As a child growing up in Gallup, New Mexico, Tara Wolfe had myriad interests, but with a few twists and turns, those interests eventually would converge in the nearby Pueblo of Zuni.
The child of a Zuni mother and Cherokee father, Tara grew up in what she describes as a fairly strict household. While her mother encouraged her to join activities that interested her, she stressed the importance of commitment, giving her best, and family.
“Whether it was basketball, bowling or dance, she never let me quit,” Tara remembers. “It always felt really good to finish what I started, though. That was a lifelong lesson and a core value in my family. This continues to resonate in my own ethics because of my mother’s teaching.”
After high school, Tara was drawn to the visual arts. She attended the University of New Mexico, where she earned her associate’s degree in design and digital media.
“In 2001, my mom, stepdad and sisters made the official move to Zuni, and I found my home in Zuni as well,” Tara says. “I worked at a local print shop for 10 years. I discovered in high school that I was good at writing, and one of my college professors, Mary Beahm, asked me to write for the Shiwi Messenger, the local newspaper.”
With a chuckle, she adds, “I had so many interests in life and was always ready to try new things. I had my toes in everything!”
In 2006, she met a man named Curtis Quam while working on an article project. They eventually settled down together and started a family.
After work, Tara taught Zumba classes in Gallup. Her clients frequently asked questions about their health, and it became evident to her that there was an urgent need to teach people about health and wellness.
Tara wanted to push herself further. She earned a Master of Science degree in community health and preventative medicine at UNM, specifically focusing on program planning using indigenous evaluation.
Along the way, her family got involved with ZYEP through its annual Delapna:we Project, a program that uses traditional oral stories to create live performances and brings community together. (Delapna:we are traditional oral stories that were a form of entertainment, intergenerational bonding, and education for Zuni people.)
As a museum technician and cultural educator at the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center in Zuni, Tara’s husband, Curtis, first approached ZYEP in 2018 to find a way to bring oral stories to life through the performing arts. The Delapna:we Oral History Project was born, and Tara says he and their children have been involved ever since.
“They have been doing it for nearly five years, and it has been such a special chance for them to bond,” she says. “One of our daughters even played the lead role in ‘Turkey Girl’ this past winter, while our other daughter took on a side role.”
“‘Turkey Girl’ made its debut in February 2022. At the same time, ZYEP started advertising for a youth development position and reached out to see if Tara would be interested in applying.
“ZYEP and I had a collaborative relationship for some time,” she says. “I worked as a health education coordinator at the Pueblo of Zuni for over six years, and we would connect at events. I was involved on the program collaboration level, and my girls were highly involved in all of the programs as community members.”
Tara started working with ZYEP as the youth development coordinator in February. Just six months later, she became program manager.
“It was tricky in the beginning, because as a health education coordinator, I was used to working with people who already had health issues in the secondary level of prevention,” she says. “Now, with youth, I am the prevention before the intervention.”
In her new role, Tara supervises all program areas at the youth project, making sure each team has the support it needs and each program is aligned with the youth project’s core mission and values. She also has the opportunity to lead new initiatives.
One example is ZYEP’s first-ever “Rooted in Healthy Traditions” After-School Program. The program focuses on physical activity, traditional art, knowledge sharing, food sovereignty, intergenerational relationships, and immersion in Zuni language and culture.
In addition, Tara manages ZYEP’s regular in-school classes and electives with Zuni Public School District.
“Every day is something new,” she said, laughing. “We have so much going on. Something exciting happens every day, and we are doing outreach to different kids all the time. Hopefully, someday, these kids will remember the lessons ‘Ms. Wolfie’ taught them and see the health benefits. That’s what keeps us going, the long-term goal of improving the quality of life so we will see healthier kids and a healthier community.
“Knowledge is important, everyone is important, and all voices matter,” she continues. “Building bridges with other programs that are working toward similar goals makes our community stronger. We have to keep our relationships strong, learn from one another, and keep our children at the center of everything we do. We have to make the connections from one generation to the next and adjust to each one as needed. That’s what helps us fill in gaps, and reach places and fill spaces that we normally wouldn’t be able to reach. That’s essential for sustainability and true resilience.”
As she reflects on her journey — moving to Zuni, meeting Curtis, starting her family, joining the team at ZYEP, and working with the kids — Tara says it has revealed her true calling.
“My roots are in Zuni,” she explains. “My children’s roots are, too. Coming full circle, I want to advocate for all children to have equity, because they all belong. Rebuilding and strengthening these roots, that’s where my calling is.”