Like organizations and individuals around the world, the Cheyenne River Youth Project had to dramatically shift gears during the last 15 months due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Some programs had to be suspended, while others transformed to become socially distanced or virtual initiatives. At no point, however, did CRYP stop innovating.
This was particularly true with Wiŋčhíŋčala Teȟíla Ukiya, the long-running program also known as Passion for Fashion. In a typical year, up to 100 teen girls converge on the Cokata Wiconi teen center on a March Saturday for a day of bonding, makeovers, and searching for the perfect prom dress.
As the pandemic erupted in early March 2020, CRYP was forced to cancel the beloved event. School closures meant prom also would be canceled that year, and all bets were off for 2021.
Yet, throughout this spring, Covid cases steadily decreased after the winter surge. And with widespread vaccination, it soon became clear that prom was back on the calendar — at CRYP, that meant Passion for Fashion must go on as well.
“Our kids rely on us to be here for them, and that’s especially true of our young women, who are looking forward to this uniquely American rite of passage,” said Julie Garreau, CRYP’s executive director. “If they are going to the prom, then we are going to make sure they have everything they need to have this special experience.”
The youth project held a modified version of its traditional Passion for Fashion event on Saturday, Mar. 20. They delivered a homemade meal curbside for attendees and their family members, along with self-care kits that included jewelry, makeup, hair accessories, bath and body products, sage, and more. Through Zoom, teens and their families also were able to connect with keynote speaker Collins Provost-Fields, who talked with them about the importance of self-care.
An enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Provost-Fields works with Thrive Unltd, a collective of individuals from diverse backgrounds working to empower indigenous communities to heal from the inside out. Her mission is to revitalize Native communities through storytelling and art, and to teach and assist others in their journey to self-healing, self-love, and self-empowerment.
Then, from March through May, the CRYP team scheduled private appointments for young women who needed dresses, shoes, and accessories for prom. Those appointments ran through May and Cheyenne River’s official prom season at Cheyenne-Eagle Butte, Dupree, Timber Lake, Takini, and Tiospaye Topa schools.
“All five of our high schools had their proms, both indoors and outdoors,” reported Jerica Widow, CRYP’s executive director. “We’re thrilled for the kids. It’s a little bit of normalcy after a very stressful and frightening year.”
Garreau and Widow said they hope the full, intergenerational Wiŋčhíŋčala Teȟíla Ukiya event will be back in March 2022, complete with keynote speakers, ice-breaking activities, hair styling, facials, manicures and pedicures, and the signature fashion show. They are continuing to accept new and gently used formal dresses in sizes 4-26, especially sizes 16-26; and dress shoes in all sizes, especially 9-12.
“We encourage people to continue sending dresses and shoes, because we anticipate our 2022 event to be bigger than ever,” Garreau said. “The Covid era has been a long one, and our kids will be ready to celebrate in a big way. So will we.”
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.