NAAF Creates Programs to Fulfill Critical Tohono O’odham Needs

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Native American Advancement Foundation projects promote education, health, and job training

Native American Advancement Foundation (NAAF) is seeing the results of programs designed to help members of the GuVo District—part of the Tohono O’odham Nation—as the community becomes better educated, achieves better health, and learns the skills necessary to obtain better jobs.

In 2011, NAAF initiated an After-School Program and Virtual Learning Center, designed to fill the educational needs of both children and adults in the GuVo District. School-age children from GuVo attend schools that are overseen by the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE), which is part of the Department of the Interior. The BIE-operated schools are severely underfunded. With the schools lacking the resources necessary to help students succeed, and parents sometimes lacking the ability to help their children academically, NAAF found that students often became discouraged. With nowhere to turn for help with homework, students attending BIE schools began to fall behind.

  • NAAF’s After-School Program was created to ensure students are reading at an appropriate grade level, to improve students’ grade point average, to increase high school graduation rates, and to provide healthy meals for children who would otherwise go without.
  • The goal of the Virtual Learning Center is to help those who are beyond school age, or who are unable to attend classes, obtain their high school diploma. By educating adults, including parents, the Virtual Learning Center is providing a resource for school-age children to get help with homework or other academic issues. It also paves the way to a brighter future for adults who may have had limited opportunities without a high school diploma.

Together, the After-School Program and the Virtual Learning Center have served 161 individual students—and none of the students have dropped out of high school or out of the program. More importantly, the GuVo District now has the highest graduation rate in the Tohono O’odham Nation, due mainly to the two programs instituted by NAAF.

Other concerns expressed by GuVo residents are food insecurity, obesity, and diabetes. To address these issues, NAAF opened The Store in January 2018. The Store sells staples, like milk, eggs, and rice, along with health and wellness items. The Store has two goals: the first goal is to provide access to food and staples to a community that often drives 100 miles for groceries. The second goal is to provide vocational training and job opportunities to community members.

The Store is staffed by community volunteers, unpaid interns, and employees. Twice a year, internships are available to select applicants from the After-School Program. At the end of a six-month internship, paid, part-time positions are made available for a six-month term.

Everyone who works at The Store (whether interns, employees or volunteers) has the opportunity to build work skills and gain experience in ordering, stocking, and bookkeeping, in addition to learning how to handle money, manage a retail store, create product promotions, and write a resumé. The mission of The Store is to prepare members of the community for permanent employment beyond the reservation. To help them in their mission, NAAF relies heavily on the participation of volunteers from the community. In addition, NAAF provides transportation to and from all programs.

NAAF not only encourages every member of the Tohono O’odham Nation to envision a better future for themselves and their children, they also provide innovative programs to make that vision a reality and are proud to report success of new opportunities.

To find out more about Native American Advancement Foundation, please visit

About Native American Advancement Foundation
Native American Advancement Foundation (NAAF) was formed in 2011 by members of the Tohono O’odham Tribe. Through the combined efforts of Tribal Members and by partnering with outside organizations, NAAF helps strengthen their Native American communities in the areas of education, health and wellness, housing, food sustainability, environment, and animal welfare. NAAF also creates economic opportunities on tribal lands. As members of the Nation, NAAF has a long-term commitment to the betterment of their community and an understanding of the needs and desires of the people of the District and the Nation at large.

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Taylor Bentall