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NIYLP: Changing Young Lives in Big Ways

Resource type: News

Gallup Journey Magazine |

Original Source by H. Haveman The National Indian Youth Leadership Project (NIYLP) is an American Indian-owned and -operated, nonprofit organization that has been working with at-risk youth for over twenty-five years. Though working out of Gallup for the majority of that time, NIYLP’s programs have been implemented nationwide and have impacted and improved countless lives. And now with significant recognition, NIYLP looks forward to new opportunities for growth. In the early 1980s McClellan Hall, a teacher and principal, was troubled by the 70% dropout rate among Cherokee students in northeastern Oklahoma. Convinced that the problems were not with the students, but rather with the system, Hall and others utilized traditional Native American values, such as community, recognition, responsibility, and respect, as they developed a program that would hinge on the ethic of service. In learning through providing service to others, students develop humility, compassion, and communal responsibility. The victim mentality is shed and servants become leaders. The camp program created among the Cherokee youth was put to the test when Hall relocated to Gallup, New Mexico just two years later. He questioned whether its success would be replicable among the Southwestern tribes that had different cultures, governmental structures, and historical experiences. Since its founding in 1985, NIYLP has conducted similar camps and provided training in Native American communities across the country. The original camp model has evolved into a year-round program and is now called Project Venture. Functioning along with and apart from area schools, it focuses on positive youth development through service learning, leadership development, and outdoor adventure. Youth, primarily in upper-elementary and middle school, are involved in classroom sessions, engage in challenging outdoor activities like hiking, biking, climbing, etc., and participate in several service-learning projects throughout the year. Project Venture is considered one of the most effective prevention programs in the nation serving Native youth and is the only American Indian-operated organization to be recognized as a National Model Program. While NIYLP currently serves over 350 students in the Four Corner’s area through Project Venture, and is replicating the program in 15 New Mexico sites and in 18 other states, there are a number of other programs and services that the organization sponsors and is involved in. Recent highlights include a visit from Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Rigoberta Menchu Tum of Guatemala, the only Native woman so recognized, through the PeaceJam organization, adopting the Window Rock Zoo as a Native American affiliate of the international Roots & Shoots program, and activities through the Corn Pollen Pathway Project, Walking In Beauty Program, Learn & Serve Program, Sacred Mountain Search & Rescue, etc. Mac Hall and the twenty employees at NIYLP have worked diligently over the last twenty-five years to create and maintain resilience in Native youth. Very recently their efforts have been rewarded in the form of a major two-year grant from the Atlantic Philanthropies Foundation of New York. The grant, which will support the implementation of NIYLP’s recently completed, ten-year business plan, will provide $1.5 million over two years, beginning in April, 2008. As part of the business plan, developed in partnership with the Bridgespan Group, Project Venture will be expanded and improved. The grant will provide critical infrastructure support for NIYLP to implement the expansion, which includes doubling the number of local schools directly involved with the project by next fall, establishing a national office in Albuquerque within six months, and hiring sixty employees over the next ten years. Up until now, NIYLP has only brought its programming to places that had invited it. The business plan calls for a more proactive stance, which is now possible thanks to an additional grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The two-year grant of $250,000 will allow NIYLP to advertise in national publications, exhibit at major national conferences, expand its website and publications, conduct its Positive Youth Development in American Indian Communities conference nationally, and carry out more fundraising initiatives. During the mid 1980s, the terms service learning and experiential education were not widely used or even thought of in the public and tribal school systems. Yet, what some think of as new approaches to teaching and learning, are the values that have always been important in Native American cultures. Incorporating them once again into the lives of Native youth has been proven effective and has put NIYLP on the map.

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Children & Youth

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United States


National Indian Youth Project, NIYLP, Project Venture