Summer Youth Program workers keep busy around the reservation

Emma Red Corn spent her summer working in an office environment and mentoring children who attended the Enrichment Camp and believes those jobs gave her “some good work experience.”

The 17-year-old worked in the medical records department of Pawhuska’s Indian Health Service clinic, and the Enrichment Camp, through the Summer Youth Program offered by the Osage Nation’s Education Department. The annual work experience program sends Native American youth, who are Osage Reservation residents between the ages of 16 and 21, into the work force and is credited with giving many their first paycheck.

“I love it,” Red Corn, who will be a Pawhuska High School senior this fall, said of her work experience. “It gives me an idea of what the real world is like without a jump start.”

This year 70 young Osages were accepted into the Summer Youth Program, which is about 10 more than last year’s count, said Avis Ballard, JOM coordinator for the Education Department and overseer of the program. The workers are sent to work in various entities across the reservation including tribal government departments, the Indian Villages, IHS and the Boys and Girls Club in Pawhuska where they work part-time hours for minimum wage, she said.

“For most of these workers, this is their first job,” Ballard said. “I hope they’re gaining valuable knowledge about working and taking on responsibilities,” she said adding previous summer youth workers have described their work experiences to her as “the best time of my life.”

This year’s Summer Youth Program was funded with $40,000 in federal dollars and $30,000 in tribal funds, Ballard said. Acceptance of youth program participants is based on the amount of funding available and low income guidelines play a role in how many participants can be accepted with the federal funds.

Applicants who do not meet the federal low income guidelines are accepted under the tribal funding which has more flexible guidelines for those coming from households with higher income, Ballard said. Interested participants must fill out an application and provide proof of Native American affiliation, Osage Reservation residence and a social security number for employment purposes, she said.

Ballard said the program’s participating employers are allowed to select their employees but she does not allow parental employers to hire their children accepted into the program to avoid conflicts of interest. In one case where parents and their children may work together would be in the Indian Villages such as Hominy if it can’t be avoided, she said.

Those accepted into the program attend an orientation with sessions including team-building exercises and guest speakers discussing what to expect during college life and how to write a resume.

Some of the summer program workers served as mentors during the Education Department’s fourth annual Summer Enrichment Camp days in July. Red Corn was one of eight mentors looking after approximately 60 camp-goers ages 5-12 during that camp’s July 28-31 run. The Enrichment Camps have a hands-on focus toward Osage culture and history.

Cherise Lookout, outreach coordinator for the Education Department and overseer of the Enrichment Camps, said the camp is “all about (the children) learning who they are.”

An orientation held for the camp mentors encouraged Red Corn and her coworkers to “focus on the positive side” and to keep (the camp-goers) excited,” she said. Fellow camp mentor Braxton Red Eagle, 19, applauded the cultural focus of the Enrichment Camp.

“I feel it’s important for the kids,” said Red Eagle who attends Sewanee: The University of the South in Tennessee. “We didn’t have stuff like this” growing up, he said adding he also worked with children at the Boys and Girls Club.

Enrichment Camp mentor Robynn Rulo, 16, was charged with watching children ages 5-7. She also performed office duties during the summer for the Nation’s Constituent Services office.

“It’s fun,” the soon-to-be Pawhuska High junior said of her work experience. “You get to work with other people and learn about other (government) offices,” she said.

Ballard believes the program overall benefits the country. “The youth are so important to our culture and our community. It gives them a head start into life.”