In 1982, the Sacred Heart Center in Eagle Butte, SD, opened its doors for the first time in a rented, two-story frame house. It was a joint effort of the Priests of the Sacred Heart, the Oblate Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament and area volunteers. The center provided a small soup kitchen, a temporary shelter for women and children, and a secondhand clothing source for those in need on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation.
Needs on the reservation have only grown in the 37 years since the center opened. Although the Priests of the Sacred Heart no longer have a direct pastoral presence in Eagle Butte, their commitment to the people of the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation continues through their ongoing support of the Sacred Heart Center.
The center’s mission statement is straightforward: “Our mission is to eradicate violence and oppressive practices through the empowerment of individuals, families and communities in order to support justice, social change and non-violence.”
“The Mission Statement of the Sacred Heart Center clearly parallels the spirit of Fr. Dehon and his mission to serve underserved populations,” said Greg Fisher, executive director of the center. “Our administrative staff regularly discusses the spirit of mission at our staff meetings; we remind them that we are part of a bigger picture in our role to support the work of Fr. Dehon and the SCJ community.”
The Sacred Heart Center provides multiple social services. Its two major operations are the Family Violence Program, which includes emergency shelter for domestic violence and sexual assault victims, and a Child Services Program, which operates a state licensed group home for youth aged 10-17.
“It is interesting to note that our group home is the only state licensed group home facility located within the boundaries of a reservation in South Dakota,” said Greg Fisher. “In addition, the Sacred Heart Center continues to operate our Bear Necessities Thrift Store, which has the distinction of being the only thrift store in operation within the boundaries of the reservation. The intent of the store is to provide needed household items and clothing to the area at the most reasonable price.”
The center also staffs an Outreach Program, which provides education and awareness initiatives throughout the reservation.
Ground broken for new shelter
On October 29, the Sacred Heart Center had a groundbreaking ceremony for a new Family Violence Women’s Safe Shelter. Greg Fisher recently spoke about why it is needed.
“There are two reasons for the new building,” he said. “The first and most obvious is the size of the current facility; it is simply not large enough for the victims that are served, or for our staff. The residential area is limited in size, often times forcing us to have several clients and their families sharing rooms. Common areas for victims are small and bathrooms are shared by residents. In addition, office space is limited, forcing several staff members to share space.
“The new facility will have enough space for victims to have their own rooms, including a private bath. The common areas will be significantly larger. There will be an indoor play area for the children of victims. In addition, all staff will have private offices. Plus, there will be a conference room as well as a small meeting room which can be used for meetings with victims, such as when a victim needs to meet privately with the police department.”
Traditionally, most emergency shelters across the country are not able to house male victims, or a woman who has a teenage son. The new building will have rooms located separate from the main shelter which will allow the center to house these victims.
It is obvious from the center’s ongoing growth that the needs of the area are also growing. “Unfortunately, the number of victims of domestic violence and sexual assault is not declining in our service area,” said Greg. “A new building is critical as a part of the process to assist victims.
“In addition, sex trafficking is a growing concern in our service area. A large ‘man camp’ supporting the Keystone XL Pipeline project is being constructed near the western boundary of the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation. This camp has prompted the center to educate the area in regard to sex trafficking and to provide assistance to potential victims.”
During the last fiscal year, the Sacred Heart Center Child Services Department helped 175 youth. The Family Violence Program assisted 332 victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and other abuse. The thrift store served nearly 5,000 people, and the outreach program had contact with approximately 3,000 people.
The Priests of the Sacred Heart are no longer on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation but the Dehonian commitment to its people continues.
Click here to visit the Sacred Heart Center’s website.