Serving children, youth, and families at the Cheyenne River Reservation

Native youth

Serving children, youth, and families at the Cheyenne River Reservation

31 years ago, Julie Garreau had a vision to create a new space for her community—one that would transform the lives of the children and families it served by focusing on innovation and Lakota values. She started it in an old bar and today it’s a thriving campus with two youth centers, an art park, 2.5 acre garden, farm-to-table café, and a social enterprise gift shop.

NAP’s Executive Director recently sat down for a Zoom interview with Julie to hear about how her nonprofit is facing the COVID-19 crisis and her perspectives on what philanthropy can do to support tribal community nonprofits like hers across the country. “We’re doing a lot of work here that’s very, very important,” said Garreau. Across the country indigenous-led tribal community nonprofits like the Cheyenne River Youth Project (CRYP) fill so many important gaps between services. As Garreau puts it, “now we’re an institution, not just a project.”

Over 31 years, CRYP has blossomed into a multi-service campus with two different youth centers serving young people in Julie’s community from ages 4-18. They provide a wide range of programming including basketball, art programs, community gardening, an internship program, after school tutoring, and the list goes on. “One of the challenges that really hit us hard…was the closure of the schools.” Families in her community, many of whom are already living below the poverty level, are now having to provide three full meals at home. Julie and her team are now providing evening snack packages among other resources. Since its founding, CRYP has been focused on the importance of food sovereignty. “The garden provides a great deal of support,” said Garreau. CRYP tries to provide as much of its own food as possible which is why they’re still able to feed community members even during food shortages on the reservation. Community members are able to use their SNAP (“food stamp”) benefits to purchase fresh produce from their garden. The CRYP team also works with the youth to can and bottle vegetables and salsas. Right now, they’re even baking their own bread to make sandwiches for the supplemental snack packs. “We have always organized our work around food sovereignty. I don’t necessarily think we live in a food desert,” said Garreau.

Tribal governments and other tribal institutions are already struggling tremendously during this crisis. Nonprofit organizations like CRYP offer another critical layer of support to the community, filling the space where tribal government, schools and other institutions are trying to respond through government programming and federal aid packages. When CRYP has responded to previous natural disasters, it often had to do so without the aid of federal funding. Private foundations, individual donors and her social enterprise programs are the lifelines for programs like CRYP.

When asked about how philanthropy can respond to nonprofits like hers, Garreau shared, “For years I’ve talked about what if something [like this] happens…It’s a scary thought that I might have to let people go due to this.” As with other nonprofits like CRYP, Garreau explained that some of the most impactful things private funders can do right now include:

  • Reaching out to grantees like her (rather than waiting for them to reach out to funders) to listen to how things are going and identify solutions together.
  • Relaxing deliverable requirements or transitioning project-based funding to general operating funding.
  • Identifying ways to help grantees cover current payroll through existing or supplemental funding.
  • Connecting grantees with other funding opportunities and response funds.

Watch the rest of Erik’s interview with Julie and check out CRYP’s website.