Elsie Cook (Wolf Clan) has been a participant in the Oneida Indian Nation’s Youth Work/Learn (YWL) summer program for the last few years as a member of the Crew – the group for YWL youth aged 13-15, who take part in a number of cultural projects around the region. This summer, though, she moved into the job-placement division reserved for those aged 16-19, to work at Turning Stone Resort Casino’s golf department.

The move into a mentorship placement at a Nation job site offers the opportunity for young people to obtain real-world experience in the workforce. Elsie said she enjoyed her summer learning from and working with a great group of new coworkers.

“The biggest difference is the level of responsibility,” she said. “I’m working 40 hours a week, which has been a big transition. But I’ve enjoyed it.”

With the new job came new responsibilities. Elsie’s role in the golf department involved bringing players onto the course, placing players’ clubs on carts before their round, cleaning clubs when the players returned and washing carts at the end of the day. When the weather was not cooperating she helped out at the golf dome.

Elsie doesn’t golf, but she said she really enjoyed working outside whenever possible. That’s also what she enjoyed most about the Crew.

“The Crew was great. I love being outside, so being here made the transition easier,” she said. “Sometimes I miss my friends, but I really like being able to work longer. Everyone here has been really nice to work with.”

Tracie McLain, the Youth Work/Learn supervisor, was proud to see Elsie make the move to the golf department and see her confidence grow in her new role.

“Elsie was a little nervous to go to golf on her own this year,” Tracie said. “She became much more comfortable interacting with guests the longer she was there, and she got glowing reviews from her supervisor. I’m so proud of her.”

Turning Stone’s Director of Golf and Recreation Miles Blundell also spoke highly of Elsie’s contribution to his team.

“Elsie was a great addition to the golf department this summer,” he said. “She gained experience working in various areas of the operation and helped us create memorable experiences for guests.  Hopefully she’ll return next season.”

For the upcoming school year, Elsie is moving up north to the Akwesasne area to live with her dad. She previously attended Oneida High School.

Other participants in the YWL job mentorship program this summer included Kadin Martin, Brandi Ross, Alaina Bean, Trevir Relyea and John Wise. Kadin moved to Turning Stone Car Care this year after spending last summer at Mariner’s Landing Marina in Sylvan Beach. Brandi and Alaina returned to the Early Learning Center at the Ray Elm Children and Elders Center. Trevir worked at the Maple Leaf Market in Sherrill, and John worked at the Snug Harbor Marina.

A number of young people participated in the Crew program as well. The 12-member team included Elsie’s siblings Elaina and Greyson Cook (Wolf Clan), Lisa Powless (Wolf Clan), Lydia Aregano (Turtle Clan), McKenna Cousineau (Turtle Clan), Diane and Stephanie Morris, Mya Morris, Naomi Pawlikowski, Jorgia Belewich, Geovanna Perez (Turtle Clan) and Madison Ray (Turtle Clan).

This summer, the Crew spent time with kids enrolled at the Nation’s Early Learning Center for fun activities, including a cultural presentation from Ron Patterson (Wolf Clan) and Karen Pierce (Turtle Clan) at Nichols Pond, a historic site that was home to a series of Oneida villages more than 400 years ago. The Crew also met with cadets from the Fort Drum Army base, near Watertown, who were visiting the Oneida Indian Nation to learn more about its history and cultural property protection initiatives.

Later in the summer, the Crew visited Fort Drum, which sits on ancestral Oneida lands. They toured the area with Dr. Laurie Rush, Fort Drum’s cultural resources manager, and ended at the Native American Calendar site, which remains strictly off limits to training. The alignment of the stones with the constellations was once used to track the seasons and harvest patterns.

The group also visited Fort Stanwix and walked the grounds of the Oriskany Battlefield, where the Oneidas fought with the Americans to protect the fort in one of the bloodiest battles of the Revolutionary War. One of the goals of the Crew program is to reinforce the importance of Oneida culture and provide the young participants with a sense of connection to their ancestors, who were instrumental in the founding of the country.

The Youth Work/Learn program continues to provide American Indian youth with a good work ethic and experience in the real world, along with several cultural enrichment opportunities. The program’s perennial success is a major factor in producing well-rounded future Native leaders.