In recent years, the Cheyenne River Youth Project® has garnered significant attention for innovative new initiatives like the RedCan graffiti jam, the Waniyetu Wowapi (Winter Count) Lakota Arts Institute, and the teen internship program. Yet the nonprofit organization’s perhaps most significant efforts actually take place in the littlest building on campus — The Main youth center.
Since 1988, The Main has been a positive, safe place for 4- to 12-year-olds to enjoy healthy meals and snacks, do their homework and play with friends. Over the years, programming has expanded to allow them to explore their creativity through arts and crafts; learn more about nutrition, fitness and other forms of wellness; and strengthen their connection to the earth and to their own Lakota life ways through the Winyan Toka Win (Leading Lady) garden.
“The Main provides our first opportunity to reach Cheyenne River’s young people,” said Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director. “It gives us a chance to demonstrate to our kids that they can trust us to be there for them when they need us, and to give them what they need. We deeply care about our little Main, because our roots lie in that building. It’s how we started nearly three decades ago, and thanks to what we’ve done there, we’re now serving our second generation of children.”
Because The Main is a drop-in center rather than a registration-based one, programs needs to be flexible. And, Garreau noted, programs actually are secondary to something that’s much more important.
“What’s most important for these smaller children is that our doors are open, they always can find a positive role model and mentor, and when they’re here, they are absolutely safe,” she explained. “This is a place where they always will be loved and supported.”
And, it’s a place where the most precious of childhood rituals are protected. Few days in a child’s life are as precious as his or her birthday. Unfortunately, for far too many underprivileged children, that day passes with little celebration — if any at all.
So, each month, The Main hosts a birthday party for the children whose birthdays fall during that month. Staff and volunteers decorate the youth center and organize games and activities for the kids. Every birthday child gets a little gift, and everyone enjoys a piece of birthday cake. The kids eagerly look forward to each party, whether or not they have a birthday of their own that month.
“The parties are a big deal for our kids,” Garreau said. “Some have never had a birthday party at home, and a few of the smaller kids aren’t even sure when their birthdays are… they may know the month, but not the day. We want to make each of those kids feel as special as they deserve to feel.”
To offset the cost of each party, CRYP seeks monthly sponsors. Supporters can sponsor a birthday cake for $40; they also can make contributions for decorations, activities, the birthday meal, and snacks.
“We hope our supporters will consider sponsoring our birthday parties at The Main,” Garreau said. “Every dollar makes a difference; it may seem like such a small way to help, but it’s a really big deal to our children.”
Interested supporters can mail checks to CRYP at P.O. Box 410, East Lincoln Street, Eagle Butte, SD 57625. Or, simply click “Help CRYP” and select “Monetary Donations.”
To stay up to date on the latest CRYP news and events, follow the youth project on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
The Cheyenne River Youth Project, founded in 1988, is a grassroots, not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing the youth of the Cheyenne River reservation with access to a vibrant and secure future through a wide variety of culturally sensitive and enduring programs, projects and facilities that ensure strong, self-sufficient families and communities.