Meaningful change often takes place slowly. But if done correctly the evolution of progress becomes infectious, arming younger generations with healthy eating and the confidence to continue the mission for years to come.
When famed golfer Notah Begay III started his foundation in 2005, he wanted to address the alarming rates of diabetes in Native American communities.
The Notah Begay III (NB3) Foundation began with soccer activities and the inclusion of a junior golfer program. All of that has evolved into a meticulously run foundation that gets the youth active, motivated and educated.
“Our vision is that all children have the opportunity to live healthy, happy and fulfilled lives,” Cyanne Lujan, director of advancement for the NB3 Foundation, tells En Fuego.
Work that remains encompassing and immersive for the younger generation concentrates on four tenets: Physical activity, healthy nutrition, youth development, and cultural connections.
Healthy and Active Living
Lujan explains Begay initially started the foundation as “a response to the rates of childhood obesity and Type II diabetes in our Native American populations.”
Native Americans are twice as likely as whites to be diagnosed with diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control. And, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Native American adolescents are 30% more likely to be in the category of obese than the non-Hispanic white population.
The work that is being done with the foundation ends up really resonating in a beautiful outward fashion.
“The communities that we worked with have developed policies and procedures for their own communities, like the Santa Ana Pueblo,” communications specialist Sacha Smith explained. “They have a no sugary drink zone, and they did that themselves.”
“I think we're really seeing communities realizing, or they've always known, that they have the answers for how their communities can be healthy and live active lives.”
It starts with welcoming the youth in these communities to come in and enjoy all of the benefits of leading a healthy and active lifestyle. The NB3FIT program continues the charge out on the links as well as myriad fields with programs in cross country, soccer, and, of course, junior golf.
Besides ongoing programs aimed to promote physical activity, the foundation hosts annual events such as the Healthy Kids Healthy Futures Conference, which brings together various programs aimed at bettering the lives of Native youth.
“We do it how we provide programs for the youth,” Lujan said, describing the conference. “We do a lot of physical activity. It's a moving conference. We don't want people dressed up in suit and ties. We tell people to wear their comfy exercise clothes.”
There is also the Notah Begay III New Mexico Grand slam golf tournament, which normally takes place in the late summer/early fall. It’s a way for the foundation to also partner with like-minded organizations throughout New Mexico that benefit children throughout the state.
However, NB3 has, like many foundations, had to pivot much of how they operate during 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Normalcy in the Time of COVID
COVID has affected all manner of life and various communities in differing ways. Its surge within this country continues to ebb and flow in distinctive ways. With that said, the Native American population has been hit particularly hard.
The CDC discovered in August: “In 23 selected states, the cumulative incidence of laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases among AI/AN (American Indians and Alaska Natives) was 3.5 times that of non-Hispanic whites.”
For the NB3 Foundation, it was important to not only pivot much of its education and wellness programs to a virtual delivery but to also incorporate aid to those affected by COVID, particularly in regard to health and employment.
The mission remains if only the procedures differ. Now they deliver wellness kits to the kids, complemented with online programming that includes coaching, healthy snack making, arts and crafts.
The most important part of it all may just be the virtual camaraderie of seeing their friends online.
“I think that the biggest thing that makes us all feel great is the feedback that we receive from the parents and the youth,” Lujan said.
“They're so happy to see their coaches. They're so happy to just see each other's faces because some of them have been in programs together where there's different communities that come together, and so they haven't seen their friends in a long time.”
While all of this is a community effort, Lujan is quick to note the tireless efforts of the people who day in and day out put the kids and their livelihoods at the forefront.
“For our programs, we can't thank our coaches and our director (Clint Begay) enough for what they have done and how they have really touched the youth and made them feel a little bit of a sense of normalcy.”
And so I ask, what is Lujan looking forward to most in a world when we don’t have to worry so much about social distancing and the fear of a rampant pandemic.
It comes back to the coaches and the effect each has on the kids who can grow up and appreciate healthy and active living. It begins when they come to the in-person programs.
“The children are just so happy to be there. They're just so full of energy. And our coaches feed off of that. Our coaches are amazing and wonderful. They're actually from the communities as well. And so, it's really awesome because the youth get to see coaches that look like them, that could be possibly related to them,” Lujan continued.
The coaches and staff of the NB3 Foundation are more than proponents and advocates. They are role models who spark joy and health for generations to come.