Zuni Youth Enrichment Project

Date: June 19, 2019
Interviewer: Sarah Ballew Headwater People
Interviewee: Tom Faber, MD, MPH, Founder and Co-Director

Quick stats about the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project:
Zuni Youth Enrichment Project (ZYEP) programs are designed to help Zuni youth be active and engaged in our community and the natural world around them. Learning about the rich Zuni culture, language and traditions help strengthen their sense of heritage and place.

ZYEP pursues opportunities to build their self-esteem, encourage them to challenge themselves, and link them to positive role models.

Many of the children who participate in ZYEP programs become positive role models themselves for the younger children in Zuni.

Gardening, farming, nutrition education, with a focus on Zuni traditional agricultural practices have been the foundation for ZYEP programing since they began work in 2008. The first initiative was for the school gardens, which led to a summer camp program.

ZYEP programs also include nutrition education and pass on the message that traditional food grown in Zuni is healthy food.

Our mission is to promote resilience among Zuni youth, so that they will grow into strong and healthy adults who are connected with Zuni traditions.

Key Considerations:
Zuni had complete food sovereignty and the first US government interactions were selling food to US government. This went on for 100s years, and then in the 40’s-60s, it completely shifted from healthy a food system to a dependence on commodities.

The Zuni river dried up, and this included climate change and drought, and damming the river. This is a point of trauma for the community.

Zuni land traditionally produced health foods, and it is healthy, mentally and physically, to grow those foods and consume them.

Strengths, keys to success:
ZYEP does a good job of staying in tune with the kids themselves. And the way that's been so helpful is that the kids know what's fun and what's not fun. They know what's cool and not cool. They know what's going to inspire the kids and what's not going to inspire the kids. Summer camps and sports leagues directed by ZYEP. Zuni youth ages 16-24, were recruited to staff the camps and sports leagues and enrichment programs.
ZYEP’s general model has been to find a need in the community or a desire for a change in the community as a starting point. And then start from thinking what are the community's strengths that exist that might help reach that need.

A key part of the ZYEP’s success has been continually finding ways to improve staff capacity and to improve the experience for the kids. Providing that kind of training, or support, or goods, or supplies, or whatever and then doing it again the next season, the next cycle and hopefully it gets better.

ZYEP centers its programming on fun. They integrate nutritional education and cultural values through cooking demonstrations, through games, through blinded taste tests, and through their year-round sports leagues.

Having the relationships and trust with community members also opened the door to a lot of success.
ZYEP has partnered with the only grocery store on Zuni land through long standing friendships. At the time the community lacked access to healthy food options. The owner of the family store for 100 years was receptive to the concept and the timing worked out int hat the owner was rebuilding. The relationship and shared vision allowed for the incorporation of ZYEP’s layout ideas and including locally grown produce and traditional recipes. They also run cooking demos at the local store.

3 years ago, the Zuni public-school district revised their health and wellness policy. They took the opportunity to be on the committee that rewrote what food was served and what foods are being offered in vending machines.

Barriers and Challenges:
Although having many avenues to interact with and serve Zuni youth, all the activity can be a distraction to telling their own story. ZYEP would benefit from more self-promoting and exposure to a wider audience. Also being more mindful of recording their own successes on their website and in a monthly newsletter.

Finding really good staff has been a challenge over the years. This has been improving. Spots open up and they’ve been able to identify really good people much easier now than it used to be, but traditionally it has been difficult.

Primary Funding:
ZYEP is 95% funded by grants from the federal government or foundations.

Insights for others:
Funders would benefit from developing personal relationships with the community members that are being served.

Human impact to measure success is key. Using interviews in person, storytelling, or video, would be options for evaluations that could measure the impact in native communities.

What worked in another place may not work everywhere.

Non-natives need to be open to respectful discussion around how and if to implement their own expertise.