Anniversary reunion recognizes volunteer work with Lakota youth project
EAGLE BUTTE, S.D. - The Cheyenne River Youth Project;s first volunteer reunion Aug. 30 - Sept. 1 may draw attendees from far away, but the focus of its festivities and future plans will remain on the priorities and resources of the Cheyenne River Sioux reservation community.
''It's very important to us that we were born from a local effort and we continue to be a reflection of our community,'' said Julie Garreau, director of the youth project, which is also celebrating its 20th anniversary. ''We have a community full of talented people.''
Founded in 1988, CRYP serves children and youth from 4 to 18 years of age through various programs. Such programs include innovative six- to eight-week classes on topics chosen by the youth and designed and taught by volunteers, mostly from the community.
''It can be about Lakota chiefs, computer skills, art, tap dancing, Lakota language, or whatever interests that child - we become the place where there are options,'' she said.
There are other innovations for area youth, including midnight basketball on Fridays from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. with snacks and supervision, and an extensive distribution of individualized gifts at Christmas.
Calling CRYP ''a success story for other fledgling grass-roots youth programs,'' Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., read into the Congressional Record a tribute to Garreau and ''hundreds of volunteers from around the world [who] have crossed the threshold at the Cheyenne River Youth Project and offered their time and their hearts to influence the lives of the Lakota youth.''
The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe will proclaim Sept. 1 ''Cheyenne River Youth Project Day'' in a resolution to be read at the 57th annual Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Fair, Rodeo and Powwow, expected to be attended by reunion visitors.
Garreau said a word-of-mouth network has brought increasing numbers of volunteers to the program over the years from service groups at American universities and colleges and from countries that include Germany, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Madagascar, Japan, France, Korea and New Zealand.
A major volunteer/contributor is Benjamin Cranham of London, England, who plans to attend the reunion. In CRYP's recently completed teen center, he curated a History Wall, a permanent exhibition of documents, photographs and other materials that tell the history of the four bands of Lakota who make up the Cheyenne River Sioux.
He is among about 300 people invited to the reunion, including not only former volunteers but also members of Congress and tribal officials.
Garreau sees the program continuing and developing into the future, noting, ''There aren't many grass-roots organizations like ours that are still around, still serving kids, never shut down, and found ways to overcome challenges and be a presence in the community.
''On the reservations, you have someone who dictated the destiny of a people. But we can take control - we know our community and we know what is best.
''After all, it was only in the 1970s that freedom of religion was restored,'' she said, and ''it takes time to heal - it really does.''
Feedback abounds because ''we listen to our kids,'' she said, and a service program available to families for a modest yearly fee ensures conversation around minor home repairs, heating assistance, donated furniture distribution, and the concerns of everyday life in a relatively low-income area of South Dakota.
As for her philosophy on volunteerism? She quotes Lilla Watson of New Zealand: ''If you've come here to help me, you're wasting your time. But if you've come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.''
Major supporters of the program have included the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and Olympic gold medalist Billy Mills' Running Strong for American Indian Youth.ognizes volunteer work with Lakota youth project