This 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 from 4 to 6 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 7, and teens ages 13-18 are invited to the Cokata Wiconi bash from 5 to 9 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 8.
CRYP staff chose the theme “Carnival” for the children’s party. Guests will enjoy carnival-style games and board games, and they’ll have opportunities to make cookies, gingerbread houses and Christmas ornaments. Staff will hold a drawing for prizes every half hour, and they’ll serve a hot meal and snacks for the kids.
The next night, teens will converge on Cokata Wiconi for their sports-themed party. In addition to enjoying a movie and snacks, basketball enthusiasts may participate in three-point, free-throw and half-court-shot contests, as well as a 5-on-5 tournament. The young people also will be able to play ping-pong and board games, and they’ll take home movie gift cards and prizes that include Nike and Under Armour gear.
Following the holiday parties, CRYP will shut both centers’ doors until the new year. Staff and volunteers then will devote 100 percent of their time and effort to operating the youth project’s 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 1,500 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 this Christmas.
With the goal of giving each child up to four gifts from his or her wish list, plus much-needed winter clothing and shoes, the CRYP team has the herculean task of requesting, sorting and wrapping 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 wish. That’s very important to us, because it lets our children here on Cheyenne River know how treasured they are.”
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.
“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,” Garreau said. “It means they get to experience the hope, joy and magic that most children experience. And, for at least one day, they can enjoy just being a kid.
“One act of kindness and generosity can have a lasting impact,” she continued. “For the rest of their lives, our children will remember how they felt at Christmastime. When they’re small, they know Santa cares. As they get older, they come to realize how many people care.”
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.