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Grant to establish shelter care for Native American youth

Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate tribe has secured a grant to establish a youth center at Agency Village. Key members of the project are, from left, Missy Huff, youth prevention coordinator with the tribe; Tracey McMahon, evaluation specialist with the SDSU College of Nursing; and Elise Johnson, administrative assistant for the project.
Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate tribe has secured a grant to establish a youth center at Agency Village. Key members of the project are, from left, Missy Huff, youth prevention coordinator with the tribe; Tracey McMahon, evaluation specialist with the SDSU College of Nursing; and Elise Johnson, administrative assistant for the project.

Construction is underway on the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate Youth Lodge, a shelter care facility in Agency Village on the Lake Traverse Reservation in northeast South Dakota. The lodge will house Native American youth that would otherwise be placed in foster care and provide wraparound services to support the needs of these youth.

In addition, this grant will help advance the implementation, expansion and integration of the systems of care approach by coordinating a network of services that provide for the physical, mental, emotional and cultural needs of youth and families.

“Our vision is for the youth lodge to become a center for Dakota culture, healing, education and recreation for youth and their families. Many of the young people who come to us need a stable environment where they feel safe and loved so they can start the healing process and build skills that increase their resiliency,” said Missy Huff, youth prevention coordinator with the tribe.

The lodge will house up to 16 youth ages 10 to 17 for up to 60 days as the tribe works to build a healthy environment within the family.

The Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate Tribal Secretary’s Office will provide administrative oversight for this project. Day-to-day operations will be run by the Veterans Memorial Youth Center, which is also under the umbrella of Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate. The youth center has also partnered with the Sisseton Wahpeton Housing Authority to renovate a former college dormitory into the lodge, which will be placed on a new foundation.

Operational costs for the youth lodge will come from a four-year, $3.9 million grant from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The tribe applied for the grant in February, received notice of approval in June and the four-year clock began Aug. 31.

It is expected that the lodge and programming will be ready by year’s end or early in 2021, according to Huff.

“The mission is to foster positive youth development among Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate youth through traditional cultural teachings, connectedness and holistic health,” Huff said. “What we hope to do long term is to help sustain a healthy family foundation through a comprehensive system of care, thereby stopping the cycle trauma and creating a cycle of strength and love.”

The program will be evaluated by Tracey McMahon, evaluation specialist with the Population Health Evaluation Center in the South Dakota State University College of Nursing. She has been working with the tribe for 10 years and collaborated with Huff to create a curriculum for a teen pregnancy prevention program for Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate youth.

McMahon currently evaluates one of the programs at the Veterans Memorial Youth Center and also helped complete the grant application.

“It’s a natural fit that Tracey be part of this program,” Huff said.

McMahon said, “The evaluation of the youth lodge will focus on monitoring changes in youth’s health and wellbeing throughout their stay at the lodge while also assessing their family’s capacity and readiness to provide for their needs throughout the family reunification process.

“Another important aspect of the evaluation will be telling the story of the youth lodge, how it is developed, how it continues to evolve, and how it is situated within the broader stories of the youth, families and communities it serves.

“With a multi-disciplinary team experienced in evaluating public health programs in rural areas, SDSU’s Population Health Evaluation Center is well positioned to carry out this evaluation.”

The idea for the youth lodge originated at a December meeting with Tiospa Zina school representatives and the tribe’s youth department. “We had a few meetings with the school’s behavioral health department and the tribe’s behavioral health department. We learned about the availability of this grant and put boots to the ground,” Huff said.

While the grant expires in four years, “our goal is in year 5 we’re still here. We’re hopeful we will be going here long after the grant ends,” she said.