For 14 years, the Cheyenne River Youth Project® has celebrated the strength, achievements and limitless potential of the young ladies who live on South Dakota’s remote, 2.8-million-acre Cheyenne River reservation through a special annual program called “Passion for Fashion.” The 26-year-old, not-for-profit youth organization started Passion for Fashion in 2001 to ensure that Cheyenne River’s teens would have everything they need for prom night; this year, the beloved springtime program served 165 young people.
A significant number of the teens attended CRYP’s signature “Passion for Fashion” event on Saturday, March 14. The rest visited the youth project’s East Lincoln Street campus afterward, as schedules allowed. All were able to choose their dream dresses, shoes, jewelry and other accessories for this year’s high school prom.
The theme for this year’s Passion for Fashion was “Glamour and Graffiti,” an unbridled celebration of creativity and positive self-expression that fully transformed the Cokata Wiconi (“Center of Life”) teen center. The March 14 festivities kicked off at 1 p.m. with luncheon in the farm-to-table Keya (“Turtle”) Cafe, where the teens were surrounded by colorful, edgy Pop Art and Street Art.
While the group enjoyed their lunch, CRYP’s female staff members and volunteers each said a few words about themselves and shared messages about women encouraging and supporting one another, finding the right career path and following their dreams.
“Through our own experiences, we wanted to simply give them a glimpse of all the possibilities their futures hold,” said Tammy Eagle Hunter, CRYP’s youth programs director.
“We had women from so many diverse walks of life in that room,” added Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director. “Award-winning photographers, founders of not-for-profit organizations, women with master’s degrees in social work, mothers who are raising their children while working and going to school… it was truly inspiring.”
Garreau herself is an example of a local success story. She founded the grassroots, not-for-profit youth project in 1988 and has shepherded it through its transformation from a little volunteer-run youth center to a large campus with youth center, teen center, family services program, organic garden, farm-to-table restaurant and public art park.
“Our message to our girls was a simple one,” she explained. “Recognize your own potential, find your passion, be willing to work hard, and believe in yourself. There’s nothing you can’t do, once you set your mind to it.”
After the luncheon, the teens moved on to Cokata Wiconi’s full-size gymnasium, which was adorned with Creative Lettering, Handstyles, Street Art of the World, New York City and more. There, they took advantage of a variety of pampering services, from manicures and pedicures to hair styling, facials and makeovers.
Then it was time to shop. CRYP staff and volunteers filled the gym with hundreds of formal dresses and shoes, and countless pieces of jewelry, hair accessories and other prom must-haves, giving Cheyenne River’s young women a very special opportunity.
“We want our girls to have the same types of prom experiences that other American teens have,” Garreau explained. “A big part of prom is having the chance to search for that perfect dress, that perfect pair of earrings, those matching shoes. Most families on our reservation don’t have room in their budgets for prom wear, and even if they did, it can be tough to plan a trip to Pierre or Rapid City, either of which requires hours in the car.”
According to Eagle Hunter, the young women are well aware of how special this day is.
“One girl, Tayzia Claymore-Knight, talked about how great the day was, how wonderful it was to have all these women helping the girls find the perfect prom dresses,” Eagle Hunter recalled. “She told me she loved having such a fun day, trying on dresses and putting on makeup, which is something so many girls here don’t get to do. They can’t just go shopping and try on a lot of different dresses, hoping to find one that they love. But with Passion for Fashion, they can. They can participate in what has truly become an American rite of passage, and that matters to them. It’s important.”
Once the teens found their dresses, shoes, and accessories, they each took a turn on CRYP’s formal catwalk and posed for fashion photographs with professional lifestyle/portrait photographer Dawnee LeBeau, who generously donated her time again this year. And, at the end of the evening, each young woman also went home with a special swag bag filled with bath and beauty products, in addition to jewelry that matched her gown.
While Passion for Fashion indeed does provide all the prom essentials, it delivers much more than that. It’s also dedicated to fostering intergenerational exchange, bonding, self-esteem, and positive body image.
“At CRYP, we want Passion for Fashion to be a special occasion for our teens to celebrate their authentic selves and their innate beauty, to find their confidence, and to acknowledge their true potential,” Eagle Hunter said. “Tayzia told me that she really liked talking about how girls need to support each other, because that’s how they’ll succeed. By building each other up, not tearing each other down.
“Through Passion for Fashion, we let our teens know how treasured they are,” she continued. “Each year, they tell me how good it feels to see that people care enough to create this kind of special day, this kind of magic, just for them. We’re so grateful to all the donors and volunteers who helped make Passion for Fashion such a success this year, because we couldn’t do it without their support.”
CRYP staff is already collecting prom wear and accessories for its 2016 Passion for Fashion event. As always, the youth project will need new and gently used formal dresses, especially in sizes 11 to 20, and shoes in all sizes, especially in sizes 8-11. The organization also asks for jewelry, hair accessories, makeup and bath sets, gift cards, and menswear.
“Even if you missed Passion for Fashion last month, we’re still happy to take prom donations,” Garreau said. “Our need is so great ever year, we need to start gathering dresses, shoes and other accessories as early as we can for 2016.”
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.