Hannah Honani, a program manager with the Hopi Foundation, has been working on opportunity youth issues since 2014. She is from the village of Sitsom’ovi, on the Hopi Reservation in northern Arizona, and comes from the roadrunner clan. In this Q&A with Forum for Community Solutions staff, she explains why she got involved in this work, and what inspires her to keep going.
FCS: Why and how did you get involved in opportunity youth work?
Hannah: Every job that I’ve had was in the realm of helping youth. Working at our local high school as a paraprofessional, I learned that many of our kids learn differently and that there was a gap in us, as adults, to meet youth where they are at. Since being employed with the Hopi Opportunity Youth Initiative (HOYI), starting out as a Youth Liaison, I was exposed to a different approach and strategies to be able to reach our kids more intentionally and honestly. Working for a non-profit opens your eyes to many things you don’t normally get exposed to. The work is intense yet rewarding because you connect with your community on a real level where you understand your role as someone trying to make a difference in your own community, for your community, and with your community.
FCS: Why is it important to provide professional development and leadership trajectories for young people to lead the work, and what types of supports have you received? What additional support do you think young people need?
Hannah: It’s so essential to allow leadership development in any capacity for students. There are many types of leaders and if youth can home in on their strengths or niche, they can better define their pathways of success. Leadership training will also assist youth to maneuver challenges and obstacles in any setting, by understanding how to communicate and recognize others communication and leadership styles. The support that I have been fortunate to receive while working for a native non-profit, are the exact training that I have mentioned but in a scaffolded approach where each training is built upon to provide deeper insight in facilitation, leadership traits, and effective communication. Other support that would be helpful for youth is understanding self in all areas of well-being (mental, physical, emotional, spiritual, etc.). Understanding this will lead one to be an effective communicator, recognize obstacles, maneuver through hardships, and maintain a strong connection to who they are and where they come from.
What makes us unique in our work is who we are as native people and our resiliency to continue to live, prosper, and lead a life that our ancestors laid out for us. Although we've had many set-backs, challenges and loss of some traditional practices, we manage to keep our spirit strong and believe in who we are as Hopi and Tewa people by encouraging learning our language, identity and beliefs that carry so much hope and faith that we will continue to strive for generations to come.
FCS: Why do think it’s important to continue to fund opportunity youth work and invest in collaborative approaches?
Hannah: It is vital that this work continues to be invested in because our children are forever changing and learning differently than children before them. Our world as we know it is always changing. Trends come and go and with the basic framework of how we conduct this work being modified and evaluated, we must continue to adapt to change and continue meeting our youth where they are at as well as the environments they come from. A “wrap-around” approach to how we invest in our youth is key, this only comes with collaboration or “Sumi’nangwa” (coming together for the benefit of all). We, as a community, parents, guardians, service providers, all have a role and responsibility in our youths’ lives and future generations to come.
FCS: Generally, how has your work for the opportunity youth network impacted your future?
Hannah: This work has opened my eyes to understand the impact it has on our youth and how much more work needs to be done, but that there are people that are genuinely invested in this work long-term. As a mother of two girls, it hits close to home the responsibility I have to not only my own kids but all our kids because they will be the ones to lead us. Our policies and laws are outdated and don’t align with how our community is being impacted by the negative influences and consequences that affect our community members and essentially our youth.
FCS: Can you describe how your work has affected the community you are from?
Hannah: This work has shed light not only on the deficits of our community and gaps of services for our youth, but that as a Native people we are strong and still very much practice our cultural way of life. We understand that we need to incorporate our values in our work as it relates to who we are as Hopi and Tewa people. Our culture is what we tap into to continue healing and doing this work for and with our youth and community.
FCS: What makes the work you do for the opportunity youth network unique?
Hannah: What makes us unique in our work is who we are as native people and our resiliency to continue to live, prosper, and lead a life that our ancestors laid out for us. Although we’ve had many set-backs, challenges and loss of some traditional practices, we manage to keep our spirit strong and believe in who we are as Hopi and Tewa people by encouraging learning our language, identity and beliefs that carry so much hope and faith that we will continue to strive for generations to come.
FCS: What are some outstanding issues/challenges that remain in the systems you are trying to change?
Hannah: Some outstanding issues/ challenges that remain is in our legal system and tribal government adapting and evolving around the ever-changing climate that is our community. There have been a few community champions willing to advocate for policy change in many areas that impact our youths lives. Our policy/laws are outdated and don’t align with how our community is being impacted by negative influences and the consequences that affect our community members and essentially our youth.