With the annual Christmas Toy Drive successfully concluded for yet another holiday season, the Cheyenne River Youth Project has reopened its doors for Cheyenne River youth. Cokata Wiconi (Center of Life) is now open to teens from 5 to 8 p.m. daily, while 4- to 12-year-olds are welcome at The Main from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. daily. Both centers are closed on Wednesdays. 

The nonprofit, grassroots youth organization also has announced three exciting programs this month. A gymnastics installment of Wellness Wednesdays begins on Jan. 9, the winter semester of Main University kicks off on Jan. 15, and a special youth poetry workshop is scheduled for Jan. 22.

The youth project launched its Wellness Wednesdays last fall, with courses in gymnastics, dance and circuit training. The gymnastics course was so popular among the younger children, CRYP staff decided to bring it back this month. 

Starting this Wednesday, Jan. 9, “Wellness Wednesdays: Gymnastics” will take place at Cokata Wiconi every Wednesday from 5 to 6:30 p.m. It’s open free to 4- to 12-year-olds. Not only will that allow children to learn the fundamentals of the sport and engage in physical activity during South Dakota’s cold winter months, it will give them the opportunity to interact with CRYP’s Native Wellness teen interns, who help design wellness programming and serve as youth mentors.

Then there is Main University. Open free to 4- to 12-year-olds, the program will run for six weeks, with one class per week from Jan. 15 to Feb. 19. Students who complete all six classes may participate in a special graduation ceremony on Feb. 26. 

“Main University was created by a CRYP volunteer in 2002, and it remains one of our most beloved programs,” says Jerica Widow, youth programs director. “The kids look forward to every new session. They’re excited to learn about new subjects that interest them, and they’re so proud when they earn the right to graduate in front of their family members.”

A recipient of the “Champion for Children” award from the South Dakota Coalition for Children, Main University gives our kids opportunities to take short courses that mimic those offered in a college setting, allowing them to explore subjects that may not be offered in school. Students learn the importance of taking responsibility for their attendance and their work, interacting with instructors, and being part of a team; they also learn to follow their passions, gaining valuable life skills along the way.

“That’s at the heart of every program here at CRYP,” explains Julie Garreau, executive director. “We offer opportunities to which our kids might not otherwise have access. It’s so important for their growth and overall well-being.”

And finally, on Jan. 22, CRYP will be hosting a special youth poetry workshop in conjunction with the First Peoples Fund. Titled “Dances With Words,” the workshop is scheduled for 5-7 p.m. at Cokata Wiconi. All ages are welcome to participate.

“As we seek to provide our young people with as many new opportunities as possible, we’re also dedicated to engaging them in the arts,” Garreau says. “Creative disciplines give kids the tools they need to express themselves in a positive, healthy way — and share their stories. That’s so important to us as Lakota people. We’re storytellers, and art is deeply interwoven into our culture. There is no word for art in Lakota. Art is life.”

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.