Funded as a 2011 TYP grantee, the Coeur d'Alene Tribe is technically “starting up,” just like all other new grantees. But Cheryl Weixel, director of the Coeur d'Alene Benewah Tribal Wellness Center, is in a unique position as the current Program Coordinator; she can refer back to the tribe’s first go-around with TYP from 2005 – 2008. This experience allowed the Tribe to build on parts of their program that worked well.
As a “graduated” grantee starting out with a new grant, Cheryl recently gave tips and advice to the new cohort at the New Grantee Orientation Webinar. In the interview below, we went deeper with her about lessons learned, the importance of good partners, and what she’s most proud of from the first grant.
(EDC TYTTAC) Please tell us a bit about your new program and how it grew out of your old program.
(Cheryl Weixel) Our program is called Strengthening the Spirit and it continues the afterschool and summer youth programming we started with the first grant. But, this time around, we plan to increase our efforts in tracking our 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th graders through our various programs. We will also be adding to our programming more activities in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
As you move into your second grant, can you tell us of an “Aha! moment” you had from the first grant that you’re now putting into practice?
I think one moment was when we realized that we had a lot of other programs and departments serving the same youth. Just our program alone includes collaboration between the Tribe’s Departments of Education and Natural Resources and the Early Childhood Learning Center. We’ve formed a committee of every tribal department serving youth and each month we come together to look at all the programs and make sure we aren’t overlapping or serving the same group of kids at the detriment of another group of kids. Through this, we’ve learned to not be territorial; there isn’t any one department calling the shots. Instead, it lets us focus on what we all can do to make the Coeur d'Alene youth strong, healthy people. It’s so cool, the friendships that have developed through this cross-department collaboration.
That is cool! Strengthening the Spirit also has quite a few partnering organizations, can you speak more about this?
We’ve reached out to as many organizations as we could to help make our program stronger. We’ve formed a partnership with the University of Idaho Extension office. They’ve provided us with support and resources on areas ranging from 4-H programming, robotics, and various STEM programs, to a food coalition we started in our community. For an isolated community, it’s great to have a partner affiliated with all the resources a university can provide. We also partner with Washington State University Spokane Campus. We have a week-long summer leadership camp for our 6th – 12th graders where they get to spend a week on campus, go to classes and activities all day long, stay in the dorms, and eat in the cafeteria. We think spending this time at the University helps our kids see college as a possibility; they can get comfortable with the idea and not be scared to go away to college. It’s also an opportunity to introduce the kids to the University Native American Clubs and Associations, so they can see that there’s a community for them even when they’re away from home.
Do you have advice for new grantees around grant administration and management that you’d like to share?
Don’t be afraid to communicate with your Program Manager. If you have a question – ask them, that’s what they are there for. Stay up to date on the various reports and deadlines – you’ll feel a lot less stressed if you don’t wait until the last minute when they are due. Get them in 2 weeks ahead of time; that way, if you make a mistake, your Program Manager can help you correct it. Stay true to what you promised in your grant and to the deadlines/milestones you laid out in your strategic plan. Going with that, though, you can make an adjustment to your program if it will better meet your community’s needs. Just be sure to contact your Program Manager early in your thought process and be able to document your steps (get it in email).
What are you most proud of from your first grant that you hope to continue in your second grant?
I’m really proud of our collaboration. Sometimes we have our little disagreements, but at the end of the day, we are all thinking of the kids and their future and what needs to be done. I’m most proud of our kids – they are beginning to be healthier and stronger. We’ve seen the spectrum swing from the darkness to more happy thoughts and hope instead of hopelessness. We want to continue that.