by Jim Gehman
Now in its 21st year, the camp is held annually in different tribal communities around the country. It is an opportunity for youth from different Indian nations to meet and share their cultures.
The guiding principle is to cultivate the core strengths, values and positive relationships of American Indian youth that will make them resilient and help them transition to a healthy, productive and fulfilling adulthood.
Several professional athletes including former NFLPA Executive Director Clark Gaines, along with former NFL players John Olenchalk and Jim Rourke, will help mentor the children in football, lacrosse, basketball, soccer, volleyball and track
“We basically use sports as a hook for the kids to come to the camp and then the athletes have breakout sessions with them when they sit down and talk with the kids about perseverance, the importance of education, not doing drugs and taking care of your body,” said Lindsey Ford, Director of External Affairs, Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health. “And often athletes share personal stories of obstacles that they’ve overcome and encourage the kids.
“In addition to those talks between the athletes and the kids, we have what we call life skills workshops. The kids will do everything from a workshop on nutrition or leadership or entrepreneurship.”
A group of 500 children, ages 7 to 18, representing a dozen tribes from the Southwest, are expected to attend this year’s camp.
“The goal is for them to be inspired to eat healthy, exercise regularly, focus on their education and just have a brighter view of the future thanks to the athletes that work with them and encourage them,” Ford said. “And the athletes love working with these children because they’re very underserved.
“The children really appreciate the athletes spending time with them and they soak up all the advice that they receive. And the athletes in turn learn a lot from the kids. They learn a lot about their cultures and really appreciate them. So it actually ends up building the self-esteem of the children who participate, as well. They see the athletes who have flown in from all over the country really value their cultures and appreciate learning about them.”
Ford says that NativeVision, which also has after-school programs that continue the lessons that are taught at the camp, appreciates the longstanding support it has received from PAF.
“It’s really been instrumental to the success of the program over the past decade,” she said. “Their consistent financial support has meant so much because NativeVision is offered free of charge for all the children who come. And so we have to raise the budget each year to put it on. The PAF has been a longtime consistent donor and we’re so grateful because it’s really been critical to our success and our ability to reach more and more Native American children.”