ZUNI, NM (Nov. 17, 2022) — This month, the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project is commemorating a decade of partnership with one of its core supporters, the Colorado Plateau Foundation. The Flagstaff, Arizona-based foundation connects the national philanthropic community to Native-led organizations and initiatives throughout the Four Corners region.
Even before CPF’s founding, Jim Enote (Zuni), Chief Executive Officer of CPF and former director of the A:shiwi A:wan Museum, would contribute to early ZYEP Summer Camps by inviting the participants to his fields in the Pueblo of Zuni.
“I remember being a counselor at Summer Camp and taking the kids to visit Jim’s field to see what he planted, and to share the sacredness of it all,” remembered Tahlia Natachu, who is now ZYEP’s executive director. “It was incredible to show the youth what our ancestors did every single day and the deep significance of it. That learning opportunity meant so much because it was led by people in our community.”
Since collaborating with ZYEP in the fields, they have now partnered in the world of philanthropy and community wellness.
“Our partnership with CPF has been significant in the ways we view organization and funder relationships,” Natachu said. “They create the space and resources for communities to invest in our strengths and prioritize relationships. As a grass roots organization that is continuously growing, that sort of support is critical for ZYEP.”
The youth project needs wrap-around services and long-term programs, as well as trainings and certifications for staff members and mentors, updated program curricula, and strategic planning. In CPF, it has found partners who not only are willing to support that kind of meaningful capacity-building, but also believe that only a community can know best regarding what it needs.
“That is a rare and precious thing in philanthropy,” Natachu said, noting that few resources are available for general operating expenses, reserve funds or capacity-building.
“Everyone wants to construct buildings or fund trending new projects and programs,” she explained, “but you quickly learn that what you’re doing won’t be sustainable unless you invest in people. CPF understands that, and every cent is for the long run, for future generations.
“Our work together is an ongoing conversation,” she continued. “It’s revolutionary, to have a relationship like this with a funder. They genuinely care about our well-being.”
With most funders focusing on short-term needs, CPF seeks to fill in the gaps left behind. According to Marissa Nuvayestewa (Tewa and Hopi), program officer for Colorado Plateau Foundation, that requires deep listening.
“Our role is to listen, advocate, and pull in more resources, which are often not available to rural nonprofits,” Nuvayestewa said. “That means we need to get to know each grantee so we can understand their unique context, history, needs and mission. As we do that, we learn from each other and develop collaborative strategies. CPF deepens our relationships with grantees through our Learning Journey site visits and Learning Community gatherings. Including understanding the historical context of the people in the region by listening to and advocating for their needs with our philanthropic partners.
“We want our partners to reach out to us for help,” she added. “This is a long-term relationship. We are always ready to tap into our connections and respond.”
Nuvayestewa has been with CPF for four years. In that time, she has seen ZYEP grow from a largely seasonal initiative with three to four employees to a year-round community mainstay with more than 20 staff, majority of them Zuni.
“They overcame great challenges,” she noted. “Only a highly invested organization would be able to turn it around and see it through. It’s been humbling to see what they’ve accomplished, grounded in community healing and trust.”
In addition to its dedication to long-term investments in leadership and professional development, CPF addresses specific high-priority needs throughout the Four Corners. These include water conservation, sustainable agriculture, traditional languages, and sacred places.
“With too many outside funders, you’ll either find a cultural mismatch or a lack of longevity in the relationship,” observed Darrien Benally (Diné), CPF’s communications and outreach manager. “The Colorado Plateau is our home, and our staff are experts here. CPF recognizes each community’s uniqueness, we understand the similar challenges they all face, and together, we are looking toward the next 10 years and beyond.”
This year, as ZYEP and CPF commemorate 10 years of collaboration as well as the foundation’s 10th anniversary, they’re also celebrating a vibrant, collective vision for the Colorado Plateau.
“This is a special region, and together, we are going to transform it into what we want to see,” Benally said.
Natachu agreed, adding, “We are relatives with shared responsibilities.”
For more information about the Colorado Plateau Foundation, visit coloradoplateaufoundation.org.
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.