Jaylynn, 19, is a sophomore at the University of Oklahoma and plans to pursue a Master of Public Health degree in the future. Jaylynn is a Mescalero Apache, of Chiricahua descent. In 2011, as a result of his academic excellence and involvement with his community and school, Jaylynn was chosen to be a Gates Scholar of the Gates Millennium Scholars Program. During the summer of 2012, Jaylynn interned with the equine program of the Mescalero System of Care*, an initiative designed to provide behavioral and educational support to children and youth ages 5–21. We spoke with Jaylynn about his time as an intern and the opportunity it afforded him to make an impact on the youth in his community.
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What were your main responsibilities as a summer intern for the Mescalero System of Care?
My duties were office assistant, mentor, horse handler, and laborer. I liked it because I was doing something different every day. During the workday I was in and out of the office, running errands and advertising upcoming events. When I was at the office, I made sure the building was clean inside and out. We held an equine program, called the Equine Expo, with the youth every Tuesday and Thursday evening at the tribe’s rodeo grounds. During the Equine Expo, my duties were horse handler and mentor. Also, whenever any of the youth from the Expo or in the system of care needed help, I would mentor them with [the help of] the Leadership Kids, who were youth also from the tribal community who helped with the equine program by taking care of the horses, making sure the kids involved in the Equine Expo were being safe, and setting a good example for them.
Were you able to use your internship to make a difference in the lives of young people?
I got [youth involved in activities] that got them out in the community and helped develop their life skills. The Mescalero System of Care [offered] the Equine Expo, a youth group, a health fair, a youth basketball camp, and [participation] in the national System of Care conference. All these activities benefitted the youth in numerous ways and helped improve their life skills. And what’s a better way [to do that] than in their own surroundings with tribal leaders, peers, and mentors?
Times where I thought I was making an impact were when the youth visited the office. I built strong relationships with some of the youth and I felt that I was the person they looked to for a talk, some advice, or words of encouragement. I felt that I made an impact in numerous areas, but building lifelong relationships was great, especially with the youth because they are full of potential. The youth were nominated to participate [in the system of care] because their nominator thought they were “at risk.” To me, all they needed was just time where they could enjoy themselves within the community. Once they got comfortable within the program, they came out of their shells to communicate with others and convey their ideas for changes in the program. This was important because what we did revolved around their ideas.
Was serving the young members of your tribe, particularly those struggling with challenges, personally rewarding for you?
It was rewarding for me just to see the kids being involved and having something positive to do. [When I was] growing up, there were not as many activities out there for the youth of the tribe. It was especially rewarding to see those kids who were labeled as having challenges just being out in the community, attaining the information from these different activities, and putting in their own ideas. Once you saw how involved they were and how much fun they were having, you couldn’t tell they were having any challenges. It was really cool seeing them interact, not because they had to do it, but because they wanted to do it. In a way, I saw the system of care activities as an escape for them. It was rewarding for me just to be around them and build those relationships.
Did this internship influence your study, career, and personal goals?
My internship had everything to do with my decision to go into the public health field. I was really undecided about my major when I entered my freshman year. I knew the University of Oklahoma had a good business school, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do with a business degree. The Gates Millennium Scholar Program has certain majors that they fund after an undergraduate degree, one of which is public health. I want to make the most out of the scholarship so I plan to enter that field and take full advantage of this opportunity. I also feel that the Mescalero System of Care program’s goal of making change for others is right up my alley and fits with my goals, too.
I have lots of love towards my Mescalero Apache community, and this past summer I was able to make an impact. Just knowing that I am able to give back in the public health field will give me more pride to keep pushing to get my degree. It pushes me because I have a similar background as these kids. Through my opportunity for education, I want to show them that it is possible to achieve their dreams. I am breaking a cycle by being the first person in my family to ever attend college. I know I have many people looking up to me and expecting me to do great. My goal is to continue to be the best role model that I can be for the tribe to show them that staying involved with the community is important for youth because it can have a major impact on their future and health. I hope to intern within the Mescalero System of Care again this summer, hopefully making even more of an impact because it is now my focus in school.
*"A system of care is a coordinated network of community-based services and supports that is organized to meet the challenges of children and youth with serious mental health needs and their families."