Let’s Move in Indian Country is completing its third year of working to solve the obesity crisis in Native communities. And the Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA) in Portland, OR, is demonstrating how the initiative adapts to serve the needs of each tribe — this time with the help of AmeriCorps VISTA Lilah Walsh.
NAYA is at the heart of Portland’s Native community, providing culturally specific services and programming to youth, families, and Elders. The center’s mission is to enhance the diverse strengths of youth and families in partnership with the community through cultural identity and education. The organization is youth focused, family driven, and Elder-guided, and supported by community partners and volunteers. NAYA is celebrating 40 years of service in 2014.
NAYA has employed numerous AmeriCorps VISTAs since 2006, and Walsh has worked on the Nike N7 Let’s Move in Indian Country initiative while serving with the center for the last two years.
“The goal was to address obesity and diabetes through increased opportunities for healthy recreation and nutrition education,” Walsh said. “But the steps outlined in the description included forming community councils, and working with leaders to find appropriate, culturally relevant ways to implement new programs.”
Culturally Relevant Programming
Walsh was attracted to the program because of how the project goal was to be reached.
All NAYA programs and services are centered in the Relational Worldview Model (RWM), created by the National Indian Child Welfare Association. The model emphasizes that there are four areas to life: mind, body, spirit, and social context, and that these four areas must be in harmony for a person to grow and thrive.
Building off the RWM, the Let’s Move in Indian Country initiative collaborates with Nike N7 to fund sports and health programs and increase the availability of recreation time for youth in afterschool learning programs. Programming provides instruction and activities for an hour every day for students who come to the center.
This program teaches students that health is a life in balance, and provides opportunities to think about how movement and taking care of one’s physical well-being affects all the other areas of life. Just as when NAYA was founded, youth are participating in physical recreation activities to enhance overall wellness.
The funds awarded through the N7 grant enable NAYA to contract programs like the Circus Project, which teaches youth to tumble, juggle, and use circus equipment. As the weather gets warmer, youth will also spend time in the community garden to learn about healthy food, while learning how gardening can be a relaxing way to unwind. This project gives NAYA youth tools to create their own healthy lifestyle and to be able to stay in balance.
Parent and Elder volunteers founded NAYA in 1974 as a response to at-risk behaviors that Native American youth experience. The group created a safe space for community youth to participate in recreational sport activities, tutoring, and to be connected to their heritage through cultural arts and family. They have continually expanded their offering of culturally specific services that deliver results based on their mission.
Lilah Walsh is an AmeriCorps VISTA member with the Native American Youth Family Center in Portland, Oregon. She works on the Nike N7 “Let’s Move in Indian Country” initiative. The Corporation for National and Community Service is celebrating the 20th anniversary of AmeriCorps and highlighting the theme of healthy futures during the month of March. For more information about the 20th anniversary, please visit the AmeriCorps 20th Anniversary Resource Center.