This summer, the Oneida Indian Nation was happy to restart its popular youth programs, even amidst the pandemic, with proper health and safety protocols in place. After the Summer Jam program wrapped up a few weeks ago the Youth Work Learn program began to wind down as the summer came to a close.

With a limited number of participants, the older kids were able to get a lot of hands-on experience at jobs within the Nation’s enterprises as well as its government programs and services. The younger Crew took a few field trips in addition to their landscaping duties around Nation properties and assisting in staining decks for the Nation community.

The job placements give older participants some real-world experience and accountability. Lisa Powless (Wolf Clan) took the opportunity and ran with it at the Nation’s Recreation Center, serving as the de facto youth programs assistant, handling some of the activities of the Summer Jam program.

In her role, Lisa made sure the kids followed safety protocols and stuck to the schedule of activities that were planned – while also participating in some herself.

Lisa Powless and her mom, Barb George-Winton.

“We do a lot of small activities here and in the gym, and sometimes go to the pool,” Lisa said of how a typical day during the Summer Jam program usually goes. “Anything to keep them active instead of sitting at home.”

She encouraged participation during Alicia Cook’s presentation on native plants and healthy eating as well. It was a unique activity that the kids really enjoyed. Alicia brought in several different indigenous plants, including some bitters that the kids were able to try and taste. Alicia is a Licensed Practical Nurse and a Master of Traditional Medicine with the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe.

Lisa is now heading into her senior year of high school and is excited about what comes next.

“I want to be a nurse,” she said unequivocally. “I don’t plan on working in child care, but this experience has been helpful getting to work with other people I don’t know. I still look forward to coming back next year because I know we’ll be able to do more.”

The program is hopeful it will be able to do more off-site trips next summer, which are always popular with the kids. In the past, they’ve visited museums and local historic areas like the Great Swamp Conservancy. Now, Lisa says she’s looking at 4-year colleges with the goal of becoming a nurse. Her first choice is Hartwick College in Oneonta.

The four other Youth Work Learn participants worked at the Nation’s golf department; a popular destination for the summer program. Jorgia Belewich, Diane and Stephanie Morris, and McKenna Cousineau (Turtle Clan) enjoyed being and working outside most of the summer.

“A typical day we’ll go to the cart barn to clean carts, then go over to the range to pick up balls and fill divots on the courses,” Jorgia said. “I like that the majority of the job is outside. I was in the Crew two years ago and my brother was in the program, too. It’s always fun”

Jorgia is excited to return to the program next year, but is also planning for her future.

“I’m not sure where I want to go yet, but I think I want to go into physical therapy,” she added. “I’m starting to look at colleges now.”

McKenna liked the independence and responsibility of the job, though she hasn’t ruled out looking for experience at another department.

“I like how this is more independent (than the Crew) and I like being outside,” she said. “But I’d like to try something else, too, because I think it’s a great opportunity. Finding a job would be a lot harder, especially at this age, without the Youth Work Learn program.”

Jorgia Belewich

Diane Morris

McKenna Cousineau

Stephanie Morris

The program has become a summer staple for Nation youth for over two decades. Next summer will hopefully provide more opportunity for the younger generation to work in the various departments of Oneida Nation Enterprises and the Oneida Indian Nation.