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Kylie and Aubrey

Kylie and Aubrey

June was a busy month at the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project. On June 19-23, ZYEP’s 21 Summer Camp counselors led 10 mini-camps for “Wellness Week,” and on June 26, they kicked off the eagerly anticipated 15th annual Summer Camp, an eight-week program that runs until July 21. Together, these initiatives are serving more than 200 Zuni children this summer.

Among the 21 counselors are sisters Kylie and Aubrey Awelagte. Kylie, 21, is in her third year as a Summer Camp counselor; this year, she is serving as one of the program’s two lead counselors. Aubrey, 16, is a first-time counselor who served in a junior capacity last year.

The sisters were born and raised in Zuni, New Mexico, and both participated in Summer Camp as children.

“I remember my first counselors, and hearing Aubrey talk about hers and how they impacted her,” Kylie reflects. “They were so energetic, so pumped up. I was so shy, but getting off that bus and feeling that energy just made me want to be there.”

Aubrey agrees, adding, “They were always so energetic, bright and early. They put a smile on my face and made sure I was OK. They made me feel welcome.”

The sisters say they hope to have a similar impact on their campers’ lives. They also are excited to share new experiences with their young charges.

Kylie says she remembers being exposed to new physical activities through Summer Camp. Yoga, in particular, made an impression.

“It was therapeutic,” she says. “I also learned tools like stretching, mindfulness and self-care. I still think about those things now.”

Aubrey says Summer Camp gave her an opportunity to try gardening, which made a lasting impression on her.

“I learned to water the plants, talk to them, and help them grow,” she explains.

Earlier in June, the sisters joined the rest of the counselors for two weeks of intensive pre-camp training. The training sessions involved a lot of information and often challenging subject matter.

“Training was… a lot,” Aubrey says. “The QPR (suicide prevention) training was tough, but it’s important to know how to handle it when kids are struggling. Everyone matters. It will be helpful, just like CPR training, if the time comes.”

“It was hard, but it was cool too,” Kylie says of the training sessions. “We were all strangers at first, but then we were able to bond, and we checked on each other. It’s significant because you know you’re not alone. At ZYEP, someone always has your back.”

After the training sessions concluded at the end of week two, the counselors attended a weekend retreat with ZYEP staff. The retreat incorporated visits to Cottonwood Gulch, Mount Taylor, and El Morro National Monument, all significant sites for the Zuni people.

Kylie says this was perhaps her favorite retreat since she started working as a counselor in 2019. It allowed the group to bond in a different way.

“The games were my favorite part,” she shares with a laugh. “Everyone was so competitive. I also liked the different sites, and the cultural significance was really cool.”

“I loved how much closer we got with each other,” Aubrey adds. “It was good to get out of my bubble. We really came together as a family.”

Kylie says that sense of family has been very important to her through the years. Her fellow counselors have become some of her best friends, and they are part of her life both in and out of the workplace.

Little sister Aubrey is now part of that. When asked if the experience of working together has brought them closer, the sisters look at each other and smile.

“This is the closest that my sister and I have ever been,” Kylie says. “It’s a different kind of bond, and it’s so much fun. It makes me feel good, knowing that she’s coming up in my footsteps.”

“It’s wholesome,” Aubrey says, grinning. “I get to spend more time with her.”

Kylie attended Santa Fe Indian School, so since her freshman year of high school, she only came home during breaks and summer vacations. She then attended the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, graduating this past May with a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and a minor in sociology.

“I want to work as a social worker first, and then as a behavioral health therapist for children in Native American communities,” Kylie says.

Aubrey says she also would love to be a therapist for children. For now, she’s looking forward to her junior year at Zuni High School, where she plays volleyball and softball.

For her part, Kylie says she enjoys hiking, baking and spending time with family. She also loves to travel, with California and Flagstaff, Arizona, rising to the top of her favorites list.

This summer, however, both young women are focused on Summer Camp and their charges. They are dedicated to providing this year’s campers with the enriching experiences and positive mentorship they received themselves as children, and they say they are honored to do it alongside the rest of the ZYEP team.

“In the end, we all want the same for our kids,” Kylie says.