Pine Ridge Boys & Girls Club to celebrate 20 yearsPINE RIDGE (AP) — SuAnne Big Crow dreamed of a "Happytown," a safe place where young people could take pride in their accomplishments and support each other, away from the poverty, alcoholism and violence endemic on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
By: Kristi Eaton, The Associated Press
PINE RIDGE (AP) — SuAnne Big Crow dreamed of a "Happytown," a safe place where young people could take pride in their accomplishments and support each other, away from the poverty, alcoholism and violence endemic on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.
In 1992, when the 17-year-old honor student and star athlete was killed in a car accident, SuAnne's mother pledged to honor her vision, batting aside obstacles to launch the first Boys & Girls Club in Indian Country.
"Nothing in Pine Ridge ever lasts that long," Leatrice "Chick" Big Crow told The Associated Press. "It opens with government funding. When the government funding goes away, it closes. We have been there without government funding, without tribal funding, and we have made it."
Members and supporters of the SuAnne Big Crow Boys & Girls Club will gather in Pine Ridge on Saturday to celebrate its 20th anniversary with a traditional ceremony and a Lakota lunch. Guest speakers include Leroy "JR" LaPlante, Secretary of Tribal Relations for South Dakota, Bureau of Indian Affairs officials and representatives from nonprofits that have helped with funding and support.
Big Crow, executive director of the club, said SuAnne had hoped for a drug- and alcohol-free sanctuary for youth on the reservation, where they could meet with no fear of racism or judgment. Soon after the teen's death, and with the support of community members and a donated tribal warehouse building, the club opened.
"To experience that coming together was something few people get to experience in Indian Country. It was just working together for one common goal. It was just people who never got along," Big Crow said. "They were working side by side."
In 1999, President Bill Clinton visited Pine Ridge and directed $6 million in federal grants to create a 30,000-square-foot building for the reservation's youths. That opened in 2002.
Today, the club serves about 500 kids aged from 5 to 18 years, and is one of nearly 200 clubs in Indian County that serve a total of 88,000 young people.
The center in Pine Ridge runs a job readiness program that teaches teenagers what to expect when they are looking for work, including how to dress and write a resume, while some kids gain experience working at the club's restaurant. A daily homework hour helps members focus on school work, while a diabetes prevention program educates them on how to maintain a healthy lifestyle. The club also includes a skate park and a sweat lodge.
Former Boys & Girls Club of America senior vice president Robbie Calloway, who helped bring the organization to Pine Ridge, said the club gives kids on the reservation hope for the future.
"What we try to do, the reason we wanted more clubs was so that they could connect and be part of something bigger than their immediate community," he said.