PINE RIDGE | Without the SuAnne Big Crow Boys and Girls Club, 15-year-old Demcie Mesteth probably would not know how to swim or play piano.
Demcie hasn’t gone swimming in a year or so. Heat and lifeguards are expensive, so the pool isn’t used much right now, said Gary Sullivan, a member of the club’s board of directors. But Demcie, who has been going to the club for seven years, can still pound out a familiar tune from memory on the piano, his favorite part of the building.
He and hundreds of other children use the building’s game rooms, library, gym and music room every year. The club has after-school programs that educate children about avoiding gangs, drugs, alcohol and diabetes, Demcie said.
“People are in gangs (on the reservation), they’re just not displaying it, yelling about it and stuff,” he said. “The club has different programs that steer you away from that.”
The club – the first Boys and Girls Club built in Indian Country, according to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America – turns 20 this year. There are now more than 200 clubs serving 88,000 Native American children in 24 states, according to the club.
Even with the sometimes-empty swimming pool and a too-small staff, it’s impressive that the club has survived two decades, said founder Chick Big Crow at an anniversary party Saturday.
“I feel like it’s really a success that we were able to be here 20 years and to grow like we did. We started with $32 and an old plastics factory,” she said. “I hope that people will look at us as paving the way for more people to step up. If I can do it, anybody can do it. They just need to see that it can be done.”
Saturday, hundreds of people turned out at the club in Pine Ridge village to celebrate the past two decades and look to the future.
Sharon Mabin, 26, lives near Pine Ridge village and recently began sending her 7-year-old daughter to the club. She and her husband, Eric, said the club could be more useful to the community with longer hours and more programming but that it is a good start at providing after-school activities for children.
After touring the concrete-block building, guests sat in a semi-circle shaded by pine branches to watch an interpretive dance by a performing arts group from the Boys and Girls Club and listen to speeches from club alumni, board members and others. The performing arts group wore colored masks as they danced to the 2003 Black Eyed Peas hit “Where Is the Love?”
Robbie Callaway, a former vice president of Boys and Girls Clubs of America who was instrumental in creating the SuAnne Big Crow Boys and Girls Club, thanked donors and asked the audience to help raise awareness to raise $7 million to endow the club for coming years.
Callaway also presented Big Crow with a jersey signed with a message from baseball hall of famer Cal Ripken, Jr.
“‘Chick, congratulations on this magnificent day. You are a hero to so many,’” Callaway read from the jersey. “I don’t think any of us could say it better than that.”