ZUNI, NM (Dec. 13, 2021) — As the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project’s flag football season came to close this fall, local parents and youth returned overwhelmingly positive surveys to the nonprofit organization. They reported significant changes to overall wellness, daily habits, and even cultural connection.

The vast majority of the young people reported that participating in the program helped them feel more confident (89 percent), more connected to the Zuni community (80 percent), and more accepted by coaches and teammates (89%). Roughly the same number (88 percent) reported that the program helped teach them how to live healthier lifestyles; the number of kids drinking eight glasses of water per day, for example, increased by 17 percent during the football season.

Parents were equally enthusiastic, with 98 percent reporting that their children had fun participating in flag football, the program helped improve their children’s self-confidence, and it helped them make new friends. In addition, 97 percent of parents said the program helped improve their children’s overall health and encouraged them to be more physically active; and 100 percent said their children gained positive role models.

“Approximately 100 children ages 7-12 participated in the eight-week flag football program, with 10 teams playing under the direction of 22 coaches,” said Josh Kudrna, ZYEP’s physical activity coordinator. “The children played one game each week, and the older youth competed in a playoffs-style finish to the season.”

“It’s been almost two years since we had our last in person youth sport season,” said Joe Claunch, ZYEP’s executive director. “The kids, their families, our staff, and our volunteer coaches were so excited to be together again for flag football.”

Since its 2009 founding, ZYEP has been dedicated to honoring Zuni culture and traditional life ways in all its youth programs and spaces. Claunch said the youth project’s sport leagues are one of the most powerful ways that the organization is able to promote the health of Zuni youth, as well as community well-being and unity, on a large scale.

“During the season, it felt so good to see our young players working hard, having fun, and building positive relationships — and to see the joy and pride that this experience brought to their families,” he said. “None of this would have been possible without our large group of committed volunteer community coaches, so we are deeply grateful to them for their dedication and hard work.”

Like all ZYEP programs, flag football incorporated a strong cultural component. Youth Development Coordinator Tahlia Natachu supported the coaches as they worked in teams to develop and share the ways in which they planned to emphasize Zuni values and traditions throughout the season.

“I remember thinking that this was the most powerful aspect of our coaches’ training,” Claunch said. “In every coaching group, Zuni language was one of the key strategies they identified.

ZYEP staff provided the coaches with a list of positive Zuni words and phrases that reinforce important cultural values, including encouragement, teamwork, strength, and resilience. Claunch noted that the coaches had other strategies in mind, as well.

“During stretching, some coaches counted in the Zuni language,” he said. “Others called all of their plays in Zuni. For example, I used olenchi (orange) for our running plays to the right and mansa:na (apple) for our running plays to the left.”

This, too, had a lasting impact. In their surveys, the children reported that, on average, they learned 5.5 new Zuni words during the fall sports season.

Through its Youth Sport initiative, the nonprofit youth organization connects with more than 500 youth annually. Not only are young people able to take advantage of seasonal leagues in basketball, soccer, flag football, and cross country, they also have access to mentorship through ZYEP’s staff and coaches, camaraderie with teammates throughout the leagues, and powerful community spirit.

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.