At Running Strong for American Indian Youth® we realize the critical need for children to have the experience fun during the summer when school is out!
Two camps among those supported by Running Strong which do just that across Indian County are Today We Follow – Tomorrow We Lead (TWF-TWL) on the Navajo Reservation, and Indian Youth of America (IYA) which operates camps in the Prescott National Forest in Arizona and the Black Hills of South Dakota.
These programs provide the opportunity for children to both have fun and make new friends, and learn more about their tribal heritage, customs and traditions.
At the TWF-TWL camp, following a prayer service and raising of the flags ceremony on a Saturday morning, tipis are put up for prayer services held in the evening.
The day is filled with plenty of things for the kids and families to do – hikes through the scenic countryside, fun runs and horseback and bicycle rides. The day also includes a field day featuring inspirational speakers before the evening prayers.
On Sundays, the children all receive backpacks filled with all the school supplies they will need for a successful school year provided by Running Strong.
As Anita Begay, president of TWF-TWL and camp organizer, explains, “The summer youth camp that we have every year lets the children have fun, be themselves, make new friends and learn about their culture and traditional backgrounds,” she says. “With guest speakers talking education and the positive side of having an education, the children will have a positive outlook on their education.”
Patricia Gordon, founder and executive director of the IYA, told us the hard, sad truth that “For many children, the prospect of going to camp is out of reach because of the high cost.”
However, thanks to the supporters of Running Strong and our longstanding partnership with IYA, those camps become affordable to Native families through scholarships allowing them to attend.
“IYA’s summer camps provide children with an alternative to spending the summer at home…often with no entertainment, recreation or job opportunities,” she said. “The summer camps provide a variety of positive activities at a time when youth lack supervision and are most vulnerable to peer pressure, suicide, criminal activity, gang involvement and substance abuse.
“The campers are provided with the opportunity to receive positive guidance and mentoring from an all-Indian staff and learn from special guests who come to the camp to share their songs, dances, stories, games and cultural traditions,” she added.
The camps offered by IYA further its mission to provide opportunities and experiences that will aid Native youth in their educational, cultural, career and personal growth while fostering a positive sense of self and heritage.
IYA adheres to the philosophy that every child is entitled to opportunities and experiences that will enable them to establish a self-supporting life while always remembering that their background will be their strength and pride, which is expressed through the organization’s axiom:
“They are young once but Indian forever.”
Over the past 40 years, IYA camps have served Native children from 198 tribes and 34 states and relies on the funding it gets from Running Strong to help ensure it can continue to provide scholarships to as many youth as possible each summer.