ZUNI, NM (Sept. 7, 2022) — The Zuni Youth Enrichment Project’s 14th annual Summer Camp proved to be a groundbreaking one. Made possible with support from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, New Mexico Department of Health’s Obesity Nutrition and Physical Activity Program, New Mexico Outdoor Recreation Division’s Outdoor Equity Fund, Chamiza Foundation, Zuni Public School District, Zuni Senior Center, and individual donors across the country, the popular program served children ages 6-12 from June 27 to July 28.
This year’s Summer Camp was ZYEP’s first full camp since 2019, prior to the Covid pandemic. Twenty-one counselors underwent intensive training and preparation so they could serve 120 campers; in addition, the majority of the camp’s instructors and leaders were Zuni.
That’s not all. According to Tahlia Natachu, ZYEP’s executive director, the Summer Camp reached even more Zuni youth this year thanks to an initiative called “Wellness Week.” During the last week of camp, the nonprofit youth organization offered a series of four-day mini camps, each dedicated to a particular topic.
“We don’t have the capacity to run a long-term day camp for more than 200 kids just yet, but we can coordinate a weeklong camp,” Natachu said. “We wanted to provide access to more young people, and this was our way of making sure the children who weren’t able to attend Summer Camp got their own camp experience.”
During Wellness Week, ZYEP offered: Running Camp, in partnership with Wings of America; Basketball Camp, led by a local teacher and coach; Volleyball Camp, with coaches from Haskell Indian Nations University; Biking Camp, in partnership with Silver Stallion; Football Camp, led by coach and ZYEP board member Joe Claunch; Shiwi Chefs Camp, with our ZYEP Food Sovereignty team; Soccer Camp, with coaches from the University of New Mexico; and Martial Arts Camp, led by a coach from Gallup.
Impact assessments reveal another successful summer season for ZYEP’s Summer Camp program. For starters, campers’ No. 2 reason for attending the program was to make new friends, and 92 percent reported making new friends.
“This is incredible, given that we are coming out of a time when kids experienced so much isolation due to Covid,” said Andrea Pepin, ZYEP’s operations manager. “We also noted that the number of campers who said they enjoy making healthy snacks rose 20 percent.
“That’s thanks to our Food Sovereignty crew,” she continued. “They have figured out a way to make nutrition fun and engaging, and if we can get kids to enjoy making healthy snacks, they will share this excitement with their families and make healthy snacks with family members at home.”
Ninety-five percent of parents reported that their children had fun at Summer Camp. One parent reflected on how important it was to see “my son’s joy on his face every time we would pick him up from camp (and) hearing about all the things he did and learned.”
Learning is indeed part of the fun at ZYEP’s Summer Camp. During their weeks at camp, children are able to strengthen their connection to Zuni culture as they learn the language, social dances, and traditional arts and agriculture. They also learn about health and wellness through hiking, sports, indoor and outdoor games, nutrition education, and free time with their counselors, who serve as mentors and positive role models.
Those counselors experienced benefits as well. For example, the number of who reported increased confidence in their leadership skills went up approximately 20 percent during Summer Camp.
“Summer Camp helped me to improve my leadership skills and build upon the leadership skills I already had,” one counselor reported. “It also has allowed me to step out of my comfort zone, just like it made the kids step out of their comfort zone.”
In addition, ZYEP observed a 25 percent increase in counselors who said they live a healthy lifestyle, and a 17 percent increase in counselors who reported feeling healthier. One counselor said camp “made me want to change my ways, which I am currently doing.”
“Summer Camp had a huge impact on me, because it made me want to go into pediatrics,” another counselor said. “This camp made me realize how much fun it is to work with kids.”
Counselors also recognized the impact the camp had on its young participants. One commented, “It’s important to the community, because it gives kids a safe place to have fun during the summer.”
Natachu and Pepin noted that next year will be even bigger, as ZYEP’s Summer Camp will be celebrating its 15th anniversary in 2023.
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), YouTube (/ZuniYouth), and TikTok (/zyep09)
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.