Native Youth: Resilience Through Mentorship

with Carla Knapp of Native Services, Boys and Girls Clubs of America

American Indians and Alaska Natives disproportionately experience health, educational, and economic disparities compared to the general population.

Carla Knapp, Vice President of Native Services with Boys and Girls Clubs of America, joins host Tetiana Anderson to share how Native Clubs prioritize the wellbeing of Native youth through mentorship.

Posted on:

October 29, 2021

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: According to the Center for Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute, American Indians and Alaskan Natives experience many health, educational, and economic disparities, compared to the general population. Hello and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. There are a number of contributing factors for these disparities, including historical trauma, discrimination, and underfunded federal programs. For the past 30 years, Boys & Girls clubs of America have provided culturally competent support to native youth to help them reach their full potential. And someone who knows all about that is Carla Knapp. She is the national vice president of Native Services with Boys & Girls Clubs of America. And, Carla, thanks for being here.

Knapp: Thank you for having me. I'm very honored to be here today.

Anderson: So, your organization is the largest one of its kind serving native youth in all 50 states and territories, and that's amazing. What's also amazing is that I know a lot about the club, and I had no idea you were working with native youth and that you've been doing it for 30 years. So, how did the club get involved in this space? And what are some of the big areas where you're offering service to these young people?

Knapp: Yes. So, we have been around. Matter of fact, in 2022, we will be celebrating 30 years of Boys & Girls Clubs in Indian country, opening our first club in 1992. And often, I say we are the best-kept secret. But our scale and our footprint reaches youth from American Samoa, Hawaii native youth, Alaska native youth, and Native American youth. And we partner with over 140 recognized tribes in 28 states.

Anderson: So, you've made such great progress, you've had such a lasting impact that you're looking to expand. So I'm wondering what that plan looks like for you.

Knapp: Well, we believe every native youth and every native community deserves a Boys & Girls club. So we do have an aggressive growth strategy that any native community that wants to establish a Boys & Girls Club, we work in partnership with them and to ensure that their dream comes true of having a club within their community.

Anderson: The bottom line here is that it's working. You've seen it working. What lets you know that? What have you seen on the ground?

Knapp: We have seen so many favorable outcomes and seen the impact that we've made to native youth. As we talked earlier, we have been around for 30 years. We are seeing young club members actually grow up through the 30 years and become club alumni, and we're seeing them graduating from high school on time, being academically successful. And when we think of character and leadership, we're seeing them come back as a tribal leader, a councilman, or even employed within their tribal community or being productive. So we have seen so many success stories with our native youth.

Anderson: And of course, COVID-19 changed a lot of things for everyone. But I'm wondering how you have seen your club adapt to that, how you've seen the native youth adapt to that so they can sort of keep things going.

Knapp: They have been so inspiring and innovative, the way that they have continued to serve youth during a pandemic. And not only just to youth but even expanding services to family. They have been the heartbeat of communities when it comes to meal delivery or grab-and-go or even feeding families on site with social distance. But they've also been able to provide virtual programing or even programing on site to ensure that youth are on track to graduate.

Anderson: So, native youth aren't the only population that you serve in a very targeted way. I mean, you do this with Black youth, you do this with Hispanic youth, and other marginalized groups. How important are these tailored services to these various groups? I mean, what difference does that make in the outcomes that you see?

Knapp: So, I do run a specialty unit for native youth -- native services -- but at Boys & Girls Club of America, we believe in providing culturally relevant services, programs, and resources, because we believe, when you have that sense of pride, sense of identity, and sense of belonging, our youth thrive. And therefore we set great futures for our youth.

Anderson: And, Carla, if people want to find out more about the services you offer, where can they go? What's the website?

Knapp: Our website is

Anderson: Carla Knapp with Boys & Girls Clubs of America Native Services, thank you so much for being here.

Knapp: Well, thank you for having me. It was truly an honor. And thank you for helping to elevate the great work at Boys & Girls Clubs of America for native services.

Anderson: And thanks to our viewers, as well, for watching. As always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the country, log on to I'm Tetiana Anderson.

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