At Unity North Church in Coon Rapids, the Youth of Unity (Y.O.U.), an organization comprising ninth-12th graders, is about to accomplish what many people from outside the church community said couldn’t be done — raise $20,000 in one year to provide the young people in the village of Cherry Creek, S.D., on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, with playground equipment and a basketball court. It all started in the fall of 2008 when the Y.O.U. was looking for additional service projects.
Its members were already sponsoring Polcé from Indonesia and Ashni from India with twice-yearly donations through ChildFund (formerly Christian Children’s Fund).
When the Y.O.U. discovered that this community in a neighboring state is one of the top 10 poorest counties in the United States and that it faces a suicide rate three times the national average along with a dropout rate of 50 percent, the members set their sights on making a difference.
The Y.O.U. began by collecting donations of books and art supplies to send to Cherry Creek so the children would have activities for after school.
Because of poor nutrition and lack of exercise, diabetes is prevalent in this area, so when the ChildFund coordinator for that region mentioned they could use eight bicycles to share among the children, the Y.O.U. collected more than 40 bicycles.
In the summer of 2009, some members of the youth group, along with their church sponsors and Carol Kniskern, the pastor, made the more than 1,000-mile round-trip journey to Eagle Butte on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation to deliver the bicycles in person.
To date, the youth group has collected and delivered nearly 300 bicycles to the young people on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation.
Earlier this summer, the group went to Cherry Creek to clean up an outdoor area where the basketball court will be set up.
They also worked alongside the kids from Cherry Creek building and painting picnic tables.
In previous trips, they delivered seeds and plants for gardening so that the families could have their own gardens.
The last step for the playground/basketball court project is to raise the remaining $5,500.
To that end, the youth group is holding a fund-raising dinner and silent auction today (Friday, Aug. 17) at Unity North Church.
Anyone who would like to learn more about this project is welcome to attend the dessert and presentation portion of the evening at 7:30 p.m. Tickets will be available at the door for $10.
The church address is 11499 Martin St. N.W., just off the southeast corner of Highway 10 and Hanson Boulevard.
Once the playground equipment and basketball court are installed, the relationship between these middle-class teenagers from Minnesota and the very poor children from a South Dakota Indian reservation won’t end, according to those in the youth group.
As they graduate and move on, other members of the youth group, with the support of the Unity North Church community, will maintain this relationship and do what they can to help make a better life for these children.
As one member of the youth group stated, “This project has changed me as a person.
“I have come to realize that a community of people can be so close in terms of distance (a neighboring state) but yet so very different in terms of culture — as if they were in another country.”