The Cheyenne River Youth Project threw its doors open to Eagle Butte youth on New Year’s Eve. More than 50 teens converged on the grassroots, nonprofit youth project’s campus for a night of games, great food and refreshments, and even a scoreboard countdown to 2020.

Partygoers organized basketball pickup games, practiced their shooting skills, played volleyball, got New Year’s Eve tattoos and manicures, and had a chance to win premium Nike gear in the evening’s raffles. They also enjoyed Indian tacos, fresh fruits and vegetables, lemonade, and New Year’s Eve-themed sugar cookies.

“Everyone had a blast, and not just the teens,” said Jerica Widow, CRYP’s youth programs director. “As a staff, it was the best possible way to ring in the new year. We are a family here — staff, volunteers, and our kids.”

According to Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director, staff members made the decision to be open on New Year’s Eve.

“They don’t have to do this,” she explained. “They want to. They understand how much those kids rely on CRYP to provide safe spaces where they can have fun, spend time with positive role models, and make healthy choices. So, even when they’re exhausted from the massive undertaking of bringing Santa Claus to hundreds of families, they look forward to welcoming our kids back to what is, essentially, their second home.”

Widow agreed, observing, “Our kids know that we have to be closed for most of December so we can handle the Christmas Toy Drive, but they’re eager for us to reopen. They’re always happy to return, and we’re thrilled to have them. New Year’s Eve is always a lot of fun, welcoming them back to Cokata Wiconi. We’ve missed them, too.”

CRYP has offered special late-night teen programs for many years, starting with the launch of Midnight Basketball in 1996. Not only has this much-loved program provided young people with a safe, positive, drug- and alcohol-free environment to play their favorite sport, hang out with friends, get something to eat, and stay up past the city of Eagle Butte’s 10 p.m. curfew, it has succeeded well beyond the staff’s original vision.

“Over the years, our local law enforcement officers have told us they see lower community-wide crime rates when we offer these late-night programs,” Garreau said. “Usually, anywhere from 50 to 100 teens attend those programs, and it’s encouraging to see them engaging in healthy and sober lifestyle choices, and embracing the concepts of personal responsibility, teamwork and positive self-esteem. This is powerful for each of them as individuals, and for our Cheyenne River Lakota community as a whole.”

To stay up to date on the latest CRYP news and events, follow the youth project on Facebook (/LakotaYouth), Twitter (@LakotaYouth) and Instagram (@lakotayouth and @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.