Saturday, April 1, 2023

Students Cleanup Litter to Raise Funds for Alzheimer’s Research

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Local Native American high school students cleaning up roadside in Shannon, N.C. PN Photo/Zachary C. Young

By: Zachary C. Young, Editor-In-Chief

The North Carolina Native American Youth Organization hosted a roadside cleanup event on 1 McQueen Road in Shannon, N.C. The group cleaned up a 3-mile stretch of the road to raise money for Alzheimer’s research. The bags that the trash was collected in were purple, to signify Alzheimer’s awareness. The cleanup took place on Saturday, October 23.

The group is a state-wide youth organization aimed at allowing Indigenous students the opportunity to network with other Indigenous youth across the state. According to their website, students also get the opportunity to serve alongside the North Carolina Commissioner of Indian Affairs.

For roadside cleanup, the native youth partnered with Alzheimer’s Association to raise the funds to donate to Alzheimer’s research. For each mile the group cleaned, $100 was be donated in their name. They successfully raised $300.

Dr. Leslie Locklear, Co-Chair of the North Carolina Native American Youth Organization Adult Advisory Committee, attempts to give Indigenous high school students enough resources to help them transition into college through opportunities for community service. She said the organization focuses on cultural leadership, as well as college and career prep.

“Anything we can do to help bolster college applications, whether it be essay writing or offer opportunities for community service,” Locklear said. “Anything that shows the students are actively involved in their communities.” Locklear also serves as the Project Coordinator for the First Americans’ Educational Leadership program, and assists with the First Americans’ Teacher Education program on campus. Locklear said the group does roadside cleanup once a semester, but also does an annual toy drive that is held in November and December. Last school year, the North Carolina Native American Youth Organization hosted a school supply drive for underprivileged students in the area.

Locklear said that the adults on the committee may oversee the various events, but “everything is youth directed.”

As a youth, Locklear started as a student member of Native American Youth Organization as an 8th grader in 2005. She has served on the advisory committee since 2017.

Lakola Cook is an alum of UNCP, obtaining her MSA in May of 2021. Additionally, Cook is currently participating in the 5-year FAEL program that Dr. Locklear helps coordinate. Cook is currently in her third year of the program.

Cook was also a North Carolina Native American Youth Organization student in high school and invests her time into the organization as an adult to increase the community and educational engagement of Indigenous youth in the area.

Cook has a personal connection to Alzheimer’s Disease. Her maternal grandmother passed away from complications of Alzheimer’s. Cook said her mother and uncle have both been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Cook’s aunt also passed away from complications of Alzheimer’s.

Cook hopes that the roadside cleanup mission is two-fold. First, to educate the youth on a disease that affects almost one in every five Native Americans, and to show the importance of keeping the land clean.

“We promote Indigenous education and community support. It is significant to get the youth involved in the community,” Cook said. “Being Native American, it is our responsibility in our Native American communities to set the standard of having clean land that we’ve been given by Mother Earth.”

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