Engaging Young People
By Rebecca A. Clay
Despite being located between two cities—Albuquerque to the south and Santa Fe to the north—New Mexico’s San Felipe Pueblo maintains many of the traditions that have sustained the pueblo for centuries.
“We are a very traditional, intact community,” said Esther H. Tenorio, a community health specialist and project officer for the pueblo’s Circles of Care program. “We have regular rituals, dances, and ceremonies. And the majority of our families speak our native Keresan language.”
The struggle to navigate between traditional and western cultures can be difficult for the pueblo’s young people, said Ms. Tenorio, pointing to high levels of frustration, depression, and other ills. Thanks to a Circles of Care grant awarded in 2008, the pueblo is now turning to those same young people as a resource as it plans a new system of care.
“The youth have really stepped up as far as doing community engagement,” said Ms. Tenorio. “We’re doing education for them on the mental health issues within the community, and they’re literally going house to house getting other youth on board.”
San Felipe Pueblo Circles of Care: (left to right) Front row—Christian Gering, Joseph Ansera III, D’Alan Sandoval; 2nd row—Paulina Sanchez, Lindsey Sanchez, Alicia Sandoval, Jimel Sandoval, Reshawna Sandoval, Esther Tenorio; 3rd row—Verna Valencia (orange shirt), Trivia Sanchez, Serrena Sandoval, Bernice Chavez (purple shirt), Samantha Pasena, Tia Sanchez, Gail Aguilar; 4th row—Edward Valencia (navy shirt), Darian Townsend, Bethany Garcia, Julian Valencia (cap), and Paul Valencia (at tree).
In addition to these awareness efforts, the Circles of Care project is also working to develop youth leaders. Its Katishtya Summer Youth Leadership Institute, for example, is a 6-week summer program that teaches life skills to pueblo youth age 13 to 18 and empowers them to take on leadership positions. Developed locally, the curriculum incorporates Native games and traditional lessons.
“Our community takes a resiliency approach to dealing with any kind of illness, including mental illness,” said Ms. Tenorio. “The whole community comes together. You’re not in trouble by yourself; the whole community acknowledges that you are part of the family.”