Get to Know a Grantee: Ain Dah Yung Center

Youth learning how to set up a traditional tipi at Ain Dah Yung Center

The Ain Dah Yung Center (ADYC) is an emergency shelter for runaway and homeless American Indian youth located in St. Paul, Minnesota. A Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) Minnesota Runaway and Homeless Youth (RHY) grantee, they currently receive funding under the Transitional Living Program (TLP).

In the Ojibwe language, Ain Dah Yung means “Our Home” – which highlights the center’s mission to provide a culturally relevant safe space for American Indian youth in one of the most concentrated urban American Indian populations in the US. ADYC’s work incorporates a deep understanding of how a history that includes generations of displacement and relocation, community separation, and loss of cultural practices, trickles down to the struggles facing these communities today. While American Indians represent only 2 percent of the population in Minnesota, they disproportionately make up 22 percent of the homeless population. The National Clearinghouse on Homeless Youth and Families (NCHYF) spoke to ADYC Residential Director Holly Henning and Youth Lodge Coordinator Celina Jubera to learn more about their work and why it is so vital to provide programs and services that are grounded in the culture and tradition of the American Indian community.

How long have you had a FYSB grant?

HENNING: We have had FYSB funding for over 25 years. We currently have the Transitional Living Program (TLP) Grant. In the past, we had the Basic Center Grant and the Street Outreach Grant. We are now a subgrantee of StreetWorks Outreach Collaborative for Homeless Youth on a FYSB Street Outreach Grant.

Can you describe the programs you provide and the members of your community that they serve?

HENNING: As a whole, we have seven core programs.

Our Emergency Shelter was founded in 1983. It has ten beds for youth ages 5-17 and serves runaway and homeless youth (RHY) and youth who may have been removed by Child Protective Services (CPS) or have become homeless in other ways.

The Beverley A. Benjamin Youth Lodge is our TLP funded by FYSB for youth ages 16-21. Young folks can stay up to 18 months and they have access to resources like life skills groups.

Mino Oski Ain Dah Yung (“Good New Home”) is our new, 42-unit permanent supportive housing project for youth ages 18-24. We opened it last year. A lot of the time, we have young folks who are in our TLP, but they don’t have the resources and they need additional support [before living independently]. So now, we have an additional steppingstone to move them into permanent supportive housing.

We also have our Street Outreach Program, Ninijanisag (“Our Children”) Program, Zhawenimaa (“They Are Loved Unconditionally”) Safe Harbor Program and Oyate Nawajin (“Stand with the People”) Program.

What are program successes and accomplishments that you have achieved?

HENNING: For our youth lodge, FYSB is our primary funder. FYSB’s funds allow us to have Celina [Jubera] be here and be an amazing advocate for our young people. Federal funds help us expand and cover all of our overnight staffing and weekend staffing, which ensures a safe place for our youth. Related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Cares Act funding help us to cover our essential staff. They were putting themselves at risk working with young folks, and we were able to increase their pay and ensure their safety. It also helped us get all the additional cleaning and sanitation supplies we needed during the pandemic.

Cultural specific services are crucial in our work with Native American youth. FYSB has been a good partner in understanding the importance of – and being willing to fund – culturally specific services and interventions. There are some funders who will say, “Show me how your culturally specific programming actually does something for a young person.” That’s such a hard thing to measure because it is carried from individual to individual. In a report that we generally provide, we show demographic information and program enrollment and completion numbers. It’s not really going to encompass the fact that we provided services that allowed youth to get an Indian name or to start going to ceremony or to reconnect with their family or community. Those kinds of stories aren’t included in general reporting requirements.

How do RHY issues impact the American Indian community and American Indian youth?

HENNING: It’s important to really point out the history of why Native Americans have higher disparities when it comes to homelessness and the other issues we are highlighting, specifically when we talk about youth and young people. We have had experiences of new trauma and losses piled on to past unhealed historical trauma. That is passed down through generations and has led to high rates of suicide, homicide, homelessness, chemical and mental health needs in our community.

This is why our youth are still struggling. These are the generations now that are trying to rebuild and come out of the traumatic childhood that they had. That history piece is so important and so vital to keep educating people about because so many people are unaware of these things. There are very specific reasons that our communities are struggling and hurting. We are still trying to rebuild.

How do you incorporate traditional American Indian beliefs and culture into your work?

HENNING: When Native youth and families are coming into our programs, a lot of the work that we are trying to focus on first are those cultural pieces. It really takes a person being able to get grounded and to start healing from some of that historical trauma before they can even try to focus on where they are going to go to school or how to get a job. Therefore, we really stress that at the forefront of the work that we do and make sure that whoever comes through our doors has the resources and the things that they need, cultural wise, to move forward in healing before figuring out the rest of their case plan.

JUBERA: Our TLP has all people of color, all Indigenous people, working at the center. Everyone there has grown up in the cultural way of life. That’s really important to have when we have a culturally specific program. There is pride in having a large Indigenous staff. The feedback from the youth is often that they had no idea this was around and they are so glad they are able to be a part of this program because they get to explore their Native heritage that they didn’t have the opportunity to explore when they were younger.

What partnerships are essential to your work?

HENNING: As Native people, we are taught from a young age to be a good relative. If you look at that organizationally and structurally, it also means having collaboration and good relationships with funders and policy makers at national, state, and local levels. Both with individuals and communities.

We are in pretty close partnership with a couple of the Native specific schools here, but also well-versed with the Homeless Liaisons in Minneapolis and St. Paul public schools and some of the charter schools that our youth come from. We have really good partnerships with the Indian Health Board and the Native American Community Clinic. We do have a relationship with the Homeless Action Team (HAT) which is part of the Metro Transit System.

What are the strengths of your community in addressing RHY issues?

HENNING: As a people, we are super resilient. The way we have come together with our relatives to still be here after what our communities have faced, that we are still holding on to our traditions and we are reteaching our languages, that we still have our songs and ceremonies – all of that speaks volumes to how strong we are as a community.

What recommendations do you have for others looking to engage with the American Indian community and American Indian youth in particular?

HENNING: What I would say is that they should take the time to educate themselves on Native culture, Native history, and these specific pieces of trauma – historical trauma – that we carry. Those are important things to know about because we are not just going to trust anyone from any organization. We have young folks coming through our doors that we have to build trust with even though we are Native too.

JUBERA: Don't expect all Native youth to know about their culture or have tribal ties to their communities. For youth to come into our programs or others programs, and to have to be put on the spot about what tribe they are in or about their culture, it adds shame – because they feel like they should know. If the youth is ready to learn about it, that’s great. Sometimes they are not – it’s not where they are on their journey and it’s important to be aware of that.

HENNING: It really is about being mindful and open. There is a lot of educating that needs to happen and there has to be an open mindedness piece. Although you might not identify with [an American Indian belief or tradition] or it may not make sense to you in your culture, that assumption will mean you cannot effectively work with a young person who is rooted in that identity.

To learn more about The Ain Dah Yung Center (ADYC) please visit https://adycenter.org/

About the Get to Know a Grantee series

NCHYF developed the Get to Know a Grantee questionnaire to illustrate the great variety of youth serving FYSB grantees, to share their insights, experiences, and ideas, and to inspire collaboration.

We regularly share responses from RHY grantees to build understanding about the needs of runaway and homeless youth or, for grantees, to highlight new approaches or strategies to inspire the work to support vulnerable youth. Please contact NCHYF if you have a grantee program for NCHYF to consider.