After experiencing the closure of its popular Passion for Fashion program during spring 2020, the team at the Cheyenne River Youth Project worked hard to reinvent the program for the Covid era. That innovative solution again proved successful this year, serving nearly 50 young women.
This year’s Passion for Fashion, also known as Wiŋčhíŋčala Teȟíla Ukiya (which means “the cherished young girls are coming back here in a group” in Lakota), incorporated mentor presentations, a drive-thru event, and private appointments for prom formal wear and accessories. The festivities kicked off in mid-March and concluded during the first week of May.
“During the week of March 14, we offered a special online speaker series that connected our youth with mentors of all ages within the Lakota community,” said Jerica Widow, CRYP’s programs director. “All teens who completed the speaker series were eligible to pick up a self-care-themed swag basket at our Čhókata Wičhóni teen center on Saturday, March 19.”
This year’s presenters were Ahanna Knight, Randi Little Star, Tiana Kohlus, the Sacred Heart Outreach Center, and Jerris Veaux. The first speaker, Ahanni Knight, is Miss Cheyenne River; she shared the ways Lakota culture has supported her in her role with that tribal program as well as in her work at the YMCA.
Randi Little Star is in the U.S. Army, and she spoke about indigenous women in the military and the challenges of being away from home. Tiana Kohlus, Miss Eagle Butte 2019-22, discussed working toward goals, anti-bullying, and careers in modeling.
The Sacred Heart Outreach Program conducted a presentation on teen dating violence. And, finally, Cheyenne-Eagle Butte teacher Jerris Veaux spoke to the young people about tribal college and teaching locally.
“We extend our congratulations to the teens who participated in all five presentations, and we offer our deepest gratitude to the community members who were so generous with their time and knowledge,” Widow said. “Intergenerational and peer mentoring are vital to the well-being of our teenagers, and every year, we learn even more about just how important these connections are.”
Then, from late March through the spring prom season on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, CRYP welcomed teen girls to its campus for private appointments to find the right dresses, shoes, and accessories for their high school proms. The last of the reservation’s five high schools hosted its prom during the first week of May.
“We’re so happy we could still be there for our girls,” Widow reflected. “Covid has made it extraordinarily difficult these last two years, but at CRYP, we always find a way. We know our teens rely on us to be here for them, and we won’t let them down. While prom is a rite of passage for youth across the country, we’re thrilled that this year’s Passion for Fashion continued in CRYP’s long-standing tradition of building positive self-esteem, embracing traditional values, and celebrating Lakota culture.
“We’re also deeply grateful to the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe’s Youth Affairs and Horsemanship programs, Colorado’s Fairview High School, and individual donors across the country,” she continued. “We couldn’t have done this without you.”
Widow also noted that the youth project is continuing to accept the donation of new and gently used formal dresses in sizes 4-26, and dress shoes in all sizes, for the anticipated return of a fully in-person Passion for Fashion event in 2023. All donations and funds designated for this program will be held until the new year.
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.