Ninety children attended the second year of Make a Change Summer Youth Camp at Jones Academy, hosted by the Choctaw Nation.
This was an increase in participation over the inaugural 2013 event, which welcomed 80 children. The camp is a new take on the summer retreat concept, focusing on culture, fitness, nutrition and self-respect.
“We just wanted to give the kids a positive outlook on life, give them some confidence and social skills,” said Raina Sparks, youth camp coordinator. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do since working at the Choctaw Nation. A lot of these kids have never been away from home until they come here. We have different grants that help cover it.”
Unlike most other Choctaw Nation youth camps, Make a Change was open to all children ages 8-12 who live within tribal boundaries. Participation was made available on a first-come, first-served basis and advertised through public schools.
Native American inspirational speaker Brian Jackson addressed the group. Jackson — known as the “I Believe Guy” who appeared on “America’s Got Talent” Season 6 and holds multiple Guinness world records — helped the children set a record for paper football making.
“I want to teach you to hold onto something you love to do — and never let that go,” Jackson said to the children. “Impossible situations will come at you in all shapes and sizes. When we get a second chance handed to us, what we do with that second chance is completely up to us.”
Participants were treated to a variety of events and activities throughout the two and one-half days. Choctaw culture was on full display. Ian Thompson showed kids how to make flint arrowheads and native beadwork.
Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation staff member Dalton Lyons brought live animals to teach the children about nature. Indoor and outdoor physical activities included tug-of-war, taekwondo and a nighttime, one-mile glow run.
The Choctaw Nation is the third-largest Native American nation in the United States. The first tribe over the Trail of Tears, the historic boundaries are in the southeast corner of Oklahoma. The Choctaw Nation’s vision is “To achieve healthy, successful, productive and self-sufficient lifestyles for a proud nation of Choctaws.” Tribal business success the past few years has enabled the nation to begin to achieve this vision, plus assist communities within the tribal boundaries. Servant leadership is an important value to Choctaw people. For information about the Choctaw Nation, its culture, heritage and traditions, visit www.choctawnation.com.