Positivity is key. That’s the message the Champions for Change program run by the Center for Native American Youth at The Aspen Institute is spreading.
“There’s so much bad news out there—whether it’s on the national news or one of the major newspapers—when they talk about Indian reservations, they’re talking about what the troubles are,” says retired Sen. Byron Dorgan, center founder and chairman, in a video about the Champions for Change program. “Well, there are plenty of challenges, plenty of difficulties, but when you go out to these reservations and have youth summits you’ll find kids that are doing things that are so inspiring.”
Center board member Patty Talahongva agrees with Dorgan.
“It’s not all doom and gloom. There’s a lot of hope and there’s a lot of happiness out there,” she says in the video. “So it’s finding their stories and sharing them.”
The Champions for Change program allows those stories to be developed, shared and hopefully used to inspire other Native youth to do their own projects.
One of last year’s Champions, Alaska Native Teressa “Tessa” Baldwin, used the tragedy of teen suicide as a catalyst to start Hope4Alaska, a suicide-awareness and prevention organization she founded while still in high school.
“I think Champions of Change are individuals that overcome struggles and want to do more for their community,” Baldwin said in the video. “Being in Champions of Change really gave me more motivation to do more for my community. It really helped me gain a voice.”
If you’re a Native American youth between the ages of 14 and 24 with a story to share, submit it in writing or video format by January 31 and you could be one of the next Champions of Change.
Champions can be youth who start programs, events or other efforts to improve the lives of other Native youth and Indian country. Submission categories can be:
- Health and Wellness, including Youth Suicide Prevention and Substance and Alcohol Abuse Prevention
- Education, Mentorship or Afterschool Programs
- Sports, Nutrition or Let’s Move! in Indian Country
- Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention
- Building Healthy Relationships and Peer Relationships
- Cultural Preservation and Native Languages
- Anti-Bullying and Personal Empowerment
- Self-Expression through Arts and Crafts
- Emerging Leadership in Government Service
- Economic and Community Development
Five Champions will be selected in February and will receive a certificate and plaque; an all-expense-paid trip for them and a chaperone to Washington, D.C. for the recognition event in March; an opportunity to participate in a mentorship pairing; an invitation to serve a two-year term on a youth advisory board at the center; and will be eligible for consideration for a future visit from a member of the center’s board of advisors to their community.
What about the other youth who submit their work but don’t get chosen as one of the five Champions? The center doesn’t want those youth to be discouraged. “Everyone’s story is important and the center commends participants for having the courage to share their message with our team,” says the organization’s website.
Submissions not chosen as finalists can still share their video submissions on the center’s YouTube channel as well as on its Stories of Inspiration page. Participants can also sign up for the Native Youth Listserv and E-Newsletter to keep informed of other opportunities that are available and will receive a packet of other leadership opportunities available to Native youth.