In rural north-central South Dakota, groups have few choices when it comes to finding the right venue for meetings, special events, workshops, seminars, and sports camps. That’s why the Cheyenne River Youth Project® has chosen to make its Eagle Butte campus facilities available for rent.

What’s more, scholarships are available to cover the cost of building rentals, which are made possible by Alexandria, Virginia-based Running Strong for American Indian Youth. These scholarships allow the grassroots youth project to accommodate groups that otherwise wouldn’t have been able to conduct their classes, camps, and special events.

CRYP currently has $15,000 available to offset rental fees. It has five months to distribute these funds, and only $5,000 has been awarded to date.

“We have plenty of scholarship money available,” said Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director. “We’re encouraging group leaders here on Cheyenne River, and really anywhere in West River, to contact us to find out if their groups are eligible for the scholarships.”

It’s a significant offering. CRYP’s state-of-the-art, 26,000-square-foot Cokata Wiconi teen center incorporates a full-size gymnasium, a formal dance studio, a large library, a computer lab, a classroom, and the Keya Cafe, which provides Internet access, a commercial-grade kitchen, and catering services. CRYP also has a large movie screen and projector for presentations. Groups may rent all or some of the available facilities, depending on their events’ parameters, and the nearly 5,000-square-foot youth center next door — affectionately known as The Main — also is available for for rent.

Garreau said this is all very much in keeping with the 26-year-old, not-for-profit youth organization’s vision for its East Lincoln Street campus.

“Cokata Wiconi means ‘Center of Life’ in the Lakota language, and we always intended it to serve as a gathering place,” she explained. “Yes, it’s a teen center that accommodates the young people who outgrew our programs for 4- to 12-year-olds at The Main. But it’s also a much-needed resource for community organizations and groups.”

Those groups come from the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation as well as from communities scattered across South Dakota’s remote West River country. In the last 18 months, CRYP has rented facilities to the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe’s Headstart program — once for its powwow and 32 times for recess during inclement weather. It also welcomed a large basketball tournament hosted by ICWA, and the Mni “Water Is Life” presentation and indigenous water summit, which drew native leaders from across the Americas to the Cheyenne River reservation.

Other events included the Word Carrier Trading Post’s book fairs (see photo), the Canli Coalition’s anti-smoking presentations, Girls Traveling Basketball Team practices, the Soiled Hands Society membership drive, Cheyenne-Eagle Butte High School cheerleading practices, and Mitzis Ballet practices.

“As a quarter-century-old not-for-profit organization, we understand better than anyone that community groups might not have room in their budgets for rental fees,” Garreau said.

The rentals actually are a win-win for all involved, she noted. The Running Strong scholarships make it possible for outside groups to bring their important planned events to life. And, the rental fees are critical for CRYP, as they help offset major costs.

“Our teen and youth centers comprise more than 30,000 square feet, which means we’re consistently looking at high utility bills, not to mention the routine costs associated with providing daily programming and services in both facilities,” Garreau said. “Building rental fees are part of an essential revenue stream that allows us to keep the doors open and the lights on for the kids and families who rely on us. Thanks to Running Strong, we can continue to generate the funds we need while also providing valuable assistance to other local groups.”

In the year to come, rentals will continue to play a major role in CRYP operations. Event organizers and group leaders are encouraged to contact the youth project to find out if they’re eligible for the scholarship program.

“All they need to do is give us a call at (605) 964-8200, describe their groups and outline their needs, and we’ll come up with a plan that works for everyone,” Garreau said. “We’re thrilled to welcome new groups to our campus in Eagle Butte, because we do firmly believe that Cokata Wiconi and The Main should be shared resources. And it’s wonderful when you see that vision become a reality.”

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.