BRF Youth Services changes the dynamics of working with students to working with elders and families

By Ardith Van Riper

     Ho-Chunk Youth Services are designed to educate youth and provide recreational activities that promote healthy, mature lifestyles.  The Youth and Learning Center located at District 1 Community Center closed March 13 to protect youth, families, and staff during the COVID-19 Pandemic.  Staff compassionate about their jobs and the community continue to find alternate ways to help.

     The Ho-Chunk Nation (HCN) Youth Services Division Director issued a directive to all ten Youth and Learning Centers the HCN has within Wisconsin and Minnesota to suspend all programming and activities.  The Ho-Chunk Nation as a whole initiated layoffs, and Social Services experienced downsizing.

     The Black River Falls School District shutdown March 18 following Governor Evers direction to close all K-12 Wisconsin public and private schools in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19.

     “The shutdowns came so fast,” exclaimed Youth Coordinator Manda Mann from the Black River Falls Youth and Learning Center.  “Everything changes daily.”

     Updates on entering HCN buildings and facilities change in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic developments.  Many buildings are closed to the public, or individuals are required to be screened before gaining entry. 

     March 31, an HCN historic Joint Resolution and Administrative Order between the HCN Legislature and HCN Office of the President that requests HCN members to remain safer at home within their residences to the greatest extent possible.

     “Anybody working is to be here at your own risk,” explained Manda Mann.

     Tribal Aging Unit (TAU) is another division under Social Services, and primary clients are elders of the HCN.  TAU offers services and assistance that include nutritional meals, transportation, minor home repairs, lawn mowing and snowplowing, and locating resources outside the Nation. 

     TAU has five meal site locations in Wisconsin near Nekoosa, Wittenberg, Tomah, Wisconsin Dells, and Black River Falls.  Congregate sites were closed, but home delivery continues. 

     Before the Pandemic, there were two home delivery routes in the Black River Falls area.  Now there are five and grow daily as more and more elders sign up for the program.  Youth Service workers stepped up and have taken on a few routes.

     “Monday through Thursday mornings, we deliver meals to elders,” said Youth Coordinator Manda.

     Black River Falls Home School Coordinator Ariana Youngthunder added, “Our route usually takes one hour and fifteen minutes.”

     The Youth Service workers are continually thinking of ways to help the community members.  Not just in terms of activities or school-related projects but assist in finding resources or delivery of goods.

     “We want them to stay home,” declared Mann, referring to children, elders, and families.

     Youth Service workers are willing to pick up mail, pick up or drop off school projects or equipment, pick up school meals, or pick up groceries.  All requests are kept confidential, while social distancing and proper hygiene procedures are followed when carrying out a request.

     “I really miss the kids,” shared Youth Coordinator Mann.

     There are approximately 275 students located in District 1.  The Youth Coordinators are typically assigned to predetermined grade levels and plans activities three months in advance.  Activities can include cultural, preventions, physical recreation, arts and crafts, Hoocak language, and incentive.

     Now that youth are at home, Youth Coordinators changed their dynamics and are challenged with working with families rather than an assigned grade level.

     The first project is a Spring Family Fun Contest.  All family members in the household must participate and use craft supplies provided by Youth Services or anything that is in the house to decorate a door or a large picture window.  The theme is Spring or Easter.

     Contestants then submit a photo of the decorated door or window to the BRF Youth Services Facebook page.  Entries were due April 8 by 4:00 PM, and there were first, second, and third place prizes.

     Craft supplies were gathered, packaged, and distributed.  Manda Mann and Ariana Youngthunder delivered the supplies to 102 families in or near Black River Falls.

     The next project they are working towards completing is an Entertainment Package for the elders.  The package could have games like Sudoku, card games, or something to keep them home.  If anyone wants to donate to the elders or have extra, Youth Service is willing to take it to them. 

     “We want people to be patient,” explained Manda Mann.

     “Everything is in the works,” finished Ariana Youngthunder.

     Suggestions for activities, requests for assistance, or donations that need to be delivered can be emailed to or