Alternative Break to Eagle Butte, SD

By: Amber McCraw, Career Advising Fellow 

Just a couple weeks ago, Elon students were on Spring Break for a week.  While some students went on vacation, some traveled home for interviews, and others completed a week of service in various domestic and international locations through Elon University’s Alternative Break program.  {You can find more information about the program from Kristen and Danielle’s previous posts, here and here.}  I spent my Spring Break accompanying one of the Alternative Break programs to Eagle Butte, SD.

Just like you – I was thinking…where is Eagle Butte??  Well, it is located in the northern, central part of South Dakota and the closest airport is about 3 hours away – we traveled for approx. 18 hours each way between our flights, layovers, and car rides to reach our destination.  It was certainly an entertaining bonding experience to say the least. So, why did we travel to Eagle Butte, SD?

I spent the week with one other staff member and 12 students volunteering on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation with the Cheyenne River Youth Project (CRYP).  The CRYP is comprised of 4 components: the Main Youth Center, the Family Services Program, the Winyan Toka Win Garden, and the Cokata Wiconi Teen Center.  We focused our time and energy on the Main Youth Center and the Teen Center.  Throughout the week, we helped clean the facilities, fixed meals for the children, planned a jungle themed birthday party, coordinated a bake sale in the community, picked up trash in a public park, entertained the children during play time, interacted with the teens by playing basketball, assisted with a rummage sale, and educated ourselves on the culture of the reservation.

By far, it was one of the most rewarding and enlightening trips I have ever been on and it was an incredible experience to be immersed in a culture that is so different from my own.  Each night our group reflected on our experiences and we had several conversations about values, power, privilege, access to resources, and many other topics.  For example, people on the reservation highly value family and culture, but they don’t have access to things such as recycling – which I take for granted.

Our group picked up trash in a public park for over an hour, collecting 50 bags.

Our group picked up trash in a public park for over an hour, collecting 50 bags.

Outside of volunteering, we also visited Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse – both of which are memorials, but the experiences are starkly different.  I would highly recommend a visit to both to gain a better understanding.

Crazy Horse Monument in progress.  It was started in 1948 and is 563 feet high, making it the world's largest mountain sculpture.

Crazy Horse Monument in progress. It was started in 1948 and is 563 feet high, making it the world’s largest mountain sculpture.

As an advisor, it was a great way to build deeper relationships with students and a fantastic learning opportunity.  The students at Elon are incredibly engaged, reflective, insightful, and genuine.  It was a pleasure to advise the trip and watch relationships form among the students and residents of the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation.

We baked cookies & cupcakes and walked around the community to sell the items to raise money for the Cheyenne River Youth Project.

We baked cookies & cupcakes and walked around the community to sell the items to raise money for the Cheyenne River Youth Project.

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About Amber McCraw

Amber McCraw serves as a the Assistant Director of Career Services for the School of Communications. Previously, she served as a Career Advising fellow for the 2014-2015 academic year. Before arriving at Elon, she earned an M. Ed. in College Student Affairs Administration from the University of Georgia where she worked in Residence Life. Prior to UGA, Amber attended NC State, leaving with a B.S. in Business Administration and a B.A. in Psychology. As an advisor, she works with students from all majors to help them set and reach their career goals. This includes working with students to update their resumes, practice their interviewing skills, develop their professional brand via LinkedIn, and provide them with resources for the internship and job search.

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