Next week, the Cheyenne River Youth Project will host its annual Christmas parties at The Main youth center and the Cokata Wiconi (Center of Life) teen center in Eagle Butte, South Dakota. Children ages 4 to 12 are welcome to attend festivities at The Main on Monday, Dec. 5, and teens ages 13-18 are invited to the Cokata Wiconi bash on Tuesday, Dec. 6.
CRYP staff chose the theme “The Night Before Christmas” for the children’s party, which runs from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 5. Guests will enjoy a dinner of chicken noodle soup with cake for dessert, a variety of games and activities, a coloring contest, and seasonal treats such as candy bags, hot chocolate with marshmallows, Grinch punch and holiday “puppy chow.”
The next night, teens will converge on Cokata Wiconi for their party, which is scheduled from 6 to 9 p.m. In addition to featuring a movie and dinner, this sports-themed extravaganza will include a basketball three-on-three tournament and three-point content, a ping pong tournament, and a foosball tournament.
Following the holiday parties for the young people who attend Cokata Wiconi and The Main, CRYP will shut both centers’ doors until the new year. Staff and volunteers then will devote 100 percent of their time and effort to creating a 24-hour, full-service Santa’s Workshop at Cokata Wiconi.
“Each year, we host these special Christmas celebrations for our kids so they know how important they are to us,” said Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director. “It’s our chance to celebrate the season with them, because after that, we have to devote all of our energy to the annual Christmas Toy Drive.”
This year’s drive will serve more than 1,600 children on the Cheyenne River Lakota reservation. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, CRYP’s small staff joins forces with an international movement of valued organizational partners, generous individual donors and dedicated volunteers to ensure that every child who wrote a Dear Santa letter will receive personalized gifts from Mr. Claus this Christmas.
With the goal of giving each child two to three gifts from his or her Dear Santa letter, plus much-needed winter clothing and shoes, the CRYP team has the herculean task of requesting and prepping literally thousands of presents for eager kids and their appreciative families.
“We need every staff member, every volunteer and every friend to make this happen,” Garreau said. “Our Christmas Toy Drive is nothing short of a Christmas miracle each year—because of the large numbers, yes, but also because it is personal. Each gift is addressed to a particular child, and it was carefully chosen to fulfill that little boy’s or girl’s Christmas wishes. That’s very important to us, because it lets our children here on Cheyenne River know that someone truly cares. They feel, on a very deep level, that they are treasured, and that they matter.”
For too many families on Cheyenne River, household budgets simply cannot stretch to cover winter clothes, much less holiday gifts. So hundreds of children rely on CRYP to be there for them during the holiday season.
“Just think about how much Christmas means to a child,” Garreau observed. “Most of our children have to grow up way too fast due to circumstances beyond their control, so this annual Christmas Toy Drive means everything. It means that they get to experience the hope, joy and magic that most American children experience. And, for at least one day, they get to enjoy just being a kid.
“One act of kindness and generosity,” she emphasized, “can have a huge impact in the life of a child.”
To stay up to date on the latest CRYP news and events, follow the youth project on Facebook (/LakotaYouth), Twitter (@LakotaYouth) and Instagram (@waniyetuwowapi).
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.