During all the canoe journey activities on the Puyallup Reservation, another milestone was celebrated – the fifth anniversary of the Little Wild Wolves Youth and Community Center. “It’s totally unreal that it’s been five years,” said its Director Lisa Earl, but since that time the Center seems to have grown a tribal heartbeat of its own as a vibrant, safe and positive place for children and families – full of life and bearing witness to so much in tribal members’ lives. From baby showers, weddings and funerals, to birthday parties, community gatherings and dinners, sports banquets, educational events and Lushootseed language classes…the list goes on for what the Center means to the Puyallup community.
When all is said and done, it’s the children that the Center is most focused on, headed up by Youth Coordinators: Mercedes Haack, Nancy LaPointe-McCloud, Lea Castillo, Amenda Butler-Smith and Philip Dillon, and a few have worked at the new Youth Center since it opened in 2013.
“I love the bond that we make with the kids,” said Mercedes. “I remember my first time going to Puyallup Fair Day with the Chief Leschi children and every five minutes one would bump into me and say hi super enthusiastically. That was one of the greatest feelings to know that they are looking up to you and excited to be around. I also love the feeling of knowing that we’re giving kids an opportunity to be somewhere safe to be rather than running around.”
For Nancy, “When a kid is having a rough day and they just need a hug or want to hold your hand and be by you – that’s my favorite thing.”
The Center’s official birthday party was held on Sunday, July 29, complete with bounce houses, dunk tank, photo booth, temporary tattoos, snow cones and cotton candy, an air-conditioned video game trailer (very popular!), a magician and much more. About 250 people were counted on the official sign-in sheet, with even more coming by throughout the afternoon and evening.
At the party, Puyallup tribal member Shelly Dillon shared the story of how her dearly departed mother Faye Wright named the Center after “little wild wolves.”
As Shelly explained, “My mom told me that the reason she named it Little Wild Wolves is because of my daughter Jennifer – little wild wolves travel in packs and take care of each other. So it’s named after her. When my mom sold this property, and it had been in our family for generation after generation, Tribal Council asked my mom to name the property because it was hers.”
A highlight of the party was the live band – VisionSeekerz, who traveled from Eastern Washington and Idaho to be there. A truly excellent group of Native American musicians, there to play that day were Lonnie Sammaripa (vocals/guitar), Doug Marconi (guitar/vocals), Vaughn Yellowwolf (lead guitar), Prescott Speedis (drums/vocals) and visiting player from Port Angeles Randy Bennett (bass/guitar). Together, the band brought a blend of blues rock, classic rock and alternative rock among their repertoire of more than 125 songs. This was the second time that VisionSeekerz played the youth center, the first time for the center’s 2017 Christmas Party and Children’s Talent Show. The band enjoyed it so much that they were very happy to come back.
“We feel honored and privileged to come out and support the Puyallup Tribe celebrating their fifth anniversary for this center,” Doug Marconi said.
The day after their Youth Center gig, VisionSeekerz packed up and headed to Chief Leschi School to entertain at canoe journey as part of the Youth Center’s participation, which included a water slide, a couple of blow-up swimming pools, and family-friendly movies each evening complete with snacks.
Between the five Youth Coordinators and Lisa Earl, they always have something fun cooked up at the Center, and community input is always encouraged and welcomed to help programs grow in number and quality.
“These ladies and Philip are amazing,” Lisa said. “They give of their time selflessly and I couldn’t ask for a better crew. They work so well with the children and they’re so dedicated.”
Teen Nights and open gym happen on two Saturdays each month. Youth can get also in on the archery club, make crafts and regalia, and go on field trips for roller-skating, bowling or to take in a day at the Washington State Fair each year.
“We’re always adding more things and building on to our foundation of working with other tribal programs to offer more stuff to our children,” Mercedes said.
Education is also a hallmark of Little Wild Wolves. For the past four years the Center has hosted the Native American Youth Leadership Academy (NAYLA), which attracts teachers and students in Indian Education programs at school districts all across the Puget Sound area. Junior Achievement sets up shop at the Center every year for its two-week program, and Sylvan Learning Center staff are there twice a week year-round to help students with their studies.
Just this year, older children from Grandview Early Learning Center began gathering in Building C, where the tribe’s Culture Department used to be before it moved. Lisa has her eye on other parts of this building too, like perhaps using the former canoe shed for Youth Center programs as a back-up space. “At some time I’d like to utilize the sweat and have sweats happen out here – youth sweats, women’s sweats – that would be nice,” she said. “I’d like to work more closely and consistently with our language program too.” Her big dream is to have a culture activities coordinator on staff to help the Center do more to help instill Puyallup culture in the youth.
As the Puyallup Tribal News went to press this week, Youth Center staff were busy getting ready for the “Back to School Bingo” event coming Saturday, Aug. 11, 1-5 p.m. Between 100-150 refurbished computers from the Tribe will be given away, as well as age-appropriate assorted Tablets and Fitbits, backpacks, school supplies and more. There will be bounce houses, face painters, photo booth, snow cones and cotton candy and plenty of food to enjoy.
The entire youth center staff would like to raise their hands in heartfelt gratitude to the maintenance staff: Clifford Jordan, Brian Eveskcige and Frederick Satiacum; summer youth workers: Alexis and Brandon Sanchez, Ashley and Hailey LaPointe-Rosas, Keoni and Immanuel Fossella and Ramona Gallegos-Spirithawk; VisionSeekerz, and lastly our very hard working volunteers: Laura Bluehorse, Michelle Spencer, Laura Mowatt, Jo Jo Whitefoot, Lavenia Billy, Darryl Swift, Emilia and Daniel LaPointe-Rosas, and Nicole, Devin and Damien Roy.