ZUNI, NM (May 22, 2023) — This year, the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project is celebrating a landmark occasion: the 15th anniversary of Summer Camp. The nonprofit youth organization has launched a nationwide fundraising effort to support the beloved enrichment program, which will bring hundreds of Zuni 6- to 12-year-olds together from June 19 to July 21.
This year’s Summer Camp will be made possible with support by the Zuni Public School District, Con Alma Foundation, National Recreation Foundation, New Mexico Foundation, Outdoor Equity Fund, San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Sustaining Humanities through the American Rescue Plan in partnership with the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums.
“Individual donors also are essential to the success of this program,” said Tahlia Natachu, ZYEP’s executive director. “We simply couldn’t do this without our friends across the country. We are so grateful for their support, and together, we will give our youth a summer to remember.
“We are so excited to celebrate Summer Camp’s 15th anniversary with our children, families and community,” she continued. “It’s a significant milestone, one that marks how far we have come as an organization. Fittingly, our theme for this year is ‘Purpose.’”
Summer Camp is an initiative that lies close to Natachu’s heart. She was a sophomore at Zuni High School when Dr. Thomas Faber and Zowie Banteah-Yuselew started ZYEP’s inaugural program in 2009, and they invited her to apply to be a counselor.
“The camp incorporated health, wellness, physical activity, and nutrition, all based in Zuni culture,” Natachu said. “I thought, wow, that’s awesome. But why me? They told me that I was a role model for the younger kids. Just that conversation helped me take off. I realized what a responsibility we have, to take care of our kids; I loved the connections I made with those campers, and those connections have directed my life’s work ever since.”
Young adults ages 16-24 serve as counselors in the ZYEP Summer Camp program. Prior to the start of camp, they participate in a weeklong training that includes leadership development, mentoring skills, suicide prevention training, CPR, and food handling.
The counselors also attend a four-day outdoor retreat with ZYEP staff. During this time, they engage in team-building activities, they are challenged to step outside their comfort zones, and they take advantage of opportunities to build their self-confidence.
“Almost half of our applicants are former campers,” said Kiara “Kiki” Zunie, ZYEP’s youth development coordinator. “Our application gained a lot of traction due to outreach at Zuni High School and Twin Buttes Cyber Academy. We plan to center this year’s retreat around that theme of ‘Purpose’ so our counselors recognize how important they are to our youth as mentors and role models.”
The summer fun will kick off with Wellness Week on June 19-22. During this four-day period, 200 campers will be able to participate in 10 “mini-camps”: hiking, biking, basketball, volleyball, football, martial arts, soccer, Wings of America (running), art, and Shiwi Chefs.
The official four-week Summer Camp runs from June 26 to July 21. ZYEP can accommodate 120 campers, who will engage in physical activities, food sovereignty, gardening, traditional and contemporary art, Zuni language and culture, hiking, social dances, and so much more.
“During the four-week camp, we’ll be hosting ‘Friday Fundays’ that will be dedicated to field trips,” Zunie said. “They will provide opportunities for our campers to visit local organizations and experience these valuable community resources.”
Friday Funday options include visiting the local eagles sanctuary, connecting with elders at the Zuni Senior Center, and participating in Zumba sessions, cooking classes and even public service announcements on local radio station KSHI. They also may involve visits to culturally significant sites such as El Morro National Monument through the Connecting With Our Homelands initiative.
On Wednesday, July 19, ZYEP will host a Summer Camp celebration so campers have the opportunity to showcase what they have learned for their families and community. Natachu said this year will be particularly poignant for her.
“My own sense of purpose has never been stronger,” she said. “ZYEP helped build me up, and it’s taken me to places I never could have imagined. My campers when I was a counselor are now counselors themselves, and many of the old counselors are now ZYEP employees. It shows how life is circular, and intuitively, we know that’s always our goal. For all of us, and all our partners, our kids are at the center of everything we do.”
To make a contribution this year’s Summer Camp, visit zyep.org/donate.
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.