ZUNI, NM (May 5, 2021) — Spring is in full swing at Zuni Pueblo, and the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project is making sure young people are staying active in more ways than one. The nonprofit youth organization is currently offering a hybrid cross-country program for youth runners, and it also has a virtual elective pottery class at Zuni Middle School.

The hybrid cross-country program, designed for children ages 6 to 11, started Mar. 29 and runs through May 7. Thirty runners signed up for the six-week session, during which they participate in two virtual practices and one in-person race each week.

Twelve coaches are working with the young people, who are divided into six teams: Team Debi (Bobcat), Team Ts’uyya (Hummingbird), Team Boyyi (Roadrunner), Team K’yade Dasha (Magpie), Team Ohha:ba (Bee), and Team Łanik’o (Fox). During the races, runners have opportunities to find hidden stickers on the designated trails, adding another element of fun to the activity.

“This is not a rigorous sport program,” noted Josh Kudrna, ZYEP’s physical activity coordinator. “Rather, it’s focused on having a positive group environment.”

Indeed, kids are developing friendships, and they have expressed interest in running together during the races. One young runner dedicated a song on the local radio station to her coaches, and some coaches have made custom stickers to give to their runners. In addition, family members have been rallying around the race days, with groups coming out to cheer for their young people.

“It’s going great, and the kids have really been enjoying it,” Kudrna said. “Kids who know me from the races are excited to talk to me about running when they see me in their school. And we’re seeing race times steadily get faster, week by week!”


ZYEP’s spring pottery elective, like the social dances elective in winter, is offered through the Zuni Public School District. Working with Zuni language teacher Diane Cooche and Zuni potter Noreen Simplicio, 11 Zuni Middle School students are learning to create a dehaki sa’le (offering bowl) with traditional, natural clay.

“(Noreen) harvested the clay and prepared it for the students,” said Tahlia Natachu, youth development coordinator for ZYEP. “We delivered pottery kits to the students; each one included clay, paints, pottery tools, brushes, and other supplies to complete the project. The students learned about respecting the clay that was harvested from Mother Earth, and how you must have a clear mind and good heart to create the piece. Once they prepared their clay, the students began forming and shaping their bowls.”

Simplicio expressed her gratitude to ZYEP for the opportunity to work with Zuni youth — and her belief that she was meant to use her talent as a potter for a greater purpose.

“That purpose is to share my talent, my ideas, and my inspirations with Zuni youth and the world,” she said. “Just as our ancestors did for us. They left this form of art, pottery, for us so we could learn and continue pottery making. Teaching and sharing is a very important part of our culture, and creating art is a positive form of self-expression. To me, the art we create is not just art. It’s our way of life, our life stories, our thoughts, our feelings, and a piece of our hearts.

“By teaching basic techniques to youth, it’s like planting seeds,” she continued. “My hope is that they will grow and learn, using their creative minds and abilities, and master the art of pottery making. We must keep sharing so that this form of art stays alive forever. These are our gifts from the Earth.”

ZYEP staff members Kia Etsate-Gashytewa, Tiana Cachini, and Coleen Vincent are helping to facilitate the elective pottery class, which includes team-building exercises and reflections to start and end each class period. The class runs from Mar. 29 to June 8.

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.