On the Nez Perce Reservation and in surrounding areas, young people often lack a safe, drug-free place to spend time during after-school hours. Many also lack mentorship from elder community members, creating a disconnect between newer generations and their heritage.
The Chief Joseph Foundation (CJF)’s Mounted Scholars Program gives Nez Perce youth a positive after-school environment that fosters personal growth, academic success and awareness of cultural heritage. CJF focuses on equestrian activities and instruction, teaching at-risk students how to care for and eventually ride the Appaloosa horses that are so vital to Nez Perce history and custom.
A $16,880 Community Strategies grant from Innovia Foundation helped CJF expand the program for the 2018 spring semester and hire a program manager to oversee activities, coordinate events and cultivate a more sustainable donor base.
Participants in the Mounted Scholars Program develop increased self-esteem, responsibility, academic ability and appreciation for the history of their land and community. CJF enlists local elders to mentor students, encouraging cross-generational bonds and the passing down of cultural traditions.
“I have seen how proud kids are of themselves and of their friends as they strive to conquer their fears and accomplish their riding goals,” says Melissa Bigsby, a CFJ riding instructor. “I have also seen them support and care for one another when they face difficulties… Horses are a means by which we teach children much more than simply riding. We give these kids a chance to grow and to gain life skills to succeed in life.”