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SHEEP SPRINGS — Children and teens played volleyball during a recreation outing by a community program that is encouraging communication between community members in the Tooh Haltsooí Chapter.

For some of the 11 players, Tuesday's game was the first time they played volleyball. To help them understand the game, they received guidance from program volunteers and other players.

The recreation day is part of a summer program offered by the chapter and the Along the Ch'ooshgai Mountain Group, an organization that focuses on suicide prevention and youth empowerment.

Organizers are balancing traditional teachings with activities for youth and families that promote healthy living through exercise, food and physical, spiritual and mental wellness.

From June through July the program offers movie night on Mondays at the chapter house, followed by recreation day on Ch'ooshgai Mountain on Tuesdays, and traditional craft day on Thursdays at the chapter house, according to the program schedule.

Chapter Manager Kevin Begay said the program is funded by grants from the Navajo Department of Behavioral Health Services, the Navajo Transitional Energy Company and revenue from the tribe's tax on unhealthy foods.

"We have a senior center that provides services to the seniors, but we don't have nothing for the youth and that's one of our main focuses, to incorporate the youth," Begay said.

Another aspect of the program is teaching the youth about living on the mountain, which many Sheep Springs families did during the summer.

"When I was a kid, this place would be hopping. Young people herding their sheep," he said adding it is important for the younger generation to understand because that lifestyle is part of the community.

Recreation day provided an activity for 11-year-old Jennifer Tenijieth.

"It's fun," Tenijieth said after playing volleyball.

Tristann Sandman brought her children along with her nieces and nephews. They enjoyed walking in the forest, where the younger ones picked up twigs then chased each other in an open area near the volleyball game.

Sandman likes the program because it provides time for the children to disconnect from electronic devices and learn about outdoor activities.

Her family also participates in movie night and crafts day.

"I think what they are doing is great," Sandman said of the organizers.

Lenusya Morris, supervisor for the chapter's summer youth employment program, brought four teens from the employment program to the area.

It allows them to interact with others, which helps build social skills, Morris said.

"I think they walk away with a little more knowledge. If we put more say into it, give them more inspirational quotes, I think they will walk away with more insight about how they are loved," Morris said.

Other activities the chapter has planned for July are a math camp and a multi-generational Navajo song and dance.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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