As this unprecedented year comes to a close, the leadership team at the Cheyenne River Youth Project is recognizing a very special group of young people. These youth, the CRYP youth programs assistants, have worked hard throughout the Covid-19 pandemic to make sure the nonprofit youth organization was able to continue serving the Cheyenne River Lakota Nation.

They are, in this photo from left to right: Brad’Lee Bad Warrior, Wendell Nezzie Jr., Khalid Garreau, and Leo Benator. In a typical year, this team primarily would be responsible for developing and executing daily youth programs and special activities at the youth project’s Cokata Wiconi (Center of Life) teen center and “The Main” youth center for 4- to 12-year-olds.

In this decidedly atypical year, however, they’ve had to shift gears dramatically. According to Jerica Widow, CRYP’s youth programs director, the youth programs assistants have been involved with every aspect of daily operations, from establishing remote or socially distanced learning solutions to hosting curbside, drive-thru distributions and community meals.

“We’re constantly amazed at the level of creativity and resourcefulness that Wendell, Khalid, Leo and Brad’Lee bring to their work and whatever challenges we might be facing, which in 2020 can change day to day and even hour to hour,” Widow said. “They transformed our gymnasium into a safe learning center. They make sure that our kids have access to additional educational opportunities through remote learning. They harvested our garden, processed our produce, and developed menus for our Harvest Festival and Thanks for Kids dinners. And they certainly made the magic happen in the kitchen.

“They created holiday fun for the kids at Halloween, and are in the process of doing the same for Wo Otúh’an Wi, our ‘Moon of Giving Away Presents,’” she continued. “They provided Hollywood-caliber crew support for our virtual edition of the RedCan graffiti jam. They created a family movie night in our Waniyetu Wowapi (Winter Count) Art Park. They got Family Services back up and running, and they’re doing double-duty right now as we bring Santa Claus back to Cheyenne River for the first time without volunteer support.”

“Our youth programs team is going above and beyond the call of duty every single day, and we honor them for their hard work and commitment to serving,” said Dawn E. LeBeau, CRYP’s deputy director. “This year wasn’t what they signed up for, because we cannot welcome all our kids through our doors right now. But our kids still need us, and our community still needs us; our team understands that, and they give so much of themselves to make sure CRYP is a reliable and cheerful support during these hard times. We are so proud of them.”

An enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Wendell Nezzie Jr. studied criminal justice at Oglala Lakota College. He leads CRYP’s wellness program, planning and executing all fitness-related activities, including daily workouts and weekly fitness challenges. He also helps coordinate the Native Wellness teen internship program.

Also an enrolled member of CRST, Khalid Garreau was born and raised on Cheyenne River until moving to Rapid City in 2007. He currently attends Georgia State University in Atlanta, where he is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in international affairs. He opted to return to Cheyenne River for two semesters, supporting CRYP and his community during the pandemic.

Garreau particularly enjoys working in the Keya (Turtle) Cafe, and in the Winyan Toka Win Owózu (Leading Lady Garden). He said working at CRYP provides unique challenges that help him and the Cheyenne River community create a better future. He has aspirations of one day running a nonprofit himself — following in the footsteps of his aunt, CRYP Executive Director Julie Garreau.

Leo Benator hails from Duluth, Georgia, and he also attends Georgia State University, where he is pursuing dual majors in history and political science. He said he is excited about everything he is learning at CRYP, which he anticipates will be applicable to other parts of his life, and he hopes to contribute to the betterment of the Cheyenne River community. Benator hopes to one day be involved in politics — running campaigns, or running for office — so he can make the world a better place.

The newest member of the CRYP youth programs team, Brad’Lee Bad Warrior is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, and he has worked with Cheyenne River youth for the last seven years. He said he is excited to be part of CRYP and its mission in the community. Bad Warrior lives in Eagle Butte with his son, Bentley.

To stay up to date on the latest CRYP news and events, follow the youth project on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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.