiyapi Program participants, like Russell Leader Charge and Kate Knudson, are busy too, often mentoring elementary kids from Red Cloud Indian School’s summer school.

“I was really shy my freshman year,” says Kate, 18, who is in the program for the 3rd summer in a row. “I took this job and it has really helped me build my character.”

The Lakȟótiya Škíŋčiyapi Program encourages high school aged youth to find the leadership power within themselves through becoming mentors, improving their athletic skills, and learning the Lakota language.

“It’s cool to watch the kids we mentor since the language teachers will say a long ol’ sentence in Lakota and these little kids will know what it means,” laughs Kate. “By the time these little ones are our age they are going to be really good at Lakota.” 

Each day begins with an hour of Lakota Language class, which is followed by two hours of mentoring elementary summer school kids with Lakota language games and athletic activities, then wraps up in the evening with basketball practice and weight lifting. The youth also help out with local events & camps, keeping their schedules constantly busy and giving them lots of opportunities to test out their leadership skills.

“The first week I was nervous having to talk in front of the kids and give directions but now it’s something I don’t even have to think about,” says Russell, 17. “This program has really helped with my public speaking skills, and since next year I’m going to be a senior, I feel like I need to set a good example.”

For Cydell, Kate, and Russell, it’s clear that contributing to the wellbeing of their communities is a driving force for all of them. It’s that spirit of that community and generosity that makes our Youth Programs about so much more than keeping kids busy –– it’s about knowing the potential of our youth and letting them show themselves and others that they can be leaders and change makers.

“My favorite part of the day is when we go pick up the summer school youth all up and they run over to us and yell our name and give us all hugs,” says Kate, who will leave for college in the fall. “It’s gonna be cool to come back and see them.”