Fostering Parnerships: A System's Approach in Oklahoma

The Ponca Tribe is located in Kay County, Oklahoma, with a population of 2,445. The Tribe received TYP funding under Categories I and V, and is currently serving 268 youth ages 10-17. The mission of the program is to foster and facilitate the advancement of Ponca Indian youth in their everyday lives traditionally, physically, mentally, and emotionally through activities that are focused on impacting negative risk factors in the community and promoting core values of the Ponca Tribe. The Ponca Tribe’s TYP program has been working to provide counseling services and coordinate with schools and law enforcement agencies to identify at-risk youth and provide appropriate services. The program has grown to include 11 staff members, including 4 full time AmeriCorps staff, a counselor, and 3 volunteers, including a Tribal Police Officer. One of the program’s most significant accomplishments has been fostering collaboration between mental health and juvenile justice systems. After considerable negotiations, Counselor Porsche Reimer from Northern Oklahoma Youth Services now sits in on the Tribal Courts as well as the City Municipal Court system and has a working relationship with the local Office of Juvenile Affairs. TYP Coordinator, Dwight Howe, says, “Her involvement and potential asset to our program is unprecedented to say the least. It is without a doubt, our biggest achievement to date.” The Tribe’s newest project is an innovative club for youth, called Ponca Iron "Washkohn Gah Ho" or “exert yourself”. This is one of the only youth programs in the community and offers young people a chance to participate in positive community activities. Adult members serve as mentors for the youth and work with them to promote physical, spiritual, cultural, and mental health. In addition to Ponca Iron, the Tribe has experienced other successes this year. They have opened a teen center, library, and skills center for youth to use for homework and other activities. Youth are very motivated to take part in the teen center, and put in 30 minutes of study time before participating in center activities. The Tribe is currently preparing for a community art competition. Some students use graffiti as a medium to communicate when they feel that their voices are not heard. This competition will allow them to use their skills to make positive community contributions and to take ownership of their work. Youth will submit designs for murals and will then participate in painting the top three designs that are chosen on community storm shelters. The efforts and dedication of the TYP staff have been paying off. Juvenile arrests declined from 42 in 2006, to 11 in 2007. The Tribal Police have noticed substantial, positive changes in the community and praised the efforts of TYP. The work of the TYP program has also been recognized by the Kay County Systems of Care Project Community Team, which presented the program with a "Whatever it Takes Award” for Outstanding Program of the Year.

“What we are trying to do with our program is to reintroduce a whole generation of young people values and norms that have been removed or at best suppressed from the previous generation through assimilation or forced acculturation. Today our young people struggle with many issues that our elders didn’t have to address. This is compounded by the fact that there are far more young people than there are elders to advise them. In the past that wasn’t an issue as many lived well into their years and tribes depended on their counsel. Now today nation wide over half of our population is thirty or below. So we are in essence a young nation with unique problems.” -TYP Coordinator, Dwight Howe

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