■ By Mike Hiles / Contributed
When young members of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians’ Tribal TANF were asked to lend a hand with holiday crafts and games for youngsters whose parents were taking care of last-minute holiday preparations, about 20 of them stepped up to the task.
In lieu of their regular Tribal Teen Night where they participate in structured, positive activities for Native youth from ages 12 through 19, the teens met with preschoolers at the multipurpose center on Dec. 19 to interact with the youngsters from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Older children were welcomed at the Soboba Sports Complex where members of the Soboba Youth Council entertained visitors age six and up with sports activities, video games, cookie decorating and more intricate crafts.
Back at the Soboba Tribal Preschool’s multipurpose center that is shared with the TANF offices, tiny hands were painted to make impressions on cardboard to look like reindeer (beige) or the Grinch (green). Jingle bell bracelets were fashioned from pipe cleaners and small bells and popsicle stick elves were being assembled at another table.
Cookie decorating was by far the most popular activity and several of the delectable sweets actually made it to the “take home” table for kids to enjoy later.
Javier Martinez had transported three TANF teens from the Santa Rosa Band of Cahuilla Indians Reservation in Mountain Center so they could share in the fun.
“I really wanted to do this – it’s fun and more interesting than sitting at home,” said Samuel Graviloni, 12, of Soboba.
Nephreteri Salinas, 13, also of Soboba, said she likes helping out because she knows it’s so much fun for the little kids.
“I’ve been with TANF about a year and every Teen Night we do something different,” she said. “Tonight I’ve done a little bit of everything, working with the kids.”
Su’la Arviso said she was happy to assist so parents could get away for the night to take care of some Christmas shopping.
“We are the next generation of leaders so we need to help whenever and wherever we can,” said Su’la, 13, of Soboba.
The Soboba Tribal TANF offers the LEAD Prevention Program to help youth avoid teen pregnancies and substance abuse. The goal is to provide a collaborative network of structured programs to deter Native youth from engaging in behaviors that put them at risk for out-of-wedlock pregnancy, alcohol and substance abuse, violence, dropping out of school and other concerns.
The Prevention Resource Center (PRC) is committed to encouraging youth empowerment, developing youth leadership attributes and fostering positive relationships and identities that result in becoming a self-sufficient adult.
Access to computer labs, mental health services and parent support are all important components of the programs. Eligible youth must live on the Soboba Indian Reservation, the Santa Rosa Indian Reservation, the Cahuilla Indian Reservation or within the city of Riverside. Soboba and Santa Rosa members and descendants may live within Riverside County.
In addition to the weekly Tribal Teen Nights that include workshops on leadership, tribal government, prevention, abstinence, college attainment and cultural activities aimed at empowering self-identity, TANF also offers GED classes, tutorial services and work experience programs.
Guest speakers are sometimes invited to share career and life skills information with the youth and several members of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department regularly interact with the young men and women through field trips and other endeavors.
Because of this relationship, officers were eager to help out some families in need this holiday season by assisting Santa Claus with the delivery of some gifts for the children.
On Dec. 19, Deputies Antonio Soto, Trent Tully and Kelly Looney brought armloads of wrapped gifts to the TANF office at the Soboba Reservation where parents picked them up. Seven children, ages four through 16, were gifted with something from their wish list.
Virginia Duenaz has been involved with the TANF program for years and likes how it supports its members in many different ways. Her family has had a rough year and she is helping raise some of her grandchildren.
“I wasn’t expecting this at all,” Duenaz said when she saw all the presents. “I just lost my oldest son and this really helps us out.”
Marian Tortez said TANF has always been there – not only for the kids but for the families, which she really appreciates.
Dep. Soto said it felt great to aid the “big guy” by delivering gifts since the three officers usually work separate shifts. One day a week they work together and that is when they gathered up the gifts that Dep. Looney wrapped to deliver them to Soboba.
Jessika Greek has worked at the TANF office for several months as an administrative and activities assistant. She originally worked with the tutoring program so she already knows many of the young people in the program.
“The youth get to know each other and it’s not just the same kids they see at school all the time,” Greek said. “They are already gearing up to attend Dream the Impossible Native Youth Conference in April.”
For more information visit www.sobobatanf.org.