ZUNI, NM (Nov. 14, 2022) —This fall, the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project welcomed its largest crowd since the start of the Covid pandemic in March 2020. On Sunday, Oct. 30, more than 350 community members joined the nonprofit youth organization and community partners in Ho’n A:wan Park for a special “Buddy Walk” and “Turf or Treat” event.
The event commemorated Down Syndrome Awareness Month as well as the festive Halloween season. The 1-mile Buddy Walk and a Zumba class with instructor Andres Tucson started at 3 p.m.; afterward, ZYEP kicked off turf-or-treating fun and a costume contest, with winners taking home $25 Major Market gift cards.
“We could see smiles everywhere,” said Andrea Pepin, operations manager. “So many community members dressed in Halloween costumes, and some were absolutely amazing. Our staff served as judges in three categories for both adults and youth: scariest, most creative, funniest. It was a lot of fun.”
The afternoon revelry also included an educational component, with guest speakers Marissa Sanchez and Judy Luranc Sweeney talking with the gathered crowd about supporting young people with special needs. Sanchez works as a special-education educational assistant in a K-2 functional life skills class, while Sweeney is an occupational therapist with Dungarvin Early Intervention Services.
In addition, ZYEP invited community partners to set up booths so attendees could connect with them and learn more. Participating partners included the New Beginnings Program, Zuni Education and Career Development Center, Dungarvin ELFS, Zuni Veterans Program, Zuni Indian Health Service Nursing, the Panteah-Bowekaty family and “Team Carter: Down Syndrome Awareness,” Zuni Federation of United School Employees, and Western Skys.
ZYEP Food Sovereignty Leader Kenzi Bowekaty and her partner, Corey Seowtewa, have a son named Carter who has Down Syndrome. She said that raising awareness for this and other disabilities helps people realize how many uniquely abled people live in their communities, and how they can come together to nurture them.
“The Buddy Walk is so much more than just a walk,” she observed prior to the event. “It’s an opportunity to come together as a community while raising awareness and promoting inclusion for people with Down Syndrome. Everyone is born with a purpose, and a right to be accepted and loved. We all can be aware of Down Syndrome, but it’s when we can express acceptance that we truly start making a difference.”
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.