» View other MSPI Spotlight Programs

Project Venture:
Building Youth Up So They Won't Fall Down

The National Indian Health Board staff extends appreciation to Mr. McClellan Hall, founder of Project Venture, for agreeing to be interviewed for this.

Tribal programs looking for an evidenced-based prevention curriculum have a number of promising options they can choose. Almost all of these curriculums, however, demonstrate efficacy with general populations - only a very small handful have been designed for, and shown effective with American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) youth. Project Venture stands out as one of those exemplary AI/AN programs.

Given this impressive accomplishment, it may be surprising to learn that Project Venture was not developed to prevent substance abuse in youth. Instead, the program, from its inception, reflected a strengths-based approach to teaching and guiding young people on their journey to adulthood - a Positive Youth Development approach. McClellan Hall, past teacher and principal, founder of the National Indian Youth Leadership Project and original developer of the Project Venture curriculum, explained how the model got started.

"The program began as part of a Cherokee (Oklahoma) culture camp (in the 1980's). It had an outdoor, wilderness component similar to the Outward Bound program, and also had a service learning component. Native Elders had a big influence - they emphasized keeping the focus on the positive. The families and the community saw really positive changes in the youth coming to the camp."

The overwhelming, positive reception of the camp created enthusiasm for expansion, so the camp model was taken apart and the components were reworked into a year-long program. Mr. Hall took this model back to New Mexico and founded the National Indian Youth Leadership Project (NIYLP). In 1990, the NIYLP officially named this program Project Venture. They were awarded a five-year High Risk Youth Demonstration Grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to support the full development and testing of the Project Venture model in four Native American communities in New Mexico. "We began replicating in other areas in 1999. Now, we have replication sites in 25 states, many areas of Canada, and 1 program in Europe," Hall noted.

In 2007, Project Venture went through a rigorous review and was deemed an Evidence-based Program by the National Registry of Evidenced-based Programs and Practices (operated by the SAMHSA).

Program Specifics

Project Venture requires a pre-startup meeting with replication staff, through a teleconference or in person. "NIYLP sits down with the community and assess the needs, resources, and staffing available that would lend itself to the success and sustainability of the program," Hall explained. The next step is two-day training for prospective staff, either on-site or at the annual Project Venture Gathering in New Mexico. Mr. Hall and others at the NYLP provide remote and in-person follow-up technical assistance to the replication sites.

The year-long model includes four main components: an in-school component, an afterschool component, a weekend component, and a school break component. Using education systems as a platform, Project Venture is able to deliver team building and problem solving sessions during school time, and skill building lessons, preparing youth for more intensive challenge activities, during afterschool sessions. In addition to community service learning projects, the weekend and school break sessions involve day and multi -day outings that engage youth physically, mentally, socially, and emotionally.

"The staff works within each of the four components of Project Venture to develop programs in accordance with full value commitment guidelines. The program must be voluntary, and after the staff explains the guidelines, the participants are asked to give a thumbs up or thumbs down to show their understanding and compliance," Hall explained.

Full Value Commitment Guidelines

  • Be Here. Being present without distractions.
  • Be Safe. Paying attention to physical & emotional safety of self & others.
  • Set Goals. Setting personal and group goals to strive for.
  • Speak Your Truth. Sharing opinions and thoughts in a constructive way.
  • Let Go & Move On. Resolving problems with positive solutions and moving on.

What is unique about Project Venture?

"The key to success of this program lies within its facilitators. Staff must be talented individuals that know how to read body language, understand group dynamics, and engineer activities according to the characteristics of the participants," Mr. Hall explained. Project venture focuses on teaching group based decision making and problem solving, versus the individual based approach used in many traditional school settings. "It is important that staff find ways to include all participants, especially those who tend to shy away from the group," Hall emphasized. The staff is encouraged to alter or modify an activity to fulfill these goals.

Project Venture activities are also uniquely geared toward American Indian youth. Various outdoor, community service and cultural activities explore AI/AN cultural values in community connections and spirituality of the natural world. The staff captures these experiences by initiating follow-up conversations. "We talk about what was going on, what lessons could be learned from this activity, and how these things could be applied to real-life situations. After these debriefing activities, kids start applying this transformative thinking on their own," shared Hall. As a continuing presence in the lives of youth and in the community, high school kids are encouraged to come back as camp counselors and youth leaders after graduating from the program.

Program Success

Over the life of the program, extensive research and evaluation has proven the effectiveness of Project Venture in strengthening resilience and life skills, promoting positive mental health outcomes, and reducing substance use and other related behaviors. These outstanding outcomes are reflected in the many awards and recognitions Project Venture has received.

To learn more about Project Venture and how to utilize the program in your community, please visit the National Indian Youth Leadership Project on the web at http://www.niylp.org/index.htm

Recognitions and Awards

  • 2000 Project Venture receives Exemplary Program Award. The State of New Mexico Behavioral Health Services Department nominated Project Venture for this prestigious award, based on outstanding evaluation data.
  • 2001 Project Venture receives Promising Program status. The Center for Substance Abuse Prevention and the National Registry of Effective Prevention Programs identifies Project Venture as a program worthy of replication.
  • 2002 Project Venture receives Effective program status. The Center for Substance Abuse Prevention and the National Registry of Effective Prevention programs elevates Project Venture to the next level (Effective), based on outstanding evaluation data.
  • 2003 CSAP National Cross-site Evaluation of High Risk Youth Programs finds Project Venture in Top 5 overall and Most Effective of all programs serving Native American populations.
  • 2004 Project Venture named Model Program. Project Venture is the first Native American Model program recognized by CSAP and NREPP.
  • 2005 W.K. Kellogg Foundation recognizes NIYLP as one of their Milestone Programs for the 75th Anniversary celebration of the foundation.
  • 2005 First Nations Behavioral Health Association recognizes Project Venture as one of their Effective Practices and Models for Children of Color.