Wolakota Youth Programs is a 501 (c)(3) not-for-profit servant-leadership and cultural immersion experience that brings local teens, many who are at-risk, together with Native youth and families to create and foster life-changing relationships. Wolakota takes trips to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and to the Havasupai Reservation in the Grand Canyon. An aspect that makes our program so unique is that we are able to show our local youth a different part of the world from what they know. Many of these youth have never been out of Michigan.
The name, Wolakota, was given to our group by the children of the Wounded Knee District School. It is a rich Lakota word that captures the depth of relationship that has evolved between our teens and the children and families in the Manderson, SD community. Simply stated, Wolakota means "big friendship." Wolakota Youth Programs is committed to fostering big friendship between Native and non-Native youth, and supporting the transformation these relationships engender.
Wolakota Youth Programs is a collaborative partner with Omega Youth Empowerment – an Adrian, MI based agency committed to supporting and empowering local teens to become capable, confident and courageous leaders. Omega is run by Jon Schoonmaker, LPC. He has been doing healing work for 30 years, and taking kids on these trips for more than 17 years. Through Omega and Wolakota many youth have overcome substantial obstacles in their lives whether it is negative past experiences, poor family dynamics, drugs/alcohol and poverty.
A fundamental aspect of Wolakota Youth Programs is to provide opportunities for teens to “pay it forward” as their healing becomes a pathway for outreach. Not only are they continuing to work on themselves, but also creating positive, long-lasting relationships and memories. They are constantly challenged both physically and mentally to become their best possible selves.