When Executive Director Julie Garreau calls the Cheyenne River Youth Project the “little nonprofit that did,” she means what she says. The nearly 35-year-old, Native-led, grassroots organization proves at every turn that it keeps the promises it makes to the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation’s young people and families.

That was never more evident than in the last two weeks of December. Back-to-back blizzards hit the vast reservation, located in remote north-central South Dakota, just as CRYP was working hard to bring holiday joy to more than 1,000 children in its annual Wo Otúh’an Wi Toy Drive (Moon of Giving Away Presents). 

“Our truck full of gifts from Colorado couldn’t leave the Front Range, and then it got stranded in bitterly cold weather,” Garreau recalled. “Here at home, it wasn’t safe for community volunteers to come to our campus due to poor visibility and terrible road conditions. We lost countless hours trying to start our own cars and help each other dig out of drifted-over driveways.

“But in the end, we did it, just like we always do,” she continued with a chuckle. “Our staff might be small, but they are powerful. They worked so incredibly hard, and they weren’t about to give up. Our volunteer truck driver didn’t give up either! Charly (Bargas, who works with Native Law Group in Louisville, Colorado) and her son Aaron embraced the spirit of adventure, and they made it through to Eagle Butte. Plus, our longtime toy drive coordinator, Laure Lachaud, arrived from New York just prior to the storms, and she gave it her all as well.” 

Delivering multiple gifts to so many hundreds of children is a herculean task, and more so at CRYP because the youth project selects gifts from the kids’ individual wish lists. Each package bears a unique child’s name and fulfills that child’s precious wish. 

“We’ve always done it that way,” Garreau reflected. “This is our longest-running program, and despite its exponential growth over the years, we’ve always kept it personal. We believe that every child deserves to be treasured, especially at this sacred winter solstice time — and every child should know that dreams really can come true.” 

Garreau noted that none of this, however, would be possible without wide variety of partners who share CRYP’s dedication to Cheyenne River’s children. They help in a variety of ways, from adopting wish lists and sending in-kind donations to contributing funds, gift cards, and wrapping supplies.

It’s a remarkable list, incorporating partners from across the region as well as across the country. It includes the American Indian College Fund; Arrows for Native Americans; Block (Square); Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe’s Indian Child Welfare program; Columbia Sportswear; Fairview High School in Boulder, Colorado; the “Friends of CRYP” group in St. Louis, Missouri; Gordon & Reese’s Denver office; Lennar Custom Homes; Manitou Fund; Native Voices Rising; Patagonia; Patterson Earnhart Real Bird & Wilson LLP (Native Law Group); Rapid City Woodworkers Association; Roundhouse Foundation; Spirit of Sovereignty Foundation; and Vadon Foundation.

“It became apparent to us several years ago that our toy drive was becoming so much more,” Garreau reflected. “It’s really a nationwide movement to lift up our community through generosity and care for others, which are deeply held Lakota values. In addition, countless individual donors around the world adopted our kids’ wish lists or sent funds so we could do the shopping for them. 

“It’s humbling, and we’re honored to work with such wonderful people,” she added. “When we do this work together, it becomes about so much more than a toy drive. It comes a point of human connection, where we become family to each other.” 

To learn more about the Cheyenne River Youth Project and its programs, and for information about making donations and volunteering, call (605) 964-8200 or visit www.lakotayouth.org. And, to stay up to date on the latest CRYP news and events, follow the youth project on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

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.