Johns Hopkins Gazette: June 2, 1997

NFL, SPH Aid Native
American Teenagers

Randolph Fillmore
Contributing Writer
Fifteen National Football League players and 250 Native American teenagers, from 10 states and rep resenting at least 15 tribes, will meet June 1-2 in Chinle, Arizona for a football and life skills camp.

This second year of the camp is larger than last year's, which launched a cooperative effort between the NFL and the Center for American Indian Health at the School of Hygiene and Public Health. Formed by Nick Lowery, the former place kicker for the Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets, the program was created to mentor Native American youth.

"By bringing NFL players and other professional athletes to reservations to work one-on-one with youth, we will do all we can to help renew the legacy of health and athleticism for Indian people," says Mathu Santosham, director of the Center for American Indian Health.

According to Santosham, Native American youth face the most daunting health and socioeconomic forecast of any racial or ethnic group in the country. High rates of alcohol and drug abuse, depression, suicide and school dropout rates bode poorly for their future.

"Rather than focus on the ills, our program will nurture the vast indigenous strengths within Indian country today," adds Santosham. "We want to help prepare Native youth to achieve their dreams."

Lowery--whose Nick Lowery Charitable Foundation recently formalized a partnership with the Indian Health Center to continue developing the mentoring program--explains why the NFL players are committed to helping.

"Our program hinges on team sports as a doorway for motivating higher achievement across all dimensions of individual, community and family life. The NFL players involved in this program want to show Indian youth that we believe fully in them and their future," explains Nick Lowery, who has served on the staffs of three U.S. presidents, mentoring for youth and promoting health and anti-drug abuse issues. "We care about them not only as athletes, but as students, people and future leaders of their communities."

At the recent President's Summit for America's Future in Philadelphia, the Hopkins-NFL professional athlete mentoring program, designed to help teens stay in school and resist alcohol and drug use, was hailed as one of the nation's most promising new initiatives.

A bigger and better 1997 athletic and life skills camp has evolved following efforts on the national level. Former New York Jets player Clark Gaines, a participant in the 1996 camp and regional director for the NFL Players' Association, helped expand players' involvement when he created a bridge to the NFLPA's full participation.

"The NFLPA is proud to join Johns Hopkins, a world leader in health promotion, to mobilize the power and good will of our professional athletes behind a mission to improve the health and future of Indian youth," says NFLPA's executive director Gene Upshaw, whose organization represents 2,000 active and 3,500 retired NFL players.

Santosham says that their goal is to expand the effort into a school-based program in at least 10 reservation communities. Components will include a peer leadership and healthy lifestyles program; motivational rallies led by NFL mentors; local mass media campaigns to encourage program values and goals; continuation and expansion of the fitness and lifeskills camp; and community service and recreational activities organized by tribal police groups.

This year's camp has also been made bigger and better by adding Native American entertainers and speakers who, according to Allison Barlow, director of development and communications at the Center, will honor the cultural heritage of the participants.

"We hope to foster a powerful cultural exchange that simultaneously ignites Native and national pride in Indian youth," said Barlow. "We want to honor Indian youngsters as special ambassadors to this nation's rich multicultural roots."

For 50 Navajo junior high school boys and girls, this year's camp will also include soccer coaching by three professional soccer players. In years to come, there are plans to include more professional athletes and engage more sports, including cross-country running and basketball.

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