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Laguna Pueblo Teen Receives Important Award

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Kyle Swimmer, 17, and Scott Yarbrough, 13, were recently named New Mexico's 2011 top two youth volunteers by the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, Business Wire reported. Each will receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion, and an all-expense-paid trip in May to Washington, D.C., where they will join honorees from other states for a celebration. While in D.C., 102 State Honorees will tour the capital’s landmarks, attend a gala awards ceremony at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, and visit their congressional representatives on Capitol Hill. In addition to that, ten of them will be named National Honorees for 2011.

Swimmer, a senior at Laguna Acoma High School, received his award for forming an 11-member dance collective to share the dances and culture of his Laguna Pueblo tribe with other communities, and to inspire other Indian youths to learn the language and tradition of his people. Swimmer, who was raised on the reservation by his grandparents, is fluent in Keres, a language spoken by the Pueblo in his area. He noticed that many of his friends did not even know how to speak their language, and were losing ties with their traditional culture. He became concerned that the ancient tradition might disappear with the elders. To improve the dire situation, the boy formed the “Kitzit” Laguna Youth Dance Group and started recruiting young people who were interested to learn the dances and the language. He even used his own money to pay for costumes needed for the performances.

Members met at Swimmer’s home to practice their art and study the language. The boy’s mother helped him to schedule performances and negotiates the fees. After they started making money, Swimmer donated $1,000 of their earnings to a scholarship fund in his grandfather’s honor, to promote the education of tribal youth. “I have watched kids come from single-parent homes doing drugs and not giving a care in the world about what happens tomorrow,” Swimmer said. “I have seen them completely change into individuals who want to make a positive difference for our people.”

The other New Mexico honoree, Yarbrough , is an eighth-grader at Mountain View Middle School. He received his award for planning and teaching a class on Boy Scout patrol development to 50 boys at a youth leadership training seminar held by his local scout troop. According to the Business Wire, Yarbrough was active in scouting since the first grade and also served as a patrol leader in his troop. While in a weeklong national training program, he realized that he had both the skills and desire to design and teach a class of his own. “By seeing how much these trainings helped me, I was inspired to help all of the current and future patrol leaders,” he said. After a month of planning, Yarbrough together with a partner devised a lesson plan, a list of materials they would need, and posters and models for visual aids. The class was a success. “The skills I taught can also be used outside of the troop in other organizations,” Yarbrough said.

According to the Awards website, it is the largest youth recognition program in America based exclusively on volunteer community service. It was created in 1995 by Prudential in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP). Over the past 15 years, more than 280,000 young Americans have participated in the program, and more than 90,000 of them have been officially recognized for their volunteer work.