The Oyate Teca Project on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation may be our newest affiliate, but its history of serving children and families on the reservation goes back nearly three decades, long before its formal partnership with Running Strong for American Indian Youth®
The Oyate Teca (Young Peoples’) Project was founded in 1991 and today serves more than 450 at-risk Oglala Lakota youth and their families through a variety of activities all year long.
“Our mission is to promote the well-being of children and families through health, educational and recreational programs and activities,” says Oyate Teca director and Running Strong field staff Rose Fraser. “At the Oyate Teca Project we believe in providing a safe and constructive place for programs where children and adults can engage in social and recreational activities.”
Among its premier programs is the Medicine Root Gardening program which offers gardening classes beginning in January and lasting through the fall harvest season. This program literally helps Pine Ridge families to “plant a seed” in their minds that they can become successful gardeners by not only harvesting enough fresh vegetables and fruit for their families, but by selling their surplus at a community farmers market as well.
Rose never strays far from the core mission of the Oyate Teca Project, which is to welcome children to the Wakanyeja Okolakioiye Youth Center, and offers them a wide range of fun activities, such as movie nights, game nights, and pool and foosball tournaments, which are nowhere else to be found for the children served by Oyate Teca.
“Our community is very rural with little in the way of recreational activities or economic opportunities,” said Rose.
At the Oyate Teca youth center these children discover a second home, develop friendships, and learn more about their own traditions and culture.
In fact, they become members of the Oyate Teca family.
Such is the case of three siblings who live nearby the youth center and take part in programs and receive items such as school supplies, winter coats, boots, and Christmas presents through our annual Toys for Tribes program.
“However, one night stands out as to the lengths our employees will go through to help our youth,” recounted Rose.
That evening, the two youngest children showed up at the center crying because not only had their older sister been severely injured and rushed to the hospital, they had no one to take care of them and ease their fears.
“One of our staff members stayed with the children overnight, ordering pizza, playing games and watching movies to keep the children’s minds off their sister,” said Rose. “All three children now come to the center for much-needed clothing, food bags for the weekends, and emotional support from our staff.”
“This program will continue to help children in need just like these three siblings.”
By October 2018, all of the summer activities offered by Oyate Teca had been completed, including an ice cream social, a health fair and dental clinic, and a fishing derby, and, thanks to the supporters of Running Strong, hundreds of Pine Ridge students received backpacks filled with school supplies just in time for the start of a new school year.
Rose also hosts what she calls “just because” activities such as ice cream socials and summer day camps to simply keep the center open for kids to drop in “just because” it’s available to them.
And it’s easy to see why.
“You see the happiness and gratitude in their faces; the appreciation in the parents when we offer free sewing classes and regalia-making; the heartfelt thanks, hugs and simple ‘thank yous.’
“It’s all worth it!”