Last May, we awarded grants to 13 amazing nonprofits running social enterprises. These social enterprises serve their missions by investing in strong, thriving communities.
For this three-part blog series, we’ve interviewed three of our social enterprise grantees. In Part 2, we’re interviewing Julie Garreau (Wičhaȟpi Epatȟaŋ Wiŋ, Touches the Stars Woman) (Cheyenne River Mnicoujou Lakota), the executive director of the Cheyenne River Youth Project (CRYP) in Eagle Butte, South Dakota. Take a look at how CRYP makes an impact on the lives of the youth in their programs within Cheyenne River and beyond.
Who do you serve and why? And what are their challenges and dreams?
For nearly 30 years, CRYP has provided critical services to our youth, opening our first youth center in 1988 and adding a teen center for 13- to 18-year-olds in 2006. Through our diverse and innovative programming, we have sought to build up our young people so they can thrive, through empowerment. We encourage them to decide what their destiny will be, rather than allowing poverty to determine the future for them, and to strengthen their connection to our Lakota culture so they can become culture bearers.
Our community has been caught up in a cycle of generational poverty that has resulted in an under-skilled workforce, a lack of jobs, and limited opportunities to build assets and develop small businesses. The cycle continues to repeat itself—not only are families economically impoverished, poverty is leaving a devastating mark on their human spirit. Helping Cheyenne River’s children escape poverty and disparity has remained a pillar of our work.
Our social enterprise initiatives, in particular, create important opportunities for our young people to develop vital job and life skills, allowing them to pursue employment and overcome the challenges that poverty presents. Our social enterprise initiatives—the Keya Cafe, Keya Gift Shop, and Leading Lady Farmers Market—are a direct result of listening to our young people, who have been very clear about what they want from us. Our youth understand that their lives, challenged by poverty, could be different. They understand there is more to life than the daily struggles that poverty presents. And they understand that CRYP is a vital support system.
Beyond the job experience, how else do you assist youth, and what impact does this have?
These aren’t just programs that help our youth dream about a better future; rather, we provide a necessary catalyst. We nurture our young people and cultivate their employability so they can build a better and more prosperous future for themselves and for Cheyenne River. We have created truly holistic programming.
Teens who take part in our social enterprises go through an intensive internship program that encompasses so much more than on-the-job experience. Through our holistic model, CRYP helps the interns embrace wellness in every aspect of the word. The wellness portion of each internship addresses physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional health; traditional leadership and values; honoring your ancestors and yourself; healthy communications and speaking your truth respectfully; healthy relationships and sexuality; and decision-making and developing a vision for the future. Our staff members cultivate high-impact, lasting relationships with each intern, serving as educators, positive role models, confidants, and champions. Perhaps most importantly, our teen interns experience meaningful mentorship on a daily basis.
What advice do you have for people who are running similar social enterprises, or are thinking about starting one?
As a social enterprise leader, you must understand your community, identify a pressing need and develop a process for fulfilling it while generating revenue. A successful social enterprise initiative will continue to meet and even exceed its community’s needs over time, and it will do so sustainably. Within our community, we struggle with a severe labor deficit, so, through our social enterprises, we develop the high-quality, dependable labor force we need.
Another critical aspect of launching a social enterprise-based business is to establish the boundaries of success and clearly define milestones. Without those parameters, you may not recognize when your social enterprise needs to move in a different direction, or if it requires significant changes to its structure.
Also, you can have a range of relevant ventures that address multiple needs within your community. If your community is your customer base, then you must remind your stakeholders and clients that they are supporting valuable social enterprise goals, not simply spending money at a local business. In our case, the well-being of our young people is a vital issue in our community, so CRYP consistently communicates that our social enterprise initiatives provide essential learning opportunities, tools, and support for our teens.
Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.