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New You Health Initiative


Jovannah was desperate to escape the life of poverty and abuse she knew on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Located in South Dakota, Pine Ridge is known as one of the poorest reservations in the United States. When she heard about Holbrook Indian School (HIS) at the age of 14, Jovannah decided that this might be her chance for a way out, so she found a ride in the back of a pick-up and made the long trip to Holbrook, Arizona.

HIS has been operating as a boarding academy for Native American youth, grades one through 12, for more than 70 years. Unlike the first Christian boarding schools established in the U.S. whose motto was “Kill the Indian. Save the man,” HIS aims to help students get on the path to healing and restoration.

HIS does this by ministering to the whole person. Through the NEW (Nutrition, Exercise, Wellness) You Health Initiative, HIS seeks to improve every dimension of students’ lives to help make their furtures brighter. The program has four pillars. Each one is a fundamental component of our students’ environment and education with specific, practical applications.

The four pillars are spiritual, mental, and physical health, with a focus on academic achievement.

Spiritual health:
Spiritual discipleship is provided through an on-campus chaplain, Bible classes, group and individual Bible studies, worship services, religious programs, activities in nature, opportunities for community service, and mentoring through faculty families and groups. All of these activities communicate the Good News of a loving God, who paid the ultimate price for our eternal good.

Mental health:
Onsite Christian, clinical counseling and trauma therapy help treat post-traumatic stress disorder and other crises found among HIS students due to physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, alcohol and drug addiction, domestic violence, and abandonment. Group therapy for grief and loss is available to help students process the loss of a loved one.

Physical health:
Students engage in physical activities in addition to regular physical education classes. These activities range from team sports to hiking, biking, and playing games like dodge ball, HORSE, and capture-the-flag. The activities are designed to help students understand the value and benefits of being physically active. Students learn that physical activity can be fun, it helps them develop understanding and respect for others, and improves their health. Extra-curricular activities such as camping, trail hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking are provided on weekends.

Special recreation days are provided twice a year when students can go swimming, bowling, ice skating, and skiing. HIS also provides education on health and nutrition through family life and consumer science classes, and through the “Garden-to-Plate” program, in which students learn how to grow and harvest produce through hands-on classes on the
school farm.

Academic Achievement:
Teachers foster a desire to learn and grow by demonstrating to students that their lives have meaning and purpose, and by inspiring them to dream big about their future.HIS provides students with an accredited education, and through innovative learning experiences such as Outdoor School, where students spend a full week at national and state parks.

HIS also assists students with the college and scholarship application process and offers a one-year, college transition program designed to ensure their success following graduation. Some of HIS alumni have gone on to be Gates Millennial Scholars.

The Rest of Her Story

When Jovannah shares her memories of Pine Ridge Reservation it is hard to visualize what she is saying. She talks about sharing one small meal, that was delivered by Meals-on-Wheels, with her five siblings and their grandmother. “My grandmother would select one item from the aluminum tray for herself, then we would divide the rest. That would be our meal for the day.” She goes on to describe what it was like to be so hungry that she would pick and eat the grass from her yard just to try to make the hunger pangs go away.

She talks about coming to HIS. “When I first came to Holbrook, I was amazed that there were three meals served every day. I remember thinking, who eats three meals a day? That is only something you see on TV!” Nothing is harder to imagine than the sexual abuse Jovannah suffered beginning at the age of eight. She describes Holbrook as her sanctuary, “It was the first time in my life I wasn’t afraid to go to sleep at night.”

Jovannah was determined to go to college so that she could escape the poverty she grew up in. She had no interest in the Christian religion. For her, as for many Native Americans, Christianity was something to distrust. Most of what was done to the Indigenous people throughout North America was done in the name of Christianity. But because Jovannaha wanted to go to college, her GPA was important to her. She was doing well in all of her classes except one—Bible class. Someone suggested she join a Bible study group to help bring up her grade. As she learned about Jesus she began to see a Christianity she was unfamiliar with. “I rejected Chrisianity for what I thought it stood for and accepted it for what I learned it truly stood for.” Jovannah was baptized at HIS and went on to Union College to earn her degree in Education. She married Zak Adams, who also graduated from Union. They’ve since returned to Holbrook and have three beautiful children; Daniel, Matthew, and Elizabeth.

Jovannah still struggles with painful memories of her past but openly talks with the girls she now ministers to in hopes of encouraging them to get the help they need. “When I share my story of where I came from, I can see on their faces that they are in it right now.” Jovannah and the team at HIS long to break the cycle of poverty and abuse that is a result of the genocide and forced assimilation of Native Americans. For Jovannah’s family the cycle has been broken. Together, they work to help other students who, like her, want to find a way out.