Mentoring in the Mountains: Exploring Native Traditions

Story by Jessica Carriker, Boys & Girls Club of York County- Catawba Unit

For many people the Catawba River offers a scenic place to kick back and relax while they throw out a line or kayak with family and friends. For the Catawba people, though, the river offers that and so much more. Indeed, the Catawba River gets its very name from the Catawba people and it has proven to be an integral part of their identity that connects their past and present together with hope for the future. Similarly, the Boys & Girls Clubs of York County’s Catawba Teen Center also serves as a meeting place in time where past history and hope for the future join together in the present generation, making it the perfect place for a mentoring program to do the most good.

Mentoring is a key part of the Catawba Teen Center as it provides guidance and support for members when they need it most. Support of mentors is of vital importance at the Teen Center where members are learning not only how to become members of society, but members of the Catawba Nation as well. At the Center, mentoring focuses on community involvement where the youth may learn directly from their elders, which serve as mentors. An example of elder involvement as mentors would start with Chief Bill Harris who remains committed to ensuring the Catawba youth at the Club stay on the right track. Chief Harris believes youth should not only learn from their elders, but they also need to be encouraged and constantly reminded that they have the ability to go beyond where their parents have gone.

Catawba staff members find that Chief Harris is an invaluable mentor to the Catawba youth, teaching them about their past and encouraging them for their future. He often teaches mentors lessons firsthand during time spent together or accompanies them on field trips. For instance, the Chief accompanied members on a kayaking trip down the Catawba River this summer where he was able to have fun and connect with the teens while traveling down the river that carries so much of their history and culture in its wake.

Having leaders like Chief Harris allows the Catawba teens to learn from committed mentors that put their wellbeing first. Now, thanks to the OJP Mentoring Grant, the Catawba mentoring program has the chance to grow and reach more youth more effectively. Still in its early stages of being executed, this program has already allowed the Club’s program coordinator to receive training and support from the National Mentoring Resource Center in California and begin training a group of mentors that is ready to engage the unique concerns facing the Catawba youth. When fully implemented, the OJP Grant will give twenty Catawba teens the chance to have their own mentors with whom they can form a trusting relationship based on meaningful commitment that will not only help them understand who they are as a people, but who they can and will be as individuals. Undoubtedly, such a journey is sure to take them back to the shores of the Catawba River along their way.

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