Over the years, fundraisers for the Cheyenne River Youth Project® in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, have taken many forms. One such fundraiser stands out.
For 13 years, FriendSwap in Washington, D.C., has played match-maker for hundreds upon hundreds of young professionals — and donated the proceeds to the 26-year-old youth project. This spring, 735 single Washingtonians attended the 13th annual FriendSwap party and raised close to $14,000 to support CRYP’s youth programming and services (pictured here: Spanish class at The Main, CRYP’s youth center for 4- to 12-year-olds).
FriendSwap was founded by attorney and Cheyenne River Sioux tribal member Heather Dawn Thompson in 2002. Today, it’s led by national best-selling author Kerry Reichs.
“We’re so excited that this partnership still works so well after all these years,” says Reichs, who has published several books and splits her time between Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles.
“I’m grateful and thrilled that Kerry has taken the helm,” Thompson says. “She’s taken FriendSwap to its most financially successful year yet!”
So, what is FriendSwap? Here’s how it works: FriendSwap pairs each participant with several proposed “matches.” Then, for a minimum $20 contribution, the “swappees” attend a grand party to meet those matches. Sound familiar? It might. FriendSwap was ahead of its time.
“We created FriendSwap in the days before Match.com and the other dating sites became so popular,” Thompson recalls. “The concept was that we all have amazing single friends, and one of them might be perfect for the other!”
What makes FriendSwap different is hand selection. Each year, a board of more than 30 volunteer “Swappers” recruits eligible participants, encourages them to tell FriendSwap a little bit about themselves in an online database, then spends hours reviewing each profile and finding several good “swaps” for each swappee. Everyone is a friend or a friend-of-a-friend, mixing artists and musicians with journalists and White House and congressional staffers.
“We try to give each person four, five, six matches,” Thompson explains. “Then they meet each other at the party. It’s all a little tongue-in-cheek; we want people to have some fun with it.”
Volunteers work hard to keep expenses low for the FriendSwap party, which is always hosted by a downtown bar or restaurant whose owners are willing to provide the venue for free. Other than some routine website maintenance costs and operational expenses, the proceeds go to CRYP.
In the beginning, FriendSwap attracted 300 to 400 people per year. Now, according to Thompson, it routinely attracts 700 to 800 each year.
But that may change. Thompson and CRYP Executive Director Julie Garreau have discussed the use of some FriendSwap proceeds for event expansion. Key items would include an improved database and a website that can accommodate an increased number of participants and attract local D.C.-area sponsors.
“Right now, we’re limited in how much we can grow,” Thompson says. “We’d love to be able to attract more people, perhaps host a party several times per year and raise $20,000 or $30,000 to support the youth project.”
In addition to raising funds, the publicity around the annual FriendSwap party also raises awareness and helps educate young D.C. professionals about Indian Country. As a result of the party, nearly a dozen young policy-makers have traveled to the Cheyenne River Youth Project to learn more about Indian country and the issues facing native youth.