Dec 20, 2013 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff WriterFifteen youths from the Wind River Indian Reservation received certificates of completion Dec. 8 that honored the more than 240 hours of training they have completed for the Eastern Shoshone Cross-Age Peer Education project.
Program coordinators began distributing applications and recruiting youths in events beginning in February and invited motivational speakers, college graduates, musicians, professionals and others to share their stories of success and struggle. The project received nearly $500,000 from the Tribal Youth Program through the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to fund it for three years.
"This program is a first of its kind here on the reservation," program director Clarence Thomas said.
In the past six months, the new ESCAPE mentors have learned to be more confident, perform well in school, become leaders, be active in their communities, have respectful relationships with others, and connect with their culture and language.
"We just empower them to what their destiny is supposed to be," Thomas said. "They will help their tribes move in a way where they'll survive ... we need that change."
Members of the advisory board who also went through their own training to lead the sessions were Sunny Goggles, Reinette Tendore, Jenny Wildcat, Cathy Mink and Wyatt Leonard.
Drug- and alcohol-free
Thomas reminded the mentors and attending family members at the luncheon Dec. 8 why the project was initiated and how in order to be a mentor, the youths had to commit to being drug- and alcohol-free.
"Alcohol and drugs are not given to the Native people in a good way," Thomas said. "We have our own medicines, our own ways of healing."
"That's not who we are so we need to get away from that," Goggles told the group of graduates.
Thomas assured the room full of people that it was these ESCAPE graduates who would one day be the leaders, good parents and career-driven professionals the reservation needs.
"Our goal was to push prevention in a different way, and we were looking at UNITY becoming more," Thomas said. "We thought, 'How could we get young people interested and motivated in this without getting anything (in return)?'"
Several of the graduates also are members of the Wind River UNITY council -- a group that also encourages positive living for young people on the reservation.
Thomas said the program received dozens of applications in the beginning, but many could not commit to being drug- and alcohol-free so the applicants dwindled.
"I asked what has (drug and alcohol use) done for you?" Thomas said. "And what can ESCAPE do for you?"
The application process included interviews, and when the youths received their certificates Dec. 8, the mentors signed an agreement that they would remain drug- and alcohol-free, surround themselves with and be involved in non-violent environments, and provide the community with positive information that would help it progress.
Singers and drummers Butchie Eastman and Antoine Edwards shared their stories of losing friends because they didn't use drugs or alcohol. That didn't matter to them, however, because they said they knew they were role models to many people.
"I saw what alcohol could do to people's families," Eastman said. "We don't need that stuff to have a good time."
They said this type of project would be beneficial in their home states of South Dakota and Nebraska.
The biggest reward for mentors going through the program, Thomas said, will be the service they can provide to the children on the reservation. The mentors constantly were reminded of issues that plague the reservation, and they participated in classes on anti-bullying, suicide, substance abuse prevention, alcoholism and how to be effective role models.
During training, mentors were paired with children from schools, and Thomas said it was evident that the younger children benefited from having the older children give them the attention they most likely didn't get anywhere else. Mentors also were taught how to pass on what they've learned about their culture and how to encourage children to take the right steps as they get older and follow it through with achievements.
"You guys are role models in this community," Goggles told the mentors.
The certificates of completion went to Marvin Aragon Jr., Claullen Tillman, Hudda Herrera, Jaidyn Bell, Wolfstar Duran, Phyllis Gardner, Natasha Underwood, Deja Jones, Kelly Jenkins, Gabriel Spoonhunter, Robert Sloss, Ross Sloss, Julian Hubbard Jr., Xavier Hubbard and Mercedes Nanamkin.
The overall class average for the final exam was 93 percent, and Jones was the only mentor to score a 100 percent.
"ESCAPE is really what I wanted to do," she said, after receiving a glass plaque and a $50 gift card.
Duran said she was extremely shy at first but soon eased into a more-open personality.
"ESCAPE kept changing me, (and it) was a perfect thing for me to do," Duran said. "I got to meet all of my good friends."
Herrera called ESCAPE a good change for the reservation.
"(It's) a positive thing for all kinds of kids, and the perfect thing to help improve," Herrera said.
ESCAPE is looking for more students ages 11 to 18 to apply and participate in the training. For more information on ESCAPE, call 332-0207.
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