Our Programs: Investing in Native Youth

Investing in Native Youth

First Nations believes that Native youth represent the future of Native communities, and that their health and well-being determines the future health and well-being of a community overall. By investing in youth and giving them a sense of place and tradition in the community, a community ensures that it will have bright and capable future leaders.  First Nations invests in Native youth and their families through many programs, but the cornerstone of our youth efforts is the Native Youth and Culture Fund, which annually provides grant support to numerous youth-related projects.  We also have a range of financial education programs that are geared toward Native youth, including the Crazy Cash City reality fair and the $pending Frenzy workshop. The goal is to provide programs that meet youth where they are, support them in accomplishing their goals and dreams, and prepare them for an empowered adulthood guided by their cultures, families and traditions. 

Current Projects

Native Youth and Culture Fund (NYCF)

First Nations launched the NYCF in 2002 with generous support from Kalliopeia Foundation and other foundations and tribal, corporate and individual supporters. The NYCF is designed to enhance culture and language awareness, and promote youth empowerment, leadership and community building. This year’s funding is provided by Kalliopeia Foundation and an anonymous donor. Including awards made in 2018, First Nations has awarded more than 370 grants to Native youth programs throughout the U.S., totaling $6.3 million.

In 2018, First Nations awarded 21 grants totaling $400,000. In 2017, First Nations awarded grants to 22 Native organizations across the U.S. totaling $410,000. In 2016, grants were awarded to 24 programs totaling $432,000, and, in 2015, 26 grants were made to American Indian and Native Hawaiian organizations.

Thousands of tribal youth have been and are being served through those innovative efforts, which ranged from culture camps and language nests, to business classes and financial education workshops, to agriculture and other food-based activities.


In 2018 First Nations awarded $400,000 to 21 organizations.


In 2017 First Nations awarded $410,000 to 22 organizations.
















In 2016 First Nations awarded $432,000 to 24 organizations.
















In 2015 First Nations awarded $460,000 to 26 organizations. 

$pending Frenzy Kits Have Arrived!

javascript:void(0)First Nations is excited to announce the release of the highly anticipated $pending Frenzy kit!  The kit comes with everything you need to host a successful financial reality fair that will help prepare Native American youth for their Big Money (also known as a Minor’s Trust Payment).  Several satisfied customers have already ordered kits and begun implementing the popular financial simulation event in their home communities.

The $pending Frenzy financial reality fair was designed by First Nations to offer youth expecting a large Minor’s Trust payment an opportunity to practice handling a substantial lump sum of money and to spend it wisely.  In the simulation, teens are given $40,000 in fake money and are required to make informed spending decisions to purchase a car, a house, groceries, and other items.   Students can practice visiting a bank to cash their check and deposit a share of their money into savings, and are also given the opportunity to learn about investing a portion of their money.    

Surveys from $pending Frenzy events held in Native communities across the nation have revealed that over 90% of participants found the event useful and believed they could use the information from the event to assist them in managing their money.

In total, nearly 1,400 Native youth have participated in the $pending Frenzy across 12 different states in 18 unique communities since the first pilot of the $pending Frenzy with Seneca Nation youth in 2011.  Tribes, community organizations, schools, and others have been increasingly demanding the simulation.  To keep up with the popularity of the $pending Frenzy, First Nations answered the call by producing an all-in-one, do-it-yourself kit.

The box kit comes with everything you need to host a successful simulation, complete with all booth materials, a facilitator’s guide, stacks of play money, a professional bill counter, budgeting cards, $pending Frenzy merchandise and more!  The all-inclusive kit can be yours for $1,200.

To place an order or to ask a question about the kit, please contact Ben Marks by phone at 540-371-5615 or email at bmarks@firstnations.org.

To learn more about how the $pending Frenzy works, check out our Learning by Doing report on the Knowledge Center. 

Advancing Positive Paths for Native American Boys and Young Men

First Nations established the “Advancing Positive Paths for Native American Boys and Young Men” program to support efforts taking place in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas aimed at improving education and employment outcomes for middle school and high school Native boys and young men.  The program uses strategies including early intervention to increase both middle school and high school retention rates and high school graduation rates, as well as elevating the importance of caring adults to re-engage youth who may be disconnected from work, school or their communities.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), in partnership with NEO Philanthropy, supports First Nations and this project to promote opportunity and health for young men of color in rural communities in the South and Southwest. Matching grant support from the Kalliopeia Foundation was also used to support this program. 

In 2014, First Nations awarded a total of $300,000 along with technical assistance and training support to three Native-controlled organizations and two tribes.  


Wellbeing in Student Health and Financial Self-Sufficiency

Youth Savings Accounts and Financial Literacy for High School Students

With generous funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, First Nations is teaming up with longtime partner, Gallup Central High School (Central High), to facilitate a multimodal financial education program for student parents that includes opening savings accounts in Gallup, New Mexico over the 2015-2016 school year.  Gallup Central houses the Graduation, Reality, and Dual-Role Skills (GRADS) class for student parents as part of a statewide initiative in New Mexico focused on providing support and education to pregnant and parenting teens.

Working with faculty at Central High, First Nations and the GRADS program are implementing an initiative titled the Wellbeing in Student Health and Financial Self-Sufficiency (WISHSS).  As part of the initiative, the GRADS program offers financial education in a variety of formats including guest lectures from financial experts, experiential learning events, as well as through a social media application that encourages good spending and savings decisions.  

Students are being provided with an initial seed deposit of $50 for a Youth Savings Account (YSA), as well as an additional seed deposit of $50 for their child’s Children’s Savings Account (CSA).  During the first month of the project, the GRADS teacher shuttled groups of 3-6 students to local bank partner, Pinnacle Bank, to open up accounts for students and their children.  In total, 19 students opened accounts for themselves with an additional 14 for their children (some students are expecting and will open up CSAs for their child once s/he is born).  The initial deposit for both accounts was provided by First Nations, however, students are expected to save and deposit at least $50 throughout the school year.  A match of $50 will be provided to students who can meet their savings goals.  

Student parents are allowed to enter the GRADS program on a rolling basis throughout the academic year.  First Nations and Central High will continue to work with Pinnacle Bank to open accounts as the school year progresses.


Generation Indigenous Youth Challenge

On April 27, 2015, First Nations Development Institute (First Nations) accepted the “Gen-I (Generation Indigenous) Youth Challenge” sponsored by the Center for Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute.  By accepting the challenge, First Nations began its affiliation with the new National Native Youth Network.

U.S. President Barack Obama has made investing in the lives of Native American youth a priority for his administration. After visiting the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in June 2014, that commitment was further reinforced. The president and first lady are dedicated to improving the lives of Native American youth, and to using their influence to raise awareness of Indian Country and advance efforts to improve the lives of Native children. This is why the president launched “Generation Indigenous” (Gen-I), a Native youth initiative focused on removing the barriers that stand between Native youth and their opportunity to succeed.

The Gen-I Challenge is a call to action and the first step in engaging a broad network of people interested in addressing the issues facing Native youth and creating a platform through which Native youth can access information about opportunities and resources, and have their voices and positive contributions highlighted and elevated. The focus will include attainment of higher education, entrepreneurship training, and mentoring, among other aspects.

“First Nations has long supported Native community and economic development efforts, most of which directly or indirectly benefit young people, so we welcome the opportunity to join this important movement in Indian Country,” said Michael Roberts, President of First Nations. “By investing in Native youth and giving them a sense of place and tradition in the community, a community ensures that it will have bright and capable future leaders.”

Since 2002, First Nations has operated its Native Youth and Culture Fund. Under the Native Youth and Culture Fund, First Nations has awarded 279 grants across the U.S. totaling more than $4.69 million through yearend 2014. This program has invested in and supported Native communities working to engage Native youth through the promotion of Native culture.

In accepting the Gen-I Challenge, First Nations has committed to the following:

  • Promote the challenge on its social media channels and encourage others to do the same.
  • Post information about the challenge on the organization’s website under its "Investing in Native Youth" program section.
  • Announce the awarding of an additional $400,000 in grants for the year 2015 under the First Nations Native Youth and Culture Fund by May 31, 2015.
  • Provide First Nations’ recent grantees (2014-2015) with information on the challenge and encourage them to also participate and promote it, including asking the youth in their communities and programs to actively participate in the event and share their stories.
  • Analyze data and prepare a report on youth and culture-related grant requests that First Nations has received under its Native Youth and Culture Fund over the past five years (2010-2014), which will highlight some crucial areas of need in Native youth-serving programs nationally.  This report will be a valuable resource for foundations and funding entities as they seek to underwrite effective and promising programs for Native American youth.  The report will be released by May 15, 2015.

For more information on the Gen-I Challenge, visit http://www.cnay.org/Challenge.html or access the Generation Indigenous toolkit for youth ambassadors and other participants.

Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative Scholarship Program

First Nations created the Native Agriculture and Food Systems Initiative (NAFSI) Scholarship Program to encourage more Native American college students to enter agriculture and agriculture-related fields.  The purpose of the scholarship program is to increase the number of Native American college students entering agriculture and agriculture-related fields.  Many farmers, ranchers, herders and others are retiring without qualified replacements trained to take their place. According to the USDA, the number of farmers and ranchers nearing retirement age has grown by 22 percent in the past five years, while the number of young farmers and ranchers adequately trained to replace them has decreased by 14 percent.  The lack of qualified replacements in these industries could have potentially dangerous effects on efforts to reclaim control of local Native food systems.  These scholarships are one way to begin turning the tide of decreasing interest among Native youth in careers related to agriculture and food.

For the 2018-2019 academic year, First Nations is awarding five scholarships of $1,000 each to Native American students who are assisting their communities in regaining control of local and traditional food systems. 

W.K. Kellogg Foundation School-Based Financial Education

Our goal with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation school-based financial education project is to support systemic change that will positively impact the economic security of Native families. We will use the public school setting to offer customized, experiential financial education and Individual Development Accounts to Native youth in several high schools in McKinley County in New Mexico. This project offers bundled services to American Indian families and will help Native people work towards a better economic future.

Visit the Knowledge Center to read the Crazy Cash City Evaluation Report.

“Crazy Cash City” Event Reaches 200 Students
“It was really fun! It helped me prepare for life in the real world.”

That’s just one comment from a student among the nearly 200 who participated in First Nations Development Institute’s “Crazy Cash City” event in New Mexico.  First Nations in partnership with First Financial Credit Union, provided the “Crazy Cash City” money-spending simulation in Gallup, New Mexico, for local high school students, the majority of whom are Native American.  The exercise – which was a test of a new pilot program tailored to Native American youth modeled after the National Credit Union’s Mad City Money simulation– was intended as an experiential learning opportunity for kids currently taking a financial literacy class.

The event was held at the Rio West Mall and consisted of six two-hour reality fairs in which the students had to navigate a series of simulated financial tasks and challenges designed to teach basic budgeting and banking skills. It was all in fun – since they were spending play money and not really buying things – but it was also informative and highly interactive. 

All participants were given a folder containing a fictitious family profile that listed what their income was, the income of a spouse, the age of any children, and any outstanding debt or benefits they received.  The high school kids then visited about 10 booths that provided various choices for housing, transportation, child care and more, and they were asked to make smart financial decisions based on their family profile.  At the conclusion of the seminar, the students were expected to have a fully balanced budget that they logged in their check register and budgeting sheet.