ZUNI, NM (July 28, 2021) — The Zuni Youth Enrichment Project’s 2021 Summer Camp concluded on Friday, July 16 with an end-of-camp celebration. Sixty-five campers, 19 counselors, family members, and ZYEP staff came together for this special day, which included a dance performance and a Summer Camp project gallery.

Campers ages 7 to 12 performed corn, hunter, and butterfly dances, wearing back scarves and leggings they made themselves. Not only had the young people practiced these dances for the duration of the four-week Summer Camp, activity instructors Tiana Cachini, Kallen Quetawki, and Enric Tsalate taught them the importance of the Zuni people’s Udena:we (traditional regalia) and how to craft garments they could keep for future use — and future generations.

The end-of-camp celebration also allowed campers to showcase their projects from the camp’s STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), contemporary art, fetish carving, and nutrition/agriculture classes.

Norene Lonasee and Kristine Juarez led solar and lunar activities during the STEM classes. Campers learned about solar energy and the phases of the moon while connecting those concepts to the cultural significance they carry, related to the Zuni cultural calendar. They made lunar phase charts, model lunar landers, solar robots, and solar ovens.

In contemporary art, instructors Keith Edaakie and Leanne Lee led projects such as paint pouring, flip-book animation, tie dye, and more. Jeff Shetima and Daryl Shack Sr. taught fetish carving, sharing the cultural importance of the animals and the art form.

The ZYEP food sovereignty team, led by Food Sovereignty Coordinator Jessica Quinlan, taught nutrition and agriculture. Campers learned to make blue corn pancakes, black bean burgers, and fruit-infused water. During the gardening component, they were able to plant their own corn seed starts, and they learned the importance of water and seeds.

“Summer Camp also included a physical activity component, led by Josh Kudrna, who is our physical activity coordinator, and Michael Owaleon Sr.,” said Tahlia Natachu, ZYEP’s youth development coordinator. “They played a variety of games, and they partnered with Wings of America for a running camp and Silver Stallion from Gallup, New Mexico, for a biking camp.”

In addition, singers and drummers Edward Lewis, Brolan Niiha, and Zander Cellicion taught campers songs, dance moves, and the cultural education behind the moves.

“We are deeply grateful for these partners, and the opportunity to be part of the campers’ summer break,” Natachu said. “We are honored to serve these wonderful kids, and their families. It’s our privilege to be able to learn, have fun, and make memories together.

“We’re also grateful to the families, who trusted us with their children,” she continued. “One family member told us they were happy with the variety of activities, and that their camper had something good to say each day and looked forward to getting up early for camp. That means everything to us.”

Summer Camp proved to be a valuable experience for the counselors as well. These 15- to 24-year-olds completed two days of in-house training and a four-day outdoor retreat in a culturally significant area prior to the start of camp. During their time together, they took part in mental health promotion training, daily group sessions, and professional development workshops that enhance communication, leadership, team-building, and mentoring skills.

Counselor Tamika Lee said her Summer Camp experience was an extremely positive one, especially in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

“It was really important for our kids to be able to come together after a really challenging time with Covid,” Lee said. “It was great to see them enjoy themselves doing the activities, especially dance, and hanging out with each other.”

“Tamika was amazing,” Natachu noted. “She provided her campers with love and kindness. I am super proud of the amount of growth I saw in her.”

Founded in 2009, Summer Camp was ZYEP’s first program — and it remains its flagship initiative, serving approximately 1,300 Zuni youth since its inception. The camp has become so popular, registrations for this year’s camp filled in a matter of hours.

Impact assessments reveal that campers experience increased enjoyment of physical activity, increased consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables, improved peer and mentor relationships, and deeper connections to their Zuni culture. It’s not too late to help — Executive Director Joe Claunch said supporters are still welcome to donate to the Summer Camp Fund at https://charity.gofundme.com/o/en/campaign/zyepsummercamp.

“Not only is the Summer Camp Fund intended to meet the needs of the current year’s campers, it’s also designed to sustain the program into the future,” he explained. “Our goal is to raise $20,000 by July 31, and these funds will help support our 2022 Summer Camp.”

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.