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Promise Neighborhoods Program Underway on Northern Cheyenne Nation

The Boys & Girls Club of the Northern Cheyenne Nation was the only Native American entity to receive a Promise Neighborhood grant.
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In 2010, the Boys & Girls Club of the Northern Cheyenne Nation (BGCNCN) was the only tribal entity to receive a portion of a $10 million Promise Neighborhood planning grant, now the Obama administration has tripled funding for the program—modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone started in the early 1990s—to $30 million.

“The Harlem Children’s Zone figured out that good schools alone won’t do it; in order for children to get a good education, succeed, and want to come back and contribute to their communities, families have to be strong and supported,” Michael McAfee, director of the Promise Neighborhoods Institute at PolicyLink, told Indian Country Today Media Network. His organization works with communities to build Promise Neighborhoods.

One of those communities the institute is working with is the BGCNCN, which is currently in the planning and analysis stages of starting a Promise Neighborhood that will cover the Northern Cheyenne Reservation and the bordering towns of Colstrip and Ashland, Montana.

Community meetings have uncovered a number of things residents feel are needed to make its Promise Neighborhood successful.

“One is having more after school activities available for youth, basically extending the hours in the day to still be engaging in something positive,” Marissa Spang, Promise Neighborhoods project director for BGCNCN, told ICTMN. She mentioned things like tutoring, internships, and life skills and critical thinking classes all in an effort to get students “prepared for life beyond high school.”

Spang said people also want their children to have access to native language classes and be able to speak their language.

“What we really have is a desire to improve outcomes for our children and a willingness to do whatever it takes to make sure that they are successful,” she said.

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And because Frank Farrow, director of the Center for the Study of Social Policy, called Promise Neighborhoods “innovative and data-driven,” Spang and the BGCNCN is taking data collection and long-term buy-in seriously.

“This is a long-term shift to how we approach and how we implement services for youth, not a short-term quick fix,” she said. “It requires a long-term buy-in in order for outcomes to change and improve.”

BGCNCN is working with five area schools, the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, the Bureau of Indian Affairs-Northern Cheyenne Agency, the Indian Health Service-Northern Cheyenne Service Unit, two nonprofits—Native Action and Hopa Mountain—and two private foundations—First Interstate Bank and O.P. & W.E. Edwards Foundation—to design a successful program.

“The club is fortunate to have staff on the project who are powerfully-minded, educated young people who graduated from college and are now working in our community to improve outcomes for other young people,” said Geri Small, BGCNCN chief professional officer. “As a former tribal leader, I can say that Promise Neighborhoods is supporting local efforts to build upon the priority of our tribe to improve educational, health and cultural outcomes for our children. There has been a strong commitment from our partners and our Northern Cheyenne tribal leadership to see this project through.”

McAfee said the Promise Neighborhoods model can work in any community. “What it takes is community participation, and strong leadership, and tribal communities have that in abundance,” he said.

Angela Glover Blackwell, PolicyLink founder and CEO called the Promise Neighborhood grants a “wonderful investment in America,” in a Huffington Post column.

“This renewed commitment from Congress is exactly what we need in order to lift children out of poverty so that they can learn, grow, succeed and come back to help the next generation thrive,” she said in the column.