It’s a brand new year. The holidays are over, and young people everywhere are already nurturing thoughts of spring and that all-American rite of passage — the prom. They’re eagerly anticipating shopping trips with family members and friends, where they can try on a colorful array of shoes, accessorize with just the right necklaces, bracelets, and earrings, and find the gowns of their dreams.

Unfortunately, this fun and excitement can be in short supply on South Dakota’s remote 2.8-million-acre Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation. Teens have to grow up fast here. Comprising two of poorest counties in the nation, with roughly 75 percent unemployment, most families cannot spare the funds for that dream dress, much less the accessories to go with it.

Enter the Cheyenne River Youth Project®, a grassroots, not-for-profit community organization that started its Passion for Fashion program in 2001 to ensure that every teen could make her prom dreams come true. Passion for Fashion is one of CRYP’s most popular and long-running programs, and it does much more than provide all the prom essentials. It fosters intergenerational exchange, bonding, self-esteem, and positive body image. This year’s Passion for Fashion event will take place on Saturday, March 14 at CRYP’s Cokata Wiconi (“Center of Life”) teen center.

And for the seventh year in a row, the daylong event will feature a special theme; past years’ themes have included “Old Hollywood Glamour,” “Juicy Couture,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “Fashion Week,” “The ‘80s: Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” and “International Women’s Day.” This year’s theme: “Graffiti and Street Art.”

“We’re really looking forward to exploring this theme and unleashing the creativity of our staff members and volunteers,” said Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director. “It’s perfect timing, as we just dedicated our Waniyetu Wowapi (“Winter Count”) Graffiti and Street Art Park this past fall, and our youth have had recent opportunities to receive formal art instruction in creative lettering.

“We feel this theme is going to resonate with our young women,” she added, “and it’s going to be yet another way for CRYP to encourage and celebrate healthy self-expression, which is so critical to young people’s self-esteem.”

At Passion for Fashion, Cheyenne River’s teens will have access to the experiences and happy memories that other kids enjoy. They take part in a special luncheon and hear a keynote speaker; receive manicures, pedicures, makeovers, and hair styling; find their dream dresses, shoes, and accessories; and celebrate their transformed selves on a formal catwalk. Along the way, they’ll share stories, laughter and countless magical moments with staff, volunteers, family members and each other. They’ll make memories that will indeed last a lifetime.

All high-school girls on the Cheyenne River reservation receive personalized invitations to Passion for Fashion, and junior-high girls are welcome to attend as well. CRYP also welcomes teens from the nearby Standing Rock reservation, and from border towns such as Faith, South Dakota. And yes, family members are encouraged to attend with their teens.

“Passion for Fashion has become so special to us largely because multiple generations of Cheyenne River women attend the event,” Garreau said. “Grandmothers, mothers, aunties, sisters and cousins support the girls as they prepare for prom. We’ve also been delighted to see how the teens support each other as they address such difficult issues as low self-esteem, poor body image, and bullying.

“We have fun with the dresses and accessories, it’s true, but Passion for Fashion is about much more than that,” she continued. “We give the girls important messages that we hope they’ll retain for the rest of their lives. It’s so rewarding to see these young women transform over the course of a single day. Words can’t describe seeing such inner beauty and confidence emerge — and watching new friendships develop that carry over into the teens’ everyday lives at school.”

For its 2015 Passion for Fashion event, CRYP needs new and gently used formal dresses in sizes 4 to 26, especially in sizes 16 to 26. It also needs shoes in all sizes, especially in sizes 9 to 12.

The organization also asks for jewelry and hair accessories; makeup and bath sets; gift cards and cash donations. Staff and volunteers will take any contributed funds and make additional purchases based on need.

For details regarding how you can support CRYP’s Passion for Fashion program, click here. And to learn more about the program, check out the video on CRYP’s YouTube Channel.

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.