Rez Navaho Reservation Community Center – Arizona

The Rio Puerco Center at Fort Defiance in the reservation was restored and transformed into a real gathering place only within the last two years, as the role of the gangs diminished. The community is desperately poor with 34% living below the poverty level; 57% of those 16 and older unemployed; and only 37% of those over age 25 having completed high school.

The challenge is very great and motivating the teens to come to the Center’s programs and just to look up and make eye contact is a daunting task.

The goals are to increase the teens’ pride in being Navaho and in their very rich culture, to encourage them to treat each other as equals and to expand their horizons beyond their current comfort level. They also hope to involve the parents in the process as a positive, support group for their children. This will not be easy to accomplish.

The teens see the Center as a home away from home, a safe, welcoming place for them. Without the Center’s programs, they have little to do beyond electronics, skate-boarding, and drug use.

The plan is to expand last summer’s program to draw in some 40 teens. The focus will be on community engagement and Navaho culture as well as encouraging the participants to take more control of their own lives and futures.

JHH will fund the special leadership training program for five teen Youth Fellows. Under the able direction of Daniel, the Youth Center Director, they will gain skills leading them to become more independent and to take on more responsibility for their own lives and for community activities. They will also serve as leaders for the regular summer programs. And they will receive stipends.

They will participate in critical consciousness-raising training as well as discussions about who has the power – economic and political – in their community and how they can have and exercise power of their own, e.g., through voting, beautification programs and petitions for change, etc.

The limestone mountains surrounding the area are so magnificently uplifting. We can only hope that they will raise the vision and the hopes of these teens who struggle to create a meaningful life here.