The United Methodist Native American International Caucus (NAIC) received a $30,000 grant from the Institute for Youth Development in Washington, making it the first Native American denominational ministry recipient to President Bush’s faith-based and community initiative program.
The Institute for Youth Development is one of 81 organizations awarded more than $30 million to support faith-based community organizations that work with homeless, drug-addicts and others in need.
The Rev. Alvin Deer, the caucus executive director, prided as the first church-related native American group to receive a national grant.
"Neither the Presbyterians, American Baptist, Lutheran, Reformed Church of America nor Episcopal church representatives knew of any of their constituencies that have received faith-based funding," said Deer. "Because native ministries are struggling just to be congregations, 99 percent of them are not knowledgeable about the faith-based initiative of the government."
With the help of the grant, the NAIC will begin a nationwide Native American Network, named the “Native Dimensions Network,” that would connect youth through education, counseling and support, March 31.
The future goal of this network would be 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.
"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.
The NDN is headed by 10 youth who would be the “peer” leaders in their communities, under the guidance from NAIC board members.
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," said White. " I love the network idea. 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.
The “Faith-based” initiative began in 2001 under the auspices of the Bush Administration. These funds allow churches and religious entities federal funding in specific social programs.
"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.