Less than six weeks remain before the Cheyenne River Youth Project®’s annual Passion for Fashion event, where young women from across South Dakota’s 2.8-million-acre Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation come together to celebrate that classic American rite of passage, their high-school prom. But during that one special Saturday in March, they’ll embrace so much more than that.

The 26-year-old, grassroots, not-for-profit youth project started its Passion for Fashion program in 2001 to ensure that every teen could make her prom dreams come true. On the Cheyenne River reservation, families’ budgets are stretched to cover basic household needs and frequently cannot accommodate any extras like prom dresses and shoes.

One of CRYP’s most popular and long-running programs, Passion for Fashion does indeed provide all prom essentials — while also fostering intergenerational exchange, bonding, self-esteem, and positive body image. In other words, this is an occasion for each teen to celebrate her authentic self, in all its beauty, confidence, and potential.

This year’s Passion for Fashion event will take place on Saturday, March 14 at CRYP’s Cokata Wiconi (“Center of Life”) teen center. After their formal luncheon in the Keya Cafe, the teens will enjoy a special presentation from keynote speaker Kimberly Tilsen-Brave Heart.

Tilsen-Brave Heart is an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota Sioux Tribe and grew up on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. She was selected as a participant in the Bush Foundation’s prestigious Native Nation Rebuilders Fellowship Program, and as Native American Instructor of the SBA e200 Executive Management Training for South Dakota. She serves as co-founder of the South Dakota Indian Business Alliance, and she earned the Pine Ridge Area Chamber of Commerce Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

She also is the owner of Painted Skye Management, through which she works as an entrepreneurship and economic development specialist, facilitator, public speaker, trainer, and entertainment manager. She is passionate about developing hands-on training programs for native youth, artisans, and first-time entrepreneurs — and about sharing her message with young native women, in particular.

“When we give young native women the opportunity to see themselves in a new light, we give them the opportunity to walk with confidence and take on the world in a beautiful way,” Tilsen-Brave Heart said.

Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director, said this is in keeping with Passion for Fashion’s spirit and mission.

“Each year, we reinforce the idea that every girl is beautiful and special, with her own unique gifts to offer the world,” Garreau said. “We encourage them to find their inner confidence and realize that they can do anything once they set their minds to it.”

Passion for Fashion also has consistently promoted the idea of positive, healthy self-expression, and this year, CRYP staff is taking that to a new level with the event’s theme: Graffiti and Street Art. All 2015 participants will have an opportunity to contribute to a dedicated Passion for Fashion graffiti mural.

“As we celebrate the beauty of our young women, we also will celebrate the distinctive beauty of these contemporary art forms, which resonate so strongly with our youth here on Cheyenne River,” Garreau explained. “Our teens are already extremely enthusiastic. This past September, we formally dedicated our Waniyetu Wowapi (“Winter Count”) Graffiti and Street Art Park, which is a free public space for creating art. We’re also launching our first-ever art internship program, and our staff and youth are receiving ongoing art instruction. It’s definitely an exciting time for all of us here at CRYP.”

After the keynote presentation, teens will move to the gymnasium for manicures, pedicures, makeovers, and hair styling. They’ll search for their dream dresses, shoes, and accessories; they’ll reveal their transformed selves on a formal catwalk; and they’ll pose for fashion photographs with professional lifestyle/portrait photographer Dawnee LeBeau, who generously donates her time each year. Each young woman will go home with a special swag bag filled with bath and beauty products, in addition to jewelry that matches their gowns.

All high-school girls on the Cheyenne River reservation receive personalized invitations to Passion for Fashion. Interested teens must RSVP to Tammy Eagle Hunter, youth programs director, at (605) 964-8200 or tammy.cryp@gmail.com.

CRYP also welcomes teens from the nearby Standing Rock reservation, and from border towns such as Faith, South Dakota. Family members of all ages are encouraged to attend with their teens.

For its 2015 Passion for Fashion event, CRYP needs new and gently used formal dresses, especially in sizes 11 to 20. It also needs shoes in all sizes, especially in sizes 8-11.

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

“Menswear would be great, too,” Garreau said, “even if it’s just white button-up shirts and shoes.”

All contributions must be at CRYP’s East Lincoln Street campus no later than Thursday, March 12, as staff will need time to sort and organize hundreds of dresses, pairs of shoes, and accessory items prior to the March 14 main event. Teens who are unable to attend on Saturday will be able to visit Cokata Wiconi at a later date to choose their prom essentials.

For details regarding how you can support CRYP’s 2015 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.