FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — For more than 10 years, Hopi tribal member Aaron Secakuku has been helping Native American youth and the community of Flagstaff through his work as the program coordinator of the Pathways Youth Program housed at Native Americans for Community Action (NACA).
Pathways is an after school youth program serving Native American youth living within the city of Flagstaff and is funded by a grant from Title V of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, the United Way of Northern Arizona and from local, state and national donors.
The program serves an average of up to 125 youth per year and its focus population is youth between the ages of six and 13 years of age. The program provides education and activities relative to cultural preservation and substance abuse prevention.
Secakuku explained the program is unique and it is the only Native American after school program within Flagstaff focusing entirely on Native American youth. The program incorporates Native American culture delivered from a Native cultural frame work. Youth learn to be empowered and learn to be accountable by completing and submitting homework on time. Youth also learn to be respectful of one another in school and at home.
Fourth grader Corde Chiquito, 9, is a Navajo tribal member and is a student at Puente de Hózhó. He enjoys the after school program and activities where he can do his homework, including writing and math, which are his favorite subjects. He also enjoys the free time at the program where he enjoys playing outside and playing football.
“I get to do my homework here, get help with my homework and I get to play outside,” he said as he was doing his Navajo language homework.
Alicia Sandoval, 10, is another student at Puente de Hózhó and is also a Navajo tribal member. She enjoys research and math at school and she likes the after school program because she gets to make new friends and do her homework.
“I’ve been here for over 10 years and enjoy working with the youth and community,” said Secakuku. “The work is rewarding when we see past participants completing high school and onto further their education or seeing some jump right into the workforce, and be successful at what they do.”
He explained his biggest accomplishment thus far is the purchase of their 2017 15-passenger van which was purchased last year. He said “this was huge” because the van they initially used was aging and it became too costly to maintain and repair.
Another accomplishment was being recognized in 2014 with the “Arizona Outstanding Out-of-School Time” award by the Arizona Center for After school Excellence. The award recognizes innovative out-of-school time programs for their work in providing quality youth development programs for children in Arizona.
Secakuku also mentioned their efforts to teach substance abuse prevention and healthy lifestyles have proven to be effective. Several parents have reported their child is more cognizant of healthy activities and foods, and about the dangers of substance abuse.
With success come challenges. The program is experiencing staff and facility constraints, its operating at capacity and they do not have enough funds to expand. Currently, the program has limited resources to extend to middle school-aged youth — a vulnerable population. He said this is the missing group of youth where little to no structured programming currently exists, but he is hopeful funding will be identified soon.
Currently, the program partners with Flagstaff Unified School District for facilities and meeting space because they do not have their own facility. This arrangement helps program staff with transporting kids to the program site.
According to a 2004 report titled, “Health Status of Urban Indian Health Service,” urban Indian youth are at a greater risk for serious mental health and substance abuse problems, suicide, increased gang activity, teen pregnancy, abuse and neglect.
Thanks to people like Secakuku, youth programs like Pathways help to address disparities prevalent amongst Native American youth by promoting self-esteem, educational enrichment, helping to promote traditional practices and cultural values in children.
Secakuku is originally from the village of Bacavi on the Hopi reservation and lives in Flagstaff with his wife and two teenage daughters. His clan is Greasewood. He has a bachelor’s degree in parks and recreation from Northern Arizona University. Aside from working as a youth worker and serving on a multitude of non-profit boards, he enjoys returning home to the Hopi reservation and tending to his traditional Hopi way of life.
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