ZUNI, NM (July 11, 2022) — The Zuni Youth Enrichment Project’s 14th annual Summer Camp kicked off Monday, June 27 for 120 campers and 21 counselors at Shiwi Ts’ana Elementary School in the Pueblo of Zuni, New Mexico. 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, Chamiza Foundation, and individual donors across the country, the popular youth camp runs until Thursday, July 28.
During Summer Camp, children ages 6-12 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.
“Summer Camp is so important because it gives youth the opportunity to connect with other youth in Zuni,” said Tre Riley, lead youth counselor. “It gives them a chance to learn together. Zuni is a tightly knit community, and Summer Camp helps reinforce our traditions and values.”
Liam Simplicio, a fellow lead youth counselor, agreed. He noted that Summer Camp has a lasting impact on camp organizers, counselors, and community members as well.
“Our community trusts us with their kids so they can learn and try new things,” he explained. “The counselors acquire leadership skills (and learn) it’s important to be there for someone who needs it, to become a helping hand.
“I look forward to being a good part of their day and learning something new,” he continued. “I also look forward to seeing the impact on the children and all those involved. Summer Camp with ZYEP is a really big deal, if you think about it.”
The ZYEP staff also understands the importance of these relationships at Summer Camp, and they are dedicated to providing their counselors with the resources they need to be effective. In June, the nonprofit youth organization provided dedicated training for the 21 counselors, as well as a retreat to a culturally significant site for the Zuni people.
The group visited Chaco Canyon National Historic Park on June 11-13. Joining the counselors were five ZYEP staff members; staff from Cottonwood Gulch Expeditions, an outdoor education organization; and Kirby Gchachu, the retreat’s cultural advisor. An expert in Zuni constellation names, Gchachu has been working hard to document and preserve those names while conducting his own research.
“Visiting sites such as Heshoda Bits’yulliya (Chaco Canyon) connects Zuni youth to their roots and the places they belong,” said Tara Wolfe, ZYEP’s youth development coordinator. “There is power and resilience in the rock walls, as they have stood against time and the elements for centuries. We reminded the camp counselors that we must remain as strong as those walls but always seek help when needed.”
The group arrived at Chaco Canyon after spending one night at the Cottonwood Gulch basecamp. At the visitor center, they were joined by Curtis Quam, director of the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center in Zuni.
“Heshoda’ Bits’yulliya is a place our ancestors settled while on their migration to find Idiwanna / Middle Place,” Quam said. “It is in Chaco and other ancestral sites (that they) continued the observations and understandings of life and the cycles we carry on today. While outside perspectives will see these archaeological villages as ruins, we see them from an informed lens of a thriving spiritual community that still gives us a broader understanding of our Shiwi identity.
“The places of our ancestry are still a vital conduit… to help shape our sense of belonging to places beyond our federal trust lands,” he observed. “The importance of Heshoda’ Bitsulliya is a conversation that begins with time and will end when our world does. As we learn more about Chaco Canyon, the more we understand how it fits into our cultural sustainment, today and into the future.”
After they returned from Chaco Canyon, the counselors participated in trainings that included CPR, mental health promotion, conflict resolution, communication, leadership, team building, and mentoring. They also took part in a financial literacy training with First Financial Credit Union.
“The counselors learned how to navigate the many potential situations they might face while working as a Summer Camp counselor,” Wolfe said. “Although the training is intense, it allows us to serve our children to the very best of our ability.”
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.