ZUNI, NM (Mar. 29, 2022) — The Zuni Youth Enrichment Project is perhaps best known for its annual Summer Camp, a beloved program founded in 2009. This month, the nonprofit organization partnered with Tennessee-based St. Andrew’s-Sewanee School to offer a collaborative sister program: the 2nd annual Spring Break Camp on Mar. 13-17.
Twenty-seven children ages 5-11 participated in the five-day camp. Two SAS teachers and 15 of their high school students traveled to Zuni to facilitate the program, which incorporated three activity areas — STEM, physical activities, and arts and crafts — and healthy snacks.
“My kids loved it,” said guardian Tanya Baca. “We appreciate the programs throughout the year that keep our littles occupied and learning.”
“Alexxa enjoyed all of the activities,” said parent Nicole Ukestine, whose daughter is a second-year participant. “Although it takes her some time to open up a bit, I feel like she got over that quickly.”
“We divided into three groups, and they cycled through the three activity areas with their designated group each day from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.,” said Tahlia Natachu, ZYEP’s executive director. “In the afternoons, the teachers and high school students helped out in our community, assisting with home renovations and providing support to Zuni families that are hosting significant cultural events this year.
“We’re so grateful to the SAS teachers and students,” she continued. “This was a wonderful opportunity for our kids, and we look forward to continuing our partnership with the school.”
During Spring Break Camp, campers made homemade lava lamps, created flowers with modeling clay, played tag and other outdoor games, and so much more. On Friday, Mar. 17, they celebrated the final day of camp with a field trip — and one slight change in plans.
Due to cold, snowy weather, the group canceled their planned trip to El Morro National Monument. Instead, they visited the Zuni Visitor Center and the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center.
“At the Zuni Visitor Center, tour guide Shaun Latone gave the group a guided tour of the Old Mission Church, which is in the heart of Zuni’s middle village,” said Tara Wolfe, ZYEP’s program manager. “This church is a significant, historical landmark for Zuni, where the present meets the past. It has been closed to the public for many years, but we were granted special access for our campers. Many had never been inside, and they were able to hear the story behind it all.”
The church dates to the Spanish colonial era, when the colonizers first invaded Zuni. Although it is a challenging history, the inside of the church contains beautiful murals painted by the late Alex Seowtewa, a beloved local artist.
“They are some of the most beautiful and valued murals that Zuni is proud to own,” Natachu said. “These are sacred Zuni cultural and religious depictions, represented through the four seasons of the year. They show the events that shape the Zuni cultural calendar, and they represent how Zuni stayed resilient through the challenges of colonization.”
Afterward, the group visited the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center, where Curator Curtis Quam provided a tour and explanations of the various exhibits, which included the Zuni migration story and other historical events.
“Tara encouraged the campers to go home and share their experiences with their families,” Natachu said. “It was a wonderful opportunity to spark meaningful conversations about who we are as Zuni people.”
She also observed that Spring Break Camp gave the SAS team an insight into the beauty and strength of the Zuni culture, while reminding the youth of the beauty and strength from which they descend.
“It was a fantastic week,” she said. “We all made great connections through this cultural exchange.”
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.