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Native American caucus awarded faith-based grant

2/17/2004 News media contact: Linda Green · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn

A head-and-shoulders photo of the Rev. Alvin Deer is available at http://umns.umc.org.

By United Methodist News Service

The United Methodist Native American International Caucus is the recipient of faith-based grant to support "at-risk" youth though a nationwide youth network.

The caucus, which is the advocacy arm of Native American United Methodists, was awarded a $30,800 grant from Institute for Youth Development in Washington, making it the first United Methodist native or other Native American denominational ministry to receive funding from President Bush's faith-based and community initiative program.

The Institute for Youth Development is among 81 organizations awarded more than $30 million, to increase the capacity of faith-based and community organizations that work with the homeless, addicted and other Americans in need. The institute awarded the caucus with the grant from its share of the funds.

The Rev. Alvin Deer, caucus executive director, said he believes theirs is the first church-related native grant. He bases his conclusion on conversations with the Health and Human Service Department Administration on Aging and the ecumenical Council on Native American ministries, a coalition of denominational staff people working with native ministries.

"Neither the Presbyterians, American Baptist, Lutheran, Reformed Church of America nor Episcopal church representatives (on the council) knew of any of their constituencies that have received faith-based funding," he explained. "Because native ministries are struggling just to be congregations, 99 percent of them are not knowledgeable about the faith-based initiative of the government."

NAIC will begin a nationwide Native American network connecting youth through education, counseling and support on March 31. The goal of the Native Dimensions Network is to "significantly reduce the number of Native American youth at risk for substance abuse and suicide within the Native American communities where Native American congregations exist," Deer said.

At-risk youth are described as those individuals prone to or involved in situations that would put them at medical, social and emotional risk. The idea for such a network is based on the denomination's own connectional system.

"I see this as an opportunity to help churches be more intentional in helping our native communities impact the needs of our youth through networking intentionally," he added.

NDN, which is the network's acronym, is headed by 10 youth who would be "peer" leaders in their communities, with guidance from NAIC board members.

The plans are for NDN to be a way for local church youth workers to find resource links, including an online and monitored "chat" room on subjects pertinent to youth.

Negwes White, a Chippewa and Navajo youth from Chicago said the network would serve as a place to connect with youth from across the country. "It would be great for teens who have a lot of issues to go to a place to talk to others with similar issues," he noted.

White, a youth leader, is counting on the network to expand his own horizons. " I love the network idea, he said. "I want to talk to Native American youth from across the country. There are not a lot of Native American youth in Chicago."

The network is significant to Native American youth "because it provides the opportunity for us to share ideas, concerns and challenges facing native youth," said Ashley Lynn Hunt, another youth leader and Lumbee from Pembroke, N.C.

"It is a program that offers peer support, and allows youth to have a voice and have that voice heard. It is a group effort to advocate for healthier and stronger Native American communities," she added.

"Faith-based" is a federal term created in 2001 to allow churches and religious entities eligibility for federal funding in specific social programs. The NAIC is eligible for this funding because of the caucus is involved in advocacy.

"We feel that we can advocate for Native American youth through these types of grants . . . to activate the natural network created through the polity of the United Methodist Church . . . (which) has always existed, but without the financial ability to be intentional," Deer said.

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