Friday, June 27, 2008

By Nicole Duciaume, Documentation and Sponsorship Support Officer for Christian Children's Fund

Today, we were honored to attend the opening of a youth suicide prevention Safe House on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. Once a large storage facility owned by the Sinte Gleska University, this rehabilitated house now offers a meeting room, a recreation hall, a counseling center, two bedrooms, a fully functioning kitchen and bathrooms.

The university sold the building to CCF’s partner organization for $1. The land upon which it sits was loaned by the Catholic Church. University students who are finishing their counseling degrees and need practicum hours will be on-call 24 hours a day for children and youth who come to the center. A professional counselor from Catholic Social Services is volunteering her time to oversee all counseling sessions. This building and the people dedicated to its completion and successful continuation literally represent the various factions of the community coming together to make change possible. It’s a place that defines a dream – one that many had and many were willing to make a reality.

Six groups of five youth worked to make the house hospitable. Today the peach colored siding welcomes guests into clean, bright and cheery rooms with fresh paint, new floors, updated plumbing and rewired electricity. It represents a major change from the days when mice and spiders ruled the nest and when boxes were stacked tall to the ceilings and miscellaneous items were strewn about.

New board games are piled on a table near the big screen television. Internet is ready for the computers that will be unpacked from their boxes. The kitchen cabinets are painted a sky blue and silver knobs add an accent. A new refrigerator and stove gleam brightly. Stacked in the corners are boxes of teen-appropriate kitchen gadgets like pizza cookers and shaved ice makers. The rooms burst with both kinetic and potential teen energy.

Just before the open house, we busied ourselves decorating with balloons, adding finishing touches to the rooms, filling the coolers with sodas, grilling lunch for the guests and chatting with several of the local staff and volunteers:

Travis Eagle Deer, the director of CCF’s local partner organization Oyate Networking, spoke of the need for the center. Citing an overwhelming number of teen suicides, he explained that often there is a stigma associated with depression. Also, because of a lack of places to go, youth will stay out late and find mischief. He explained that the safe house will provide a place for youth to come for a few hours if their home environment is volatile. This occurs often because of the high rates of alcoholism in the community. The safe house isn’t only for youth, though. The meeting room will be a “space for all of the community to use for outreach” and offer discussions on different programming topics every week for parents and children.

Pauline Bear Shield, an Oyate Networking staff member sewed all of the curtains for the center and Mary Whipple, who is the site coordinator was up until 3 a.m. preparing food for the open house guests. Her son Shawn, 13, also helped improve the space. At one point he had so much paint in his hair, it looked striped. In addition to supervising the youth, Mary will provide snacks. If her fried bread is any indication of what they will snack on, the youth will not go hungry and will look forward to the snacks.

Adrian, 19, and Dylan, 15, were proud as peacocks during the open house. For the two young men, transforming the building into a safe house was a labor of love. They never complained about all the jobs they had to do – they simply did them. The two, along with many others, painted, tiled, put together grills and even learned how to do some minor electrical work. In the end, it was worth it. “We’re proud of what we did,” Adrian said. “It kept us out of trouble. And it’s really going to be a place for the younger ones to chill.” Dylan added, with a grin, “Travis said we did a pretty good job.”

The Safe House represents a place where children, youth, parents, and community members can come to support each other and redefine their commitment to the well being of the children and youth of the Rosebud Indian Reservation.

It was an honor to be part of the open house.

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