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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Example To Build On - Teen Named ‘Youth Of Year' As Native Membership In Boys And Girls Club Rises
by JODI RAVE of the Missoulian
credits: Photo by MICHAEL GALLACHER/Missoulian

RONAN, MT - Wade Burland recently earned the title “youth of the year” from the Boys and Girls Club of the Flathead Reservation and Lake County, a competition based on responsibility to self and to the community.

“We chose Wade based on his positive attitude, the challenges he faces and his ability to overcome them,” said John Schnase, executive director of the Boys and Girls Club in Ronan. “He has set an example for the other members of the club.”

Wade, who is a descendent of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, was honored Saturday in Polson during a Boys and Girls Club fundraiser, a Mardi Gras-style event that collected more than $30,000 for the 650 club members in Lake County and on the reservation.

At least 140,000 Native youth participate in Boys and Girls Club centers across the United States, at more than 220 clubs in 25 states.

The growth is astounding, considering only about a dozen clubs existed in Indian Country some 12 years ago, said Joe Cordova, project director for Boys and Girls Club in Indian Country, a consulting firm in Crofton, Md.

The clubs “give kids an opportunity, a place to go after school and in the summer with programs and services on a regular basis, where otherwise they might not have anything to do,” said Cordova, a former CEO of the National Boys and Girls Club. Youth receive guidance and participate in leadership programs and field trips.

Last year, 18 new clubs were started in Native communities, their growth spurred on by positive outcomes for Native youth, a disadvantaged group in which 30 percent do not finish high school and only 17 percent attend college. Native youth also suffer suicide rates 62 percent higher than all other racial or ethnic groups in the country.

Burland, who has been a Boys and Girls Club member since he was 6 years old, earned his youth of the year award for being an upstanding member who works, plays and studies hard.

His mother, Mary Rogers, watched her 4-foot, 5 1/2-inch son address participants of the weekend Mardi Gras as if he were having a one-on-one conversation with his best friend. He spoke with grace, candor and humor.

“Isn't he so handsome?” said his mom.

The teenager told the audience he would explain his height later, which he did, but only after sharing some stories about work, family and school. He made people laugh when he told them how his height made it difficult to be taken seriously. When he asked for a job application at McDonald's in Ronan, workers thought it was for his parents.

The teenager eventually got hired.

Burland also told how a genetic disease, neurofibromatosis, had caused a tumor to plant itself at the base of his brain stem. It is now growing down his spinal cord. Medical treatments may eventually allow him to grow.

“Our end goal is to get some height on him,” Rogers said.

As winner of the Flathead and Lake County youth award, Burland recently competed against four other youth club winners in Montana for the state Boys and Girls Club youth of the year title.

“He did not win, but he captured the soul of everyone he met,” said Schnase.

Burland still has two years to compete in the statewide competition. Chances are he could eventually win the regional award. A coup in each category would allow him to become a spokesperson for the National Boys and Girls Club, which would be a first for Indian Country.

“They've made incredible strides with their kids,” said Cordova. “It won't be long before there's a Native national youth of the year.”

Reporter Jodi Rave can be reached at 1-800-366-7186 or at Or read her blog at

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