ZUNI, NM (Sept. 22, 2021) — It’s the first day of fall, and young people across the country are well into their first semester at U.S. colleges and universities. Among them is Matthew Cornelius Jr., a Zuni youth who is now attending Pima Community College in Tucson, Arizona.
Cornelius served as ace pitcher for his Albuquerque high school, leading St. Pius to a 15-2 season. Pima Community College recruited him for its baseball team, and he was named 2021 Gatorade New Mexico Baseball Player of the Year.
In addition to the Gatorade trophy, Cornelius received $1,000 for a charity of his choice. He chose the nonprofit Zuni Youth Enrichment Project in his hometown of Zuni, New Mexico.
“ZYEP was my first choice for the donation, because they bring the community together,” he said. “They build connections between coaches, counselors, and kids, and give the kids older people to look up to.”
Born and raised in Zuni, Matthew regularly attended ZYEP’s Summer Camp and Youth Sport leagues starting at age 8. Founded in 2009, Summer Camp was ZYEP’s first program — and it remains its flagship initiative, serving approximately 1,300 Zuni youth since its inception.
The Youth Sport initiative at ZYEP includes basketball, soccer, flag football, and cross-country running leagues, as well as in-school physical activities in partnership with local schools. These dynamic programs connect staff members and coaches with more than 500 Zuni youth and their families each year.
“There’s really nothing else in Zuni that’s like that,” Cornelius observed. “Positive role models can be hard to find. Kids really look forward to being with their friends and mentors at ZYEP. I was one of those kids, and I still talk to those people, to this day.”
Cornelius is the youngest of three children. His two older sisters also attended ZYEP programs and eventually served as Summer Camp counselors. One sister is attending Dartmouth University right now; she plans to become a teacher and return home to serve her community. The other sister works at the Zuni Comprehensive Health Center with their mother, while their father works for the Zuni Public School District.
In addition to playing baseball at Pima Community College, Cornelius also will be pursuing a degree in architecture. He says it’s a natural fit for him.
“I’ve always been a math person,” he said. “I’ve always loved building, and putting my mind to things.”
Recalling his time with ZYEP, Matthew says he appreciated the connections with culture and community that were at the heart of every activity.
“I remember going on Friday hikes to the Zuni Mountains and other special sites,” he reflected. “I really cherish those memories.”
To learn more about the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project and its programs, and for information about making donations, partnering with ZYEP, and volunteering, call (505) 782-8000 or visit zyep.org. And, to stay up to date on the latest news and events, follow the nonprofit youth organization on Facebook (/zuniyouthenrichmentproject), Instagram (@zuniyouthenrichmentproject), and YouTube (/ZuniYouth).
Founded in 2009, the nonprofit Zuni Youth Enrichment Project is dedicated to promoting resilience among Zuni youth so they will grow into strong, healthy adults who are connected with Zuni traditions. ZYEP fulfills its mission by providing positive role models, enriching programs, and nurturing spaces that contribute to the healthy development of Zuni youth. ZYEP strives to provide every child with the encouragement and opportunities they need to reach their full potential.