At the age of 15, Erving, a Zuni Pueblo member, was already a young father. He was struggling in school, falling into the wrong crowd and didn’t have a lot of direction or know where he wanted to go.
Enter Joseph Claunch, co-director of the Zuni Youth Enrichment Project (ZYEP), who encouraged Erving to join the football team – a team he now proudly coaches. According to Claunch, “Most of the work we do is about creating physical activities that will have a transformative impact on youth participants’ lives, so they get all of the benefits of sport – active lifestyle, nutrition and life skills.”
Protected by its geographic isolation, the Zuni Pueblo’s language, religion, traditions and art are an integral part of daily life. In an effort to keep Zuni culture alive and vibrant, ZYEP promotes the development of healthy lifestyles and self-esteem among Zuni youth through enriching activities that encourage them to grow into strong and healthy adults who are connected to Zuni traditions.
Until now, the organization has been operating out of an old FEMA trailer, but thanks in part to the N7 Fund Build the Field grant, ZYEP is opening a state-of-the-art park, basketball court and community center in Zuni’s main village, where the organization can expand its work and programming year-round to support more local youth and families.
Shortly after Erving joined the football team, they went on to win the district championship. From there, Erving’s grades and attitude improved. According to Claunch, “Football helped Erving become a better person, father and husband.” It’s now six years later, and Erving is going to school to finish his education while coaching for ZYEP. According to Claunch, “We don’t have a better coach than him. No one is making a bigger impact. This has given him a platform to give back to his community.”
Erving credits his turnaround to Claunch, who coached and encouraged him along with the way.” Now Erving’s son and nephew both play on one of the teams he coaches. “It’s part of the reason I want to give back,” Erving says. “Now my son and nephew have all of these opportunities I never got to experience when I was young. Now I can help inspire the next generation.”