Club Story: Bringing Culture and Technology Together for Native Youth

The ClubX Blog is celebrating Native Heritage Month all November long! For today’s post, I chatted with Adam Ortiz, Pascua Yaqui Clubhouse Director at Boys & Girls Club of Tuscon, about the importance of cultural programming and an exciting partnership that brought the latest technology to their members.


The first question is always the same- Tell us a little about your Club!

We are located in the Pascua Yaqui reservation, and our Clubhouse will celebrate its 20th anniversary this January. Each year we serve around 500 youth, and 90% of them are registered members of the Pascua Yaqui tribe, along with approximately half of our staff. We are a part of a small, close-knit community where everyone is considered family. The community is very welcoming and considers all registered and non-registered members alike as part of the growing Pascua Yaqui community.


I hear you’ve had a partnership with Comcast NBCUniversal, how have they worked with you?

Comcast NBCUniversal have been a great partner for our Clubhouse for several years. They have teamed up with us on a few different projects, helping to support us and provide state-of-the-art equipment for our digital arts program, including 3-D printers, all-in-one computers, iPads, and virtual reality equipment.

About a year ago, Comcast NBCUniversal reached out and asked us to help them with their Internet Essentials program, to increase awareness surrounding the lack of internet and broadband technologies in diverse areas, especially within tribal lands. Past research and current statistics have revealed that tribal lands have some the lowest access to internet and broadband technologies in the country, and Comcast NBCUniversal selected to focus on a Pascua Yaqui Clubhouse member and her family to bring attention to this subject. We identified one of our teens, Elodia, and a film crew traveled to Tucson, and followed her family for a week. They gave her family not just internet access, but a computer as well. They produced this incredible video that centers around the community’s culture, how having internet access is helping their lives, and what the Club does for her as a teen on a daily basis.

How has this partnership helped address some of the unique challenges that Native youth face?

Many of our youth come into our Club very quiet and timid and keeping to themselves. Being able to witness them blossom into their own unique personalities is extremely rewarding. Because we are a Native Club, we can provide an environment that is a judgment-free zone and culturally responsive. With this technology we’ve gained through the partnership, we can also provide them opportunities and access that they don’t get anywhere else.

One example is a teen boy that was coming often, but wouldn’t interact with anyone. He would just come in and sit alone. When we started using the VR equipment, he absolutely opened up like never before! He was smiling and happy and approaching staff, who all noticed the change in him. He’s discovered a love of working with technology, which wasn’t accessible to him prior.


Why is it so important to bring a cultural component into your programming?

In our Clubhouse, we incorporate cultural components into everything we do, so that the youth are continuously cognizant about their cultural traditions and practices while attending the Clubhouse. We want to provide the ties to the traditional Pascua Yaqui culture within the Clubhouse setting whenever we can. One example is labeling signs in English and Yoeme, and we also have a display at the front desk that is a daily word in Yoeme.

In lieu of Native Heritage Month, we are doing lots of cultural activities. We had a traditional flower making instructor come in to lead arts programming and explain practices that have been used for generations. At our annual Thanksgiving dinner, we will be providing traditional Pascua Yaqui foods alongside the regular Thanksgiving fare. This is something we do all year long, like this summer we had teen members come in and lead traditional music programming with younger members.

What suggestions do you have for other Clubs on providing activities and access that meets the unique needs of their youth?

There will always be suggestions to providing activities and access that meet the unique needs of the youth at Boys and Girls Clubs, as I am always seeking to find ways and solutions to continuously grow and improve programs and activities. However, the first suggestion that I have for Clubs is to get to know the surrounding Clubhouse community that you are serving to better educate yourselves on the needs of the community’s youth. Whether it be improving the infrastructure of the sports programs if the local school district is not sustaining an adequate sports program, or increasing awareness for technological programs and activities if the local community has limited access to the internet, Clubs needs to be aware of these issues to better serve their youth.

Another suggestion I have for Clubs is to discover and identify your youth’s skills and talents, which often the youth hide, to build and grow the skills and talents of each youth. Provide an environment that will assist every young person in recognizing their true potential.  In doing this, the youth can develop self-confidence, perform better in school, and lead the path to a great future.


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Click to read all ClubX Blog posts about BGCA’s Native Heritage Month!

How does your Club serve the unique needs of your community? What cultural programming do you run? We want to know! Comment below, contact us through the BGCA Youth Development Facebook page, or email to share.

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