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Service Delivery Innovation Profile

Outdoor Experiential Youth Development Program Reduces Substance Use and Related Problems Among American Indian Adolescents


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Snapshot

Summary

Project Venture is an outdoor experiential youth development program designed to prevent substance abuse and related problems among American Indian youth, including high-risk youth. The program relies on traditional American Indian values to promote the development of a positive conception of one’s self, effective social interaction skills, a community service ethic, an internal locus of control, and good decisionmaking and problem-solving skills. This nationally recognized program has led to significant reductions in substance use by participants and their peers, as well as improvements in participants’ attitudes and behaviors.

Evidence Rating (What is this?)

Strong: The evidence consists of a randomized controlled trial that compared key measures in randomly assigned treatment and control groups. Outcome measures (e.g., National Youth Survey and Nowicki-Strickland Locus of Control Scale) were assessed at baseline, immediately after the program, and 12 and 18 months after the program.
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Developing Organizations

National Indian Youth Leadership Project
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Patient Population

Age > Adolescent (13-18 years); Race and Ethnicity > American indian or alaska native; Age > Child (6-12 years); Vulnerable Populations > Impoverished; Rural populations; Substance abusersend pp

Problem Addressed

Numerous studies have shown that American Indians, especially teenagers, experience disproportionately high rates of substance use and co-occurring mental illness.
  • More substance use: According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, American Indians between the ages of 12 and 17 years old report higher rates of illicit drug use and more instances of alcohol use disorders than any other racial/ethnic group in the United States.1
  • Earlier use, with more negative consequences: Various epidemiologic studies have shown that American Indian youth start using substances at a younger age, experience higher rates of problem use, and have more negative social consequences from substance use.2
  • Barriers to providing intervention: Several barriers have prevented programs from being effective in reducing substance use among American Indian youth: there is a scarcity of programs targeting American Indians specifically, and those that do are rarely culturally appropriate. Recent research points to positive youth development as a viable alternative to deficit-based programs such as Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or DARE.2

What They Did

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Description of the Innovative Activity

Project Venture is an outdoor experiential youth development program designed to prevent substance abuse and related problems among American Indian youth, including high-risk youth. The program relies on traditional American Indian values to promote the development of a positive self-concept, effective social interaction skills, a community service ethic, an internal locus of control, and good decisionmaking and problem-solving skills. Key elements of the program include the following:
  • Target population: The program is designed for early adolescents in grades five through eight in American Indian schools and community settings in low socioeconomic areas.
  • In-school curricula: The program includes in-school sessions facilitated by a project staff member over the course of the school year. Information provided in February 2014 indicates that the program has 26 weeks of lesson plans. These in-school sessions include socialization activities, trust- and team-building exercises, and games and initiatives that promote problem-solving. The in-school component also includes community service, such as a playground beautification campaign using Navajo rug designs. Classroom teachers are encouraged to participate in these activities.
  • Experiential activities: In addition to the program's in-school component, Project Venture provides participants with a distinct out-of-school component, recruiting a smaller number of youth from the classroom-based sessions to participate in community-based experiential activities that serve as alternatives to substance use. Information provided in February 2014 indicates that curricula exist for both after-school and multiday activities. Each staff member typically leads a group of 7 to 15 youth, working with them to plan, implement, and debrief activities in ways that use their experiences as life metaphors. These activities, which include hiking, bicycling, camping, climbing, and rappelling, challenge youth to develop problem-solving and social interaction skills as well as a positive self-concept, all of which protect against substance use. School vacations and summer time include a week-long camp or wilderness trek that stresses connectedness to and respect for the natural world, which are important spiritual themes of the program. Approximately 150 hours of community-based program activities take place throughout the year, with the program striving to provide a minimum of 20 after-school sessions per year and one weekend activity per month, as well as multiple extended trips and daylong activities on school breaks.
  • Service learning activities: The community-based component includes four service learning projects per year designed to develop leadership qualities and an ethic of service. These projects include adobe building projects, projects focusing on the environment, school-wide mural projects, visiting elders at a senior center, planning menus and serving food at a kitchen that offers free meals to the poor, and designing and implementing plans to reduce violence and promote peace in their communities, among many other activities.
  • Peer leadership: Older teens, who are often previous Project Venture participants, assist with younger middle school participants. These peer leaders serve as role models for younger participants in after-school and summer activities.
  • Family outreach: Parental involvement is an important adjunct strategy, and the program encourages parents to attend all community-based sessions. In addition, four potluck dinners or other family events take place throughout the year. Youth participants facilitate some of these activities, giving them an opportunity to apply and demonstrate skills they have learned in the program.
  • Elder gatherings: The program conducts elder gatherings at camps and schools, during which a group of four or five Tribal elders speak to youth about various themes and Native values (such as service, generosity, and respect for one's elders) in an intimate environment. During these sessions elders and youth have an opportunity to engage in dialogue with each other and speak from their life experiences.

Context of the Innovation

Project Venture is a program of the National Indian Youth Leadership Project, an American Indian-owned and operated, community-based, nonprofit organization based in Gallup, NM, with more than 20 years of experience in youth development. Information provided in February 2014 indicates that a second office has opened in Albuquerque, NM. Project Venture grew out of the Leadership Project's summer youth leadership camps in Oklahoma, which began in 1983. Focused on developing leadership skills and an ethic of service in participants, these camps offered outdoor experiential activities as well as service learning, components that would later inform the content of Project Venture. Camp organizers received a lot of positive feedback from participants’ parents, teachers, and principals, who expressed interest in having a similar program available throughout the year so that youth could apply the knowledge and skills they acquired to situations in their everyday lives. In 1990, the Leadership Project received a grant for Project Venture from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Center for Substance Abuse Prevention; the program has operated continuously since that time.

Did It Work?

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Results

Studies show that Project Venture led to significant reductions in substance use and improved attitudes and behaviors among participants.
  • Reduced tobacco, alcohol, and drug use: A repeated measures study with randomly assigned control and treatment groups found that Project Venture participants had significantly reduced levels of lifetime tobacco and alcohol use and frequency of tobacco and inhalant use. A randomized controlled trial across many Project Venture sites demonstrated that treatment youth had less growth in substance use than control youth and that the program was most successful with alcohol use.2 Subsequent quasi-experimental studies conducted by the National Indian Youth Leadership Project support these findings, and show that the program is also associated with reductions in substance use by participants’ peers.
  • More positive attitudes and behaviors: Project Venture participants scored lower on measures of negative attitudes and behavior, such as depression and aggressive behavior, and higher on measures of positive attitudes and behavior, such as internal locus of control, resiliency, and school attendance.

Evidence Rating (What is this?)

Strong: The evidence consists of a randomized controlled trial that compared key measures in randomly assigned treatment and control groups. Outcome measures (e.g., National Youth Survey and Nowicki-Strickland Locus of Control Scale) were assessed at baseline, immediately after the program, and 12 and 18 months after the program.

How They Did It

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Planning and Development Process

Key steps in the planning and development process include the following:

  • Initial funding for design of the model: The National Indian Youth Leadership Project obtained Indian Education discretionary grants from the U.S. Department of Education to modify the summer camp model into a year-long program.
  • Selling the idea to schools: The program staff met with schools in north-central New Mexico to discuss the possibility of a school-based, year-round youth development program. Program staff showed school board members and administrators initial data from the summer camps to convince them of program’s potential effectiveness. They also demonstrated program activities and met and developed relationships with interested teachers. Four schools were chosen initially to implement the program.
  • Grant application and approval: To fund the program, the Leadership Project submitted an application for a High-Risk Youth Demonstration Grant to the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention in 1990. The grant application was approved, with initial funding provided for 5 years, during which time evaluation data were collected to assess the program’s efficacy.

Resources Used and Skills Needed

  • Staffing: During the early stages of the program, the staff consisted primarily of recent high school graduates who had gone through the summer program at a younger age. Due to the shortage of outdoor experiential education experts, and even fewer who were American Indians, most staff received on-the-job training. In 2009, the program uses a ratio of one staff member for every 15 participants (in addition to classroom teachers); however, some more intensive experiential activities may require higher staff numbers. Additional staffing for the program includes one full-time program coordinator, several part-time staff to facilitate community-based sessions and establish regular contact with youth, and a varying number of community-based cultural experts and elders, who may be under contract, paid stipends, or volunteer their time.
  • Training: Training includes a startup orientation meeting, held by telephone or in person. Until recently, administrators, direct service staff, and key support staff received a 2-day onsite training workshop. Starting in 2009, the program has transitioned away from this staff- and time-intensive onsite training and has begun offering quarterly regional trainings at various locations around the country. Additional training related to basic and wilderness first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), and the facilitation of games and initiatives for team-building, trust-building, and problem-solving is also provided as needed. The annual program training budget is approximately $3,000.
  • Costs: A budget of at least $100,000 per year is needed to serve 100 youth in the in-school component and 30 youth in the community-based components. Roughly half of this budget is for personnel, with program evaluation ($10,000), equipment ($7,000), travel ($7,000), and other operating costs ($7,000) making up the bulk of the remainder. Information provided in February 2014 indicates that the cost of implementing Project Venture has increased; program costs have been conservatively estimated to be $1,500 per student per year. Budgets will vary based on the local environment and funding sources. Information provided in February 2014 indicates that the program costs at replication sites in Canada is roughly double or triple depending on the remoteness of the community, shipping costs, transportation costs, food costs, as well as other factors.
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Funding Sources

Center for Substance Abuse Prevention; Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; Kellogg Foundation; National Indian Youth Leadership Project; New Mexico State Behavioral Health Office; Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; Atlantic Philanthropies Foundation; Marguerite Casey Foundation
Initial funding came from the National Indian Youth Leadership Project and the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention. Since that time, the program has received additional funding from the New Mexico State Behavioral Health Office, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and a number of other foundations.end fs

Adoption Considerations

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Getting Started with This Innovation

  • Obtain support from school administration: The in-school component is crucial as a tool for recruitment and orientation of participants and as a way of reaching more youth. Therefore, it is important to get buy-in from the school administration and to identify a suitable classroom and a teacher who will support the program. Orientations, demonstrations of program activities, and the sharing of evidence-based research on program effectiveness can help in winning the support of school boards, school administrators, teachers, and students.
  • Identify staff with both “soft” and “hard” skills: Soft skills refer to the ability to interact effectively with adolescents (including having appropriate cultural experience and knowledge to do so), while hard skills include recreational, physical, and technical skills. Soft skills are more critical to look for during recruiting because staff can be taught hard skills if necessary during the early stages of implementation.
  • Establish early contact with new sites: Conduct upfront consultation with new project sites, and maintain contact while they are developing their proposals.

Sustaining This Innovation

Conduct regular evaluations of the program: Potential funders and supporters may not understand the indirect approach of this program in combating substance use and promoting health attitudes and behavior. Providing research data demonstrating program effectiveness will assuage these concerns and potentially increase funding that is critical to sustaining the program over time.

Spreading This Innovation

Currently, there are 25 implementations of Project Venture in New Mexico, as well as in 23 other states. The program also began doing workshops in Canada in 2009, at the request of the National Crime Prevention Centre. As of January, 2010, there are four Project Venture implementations in Nova Scotia, as well as a long list of communities waiting to be funded to implement the program. In addition, Project Venture has been adapted and is being implemented in Hungary and Portugal, with Roma youth and African immigrant youth. The National Indian Youth Leadership Project continues to offer training for those interested in Project Venture. Trainings are provided around the country, with 2009–2010 training sessions held in Tulsa; OK; Albuquerque, NM; Lander, WY; and Anchorage, AK.

In 2008–2009, Project Venture leadership conducted a series of workshops for Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Tribal Youth grantees, several of which are considering implementing Project Venture. In addition, several American Indian tribes have received Learn & Serve America grants from the Corporation for National Community Service. Through a contract with the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, the National Indian Youth Leadership Project will provide training in the Project Venture model to those tribes. Through the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention–funded Native Aspirations program, Project Venture will also be implemented in several of the communities participating in the national suicide prevention effort.

As of 2010, the National Indian Youth Leadership Project has also developed a new program called Therapeutic Adventure for Native American Youth (TANAY). This model is an adaptation of some of the elements of Project Venture, with a strong, culturally appropriate mental health component added. The model is currently being implemented in the New Sunrise Regional Youth Treatment Center, an Indian Health Service facility in New Mexico. Information provided in February 2014 indicates that curricula have been developed for TANAY and Web of Life, an adaptation of Project Venture for teen pregnancy prevention. As of February 2014, evidence-based status for both TANAY and Web of Life are being sought.

More Information

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Contact the Innovator

McClellan Hall
Executive Director
National Indian Youth Leadership Project
205 Sunde St.
Gallup, NM 87301
Phone: (505) 722-9176
Fax: (505) 722-9794
E-mail: machall@niylp.org

Innovator Disclosures

Mr. Hall has not indicated whether he has financial interests or business/professional affiliations relevant to the work described in this profile; however, information on funders is available in the Funding Sources section.

References/Related Articles

Project Venture summary. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Model Programs. Available at: http://niylp.org/files/Project%20Venture%20Model%20Program.pdf (If you don't have the software to open this PDF, download free Adobe Acrobat ReaderĀ® software External Web Site Policy.).

Project Venture information sheet. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Model Programs, 2004. Available at: http://niylp.org/files/Project%20Venture%20Model%20Program%20Info.pdf.

Footnotes

1 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: National survey on drug use and health report. Substance use and substance use disorders among American Indians and Alaska natives. January 19, 2007. Available at: http://www.oas.samhsa.gov/2k7/AmIndians/AmIndians.pdf. Accessed February 2, 2009.
2 Carter S, Straits J, Hall M. Project Venture: evaluation of an experiential, culturally-based approach to substance abuse prevention with American Indian youth. J Experiential Educ. 2007;29(3):397-400.
Comment on this Innovation

Disclaimer: The inclusion of an innovation in the Innovations Exchange does not constitute or imply an endorsement by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, or Westat of the innovation or of the submitter or developer of the innovation. Read more.

Original publication: April 14, 2008.
Original publication indicates the date the profile was first posted to the Innovations Exchange.

Last updated: March 12, 2014.
Last updated indicates the date the most recent changes to the profile were posted to the Innovations Exchange.

Date verified by innovator: February 12, 2014.
Date verified by innovator indicates the most recent date the innovator provided feedback during the annual review process. The innovator is invited to review, update, and verify the profile annually.