The 2018 National Conference culminated with the annual UNITY Gala where the Council of Trustees announced annual awards to those who have gone above and beyond in their service to Native youth. Among the award winners, Ashley Dillion from the San Carlos Apache Tribe was honored as the J.R. Cook Youth Advisor of the Year. UNITY interviewed Dillion to share her insight as an Advisor with others:
Dillion is a proud mother of two children, “a 6-year-old girl and a 4-year-old boy who we discovered has the super power of Autism. I am currently enrolled in a bachelor’s program at Western Governors University for Healthcare Management but I am also attending Eastern Arizona College to pursue a degree in Nursing. I work full-time as the Executive Assistant to the Chief Medical Officer of the San Carlos Apache Healthcare Corporation which prompted my pursuit in Healthcare Management. As I gained more work experience, I realized that there was a difference of how those leaders who have worked on the clinical floor make decisions versus those leaders who have never worked on a clinical floor. Leadership styles aside, becoming a registered nurse would mean that I could help people in a greater capacity than I ever could before. I really enjoy how busy I am because I feel that I get the most out of my days especially those that are dedicated solely to my family. I am humbled by receiving the Advisor of the Year award as this is a testament to the work that my mentors have done for me and Native youth alike. With that said, Advisor’s, mentors, and role models are vital to our developing leaders.”
How many years have you been an Advisor?
I have been an Advisor since August 2015, its been the shortest three years of my life.
As a UNITY Alumni, what is your earliest memory of UNITY as an youth?
My first UNITY was in 2011 at Minneapolis, MN and I was in awe of the opportunities provided. I am a huge Twilight saga fan so never in my life did I think that I would meet Chaske Spencer at UNITY. I am so fortunate that the friendships I made from my very first UNITY have remained and over the years they have offered tremendous support in my pursuits especially now as an Advisor.
What advice would you give to new youth council Advisors?
As an Advisor, you will be developing the leader that is already inside your youth council member. Be patient, forgiving, and dedicated to your youth council members especially in adverse times because that will be what their inner leader emulates.
What is your self care plan to stay motivated and avoid burn out?
Remain mission driven because the work will never end but the effectiveness can always be improved. Remind yourself that you are enough because the only right way to do this job is to be vulnerable enough to love, understand, and be dedicated to kids that are not your own. Designate one day out of the week, at least, to focus solely on what you enjoy whether it be family, outdoors, or such.
What are you passionate about? How does that passion translate to the work that you do with your youth council?
I am passionate about being a life-long learner. I feel that I translate this into my work with the youth council because so often the “what” can be the focus but its the “how and why” that I love to assist the youth council to critically think about. I believe that leadership is a constant growth from self-reflection and self-improvement.
What’s the impact that you want to have on the youth in your community?
Since I first began as an Advisor, I believed that the work that the youth council did would train youth to recognize every opportunity that they could help others and that would be enough to start a change.
How does your youth council reach or work with youth who are at-risk or deal with difficulties at home or school?
My Youth Council members and their officers are walking testimonies and our advisory board is dedicated to assisting the youth of our tribe. I can’t express enough gratitude to my youth council because they put in the work to identify their peers that would benefit from youth council and effortlessly create an inclusive environment. Our advisors and members create a safe environment to talk about serious topics that may be affecting them and they also encourage each other. There have been incidents that require an advisor, member, or officer to go well beyond their expectations to ensure that a members well-being is secured.
How do you select youth to attend UNITY’s Midyear and National Conferences?
Our youth council evaluates our budget for mid-year and primarily will nominate and send officers to mid-year. The national conference attendee’s are based on a point-system and the number of attendee’s will be based on a budget review.
What can UNITY do to better support your work as a youth council Advisor?
I find that Advisors often face situations that require them to mediate or apply conflict resolution strategies to resolve the situation. I think a workshop specialized on this topic would build the confidence of new advisors and aid in creating a standard of how to handle these tough situations.
Who has been a mentor or inspiration to you as an Advisor over the years?
I have too many to mention but I would like to say that I have never had to leave the San Carlos Apache tribe to find my mentors. Those that inspire me are those that challenge me and take me out of my comfort zone because they provide the opportunity for me to grow as a person which ultimately makes me a better advisor.
In what ways do you believe UNITY is able to inspire hope for your youth council?
UNITY inspires hope to my youth council because when they are at a UNITY conference, or representing UNITY, they are a part of something bigger than themselves, even bigger their struggles. UNITY empowers my youth council to believe that they are enough to contribute to a cause that will help so many youth who are like them or those that are in tougher conditions.
If you were given 1 million dollars to spend on your youth council, what would you do to improve your community?
With 1 million dollars I would spend to have a teen center for my community. There are so many services provided but the disconnection is also the time consuming part which is trust. I believe a teen center could foster trust with our youth to build a relationship with the services provided.
Why did you decide to become an Advisor?
I was once a youth council officer and when I returned home I went to a youth council meeting and saw only one advisor and a handful of young leaders. After that meeting, I knew I didn’t have much but what I did have was time and it turns out that that was enough.
What is your teaching philosophy?
Its a very simple and universal philosophy but its to never stop trying. I may have won Advisor of the Year but I am still devoting time to become the best advisor that I can be.
How do you keep youth engaged and motivated to participate?
Simply get to know them and create opportunities for them to get to know you. I treat my kids with as much respect and validation as I would the patient that I may assist at my work or as my boss, the Chief Medical Officer. Once you have that relationship, you’re able to keep them in mind when your advisory board or officers meetings and it creates an inclusive environment that the youth have ownership of.
If there was a perfect UNITY Advisor, what 5 values or character traits would they embody?
Honesty, Integrity, Devoted Work Ethic, Patience, and Humor. An Advisor can gain trust and respect from their youth council if they have these traits because each youth council member already has an expectation set for your role.
How do you handle turnover of officers aging out of your youth council?
Leading from the youth involvement/engagement question, when members feel that they have ownership of an environment and are contributing what they are doing is actually grooming themselves to become officers. What most officers practice throughout their terms, no matter their position, is they mentor other members and that’s what seems to be the constant behavior that motivates them to become officers.
What was your favorite event that your youth council ever hosted?
My most favorite event had to be 2017 Thanksgiving. The youth council truly thought critically about how to make Thanksgiving special for those that need it the most. They partnered with the Tribal Social Service department to identify families in each district of our tribe that would appreciate a hot thanksgiving meal. The evening before Thanksgiving and again on Thanksgiving morning the youth council delivered a complete Thanksgiving feast to homes that did not have indoor heating nonetheless a door or sturdy floor. Each family that allowed us to enter their humble homes gave us a gift and without saying it, told us that they were ready for a change. Afterwards, my youth council was more motivated to become that change that these families were ready for.
Finish the sentence: To me a Wellness Warrior is…... .
..an unstoppable force from ancestral prayers!!
What challenges do you face as being a UNITY Advisor and how do you overcome them?
Every challenge is really a new experience for me so I approach it with an open mind and a duty to serve others. By doing so I have always felt that I gave my all in everything that I do which is enough for me.
If you know of any interested youth in joining the youth council, “feel free to reach out” Dillion says. Youth who have a desire to serve the San Carlos Apache Tribe between the ages of 12-24 become active voting members of their youth council after they have engaged in their third consecutive youth council business meeting. Congratulations once again to Ashley Dillion and endless gratitude for your service to the San Carlos San Carlos Apache Tribe Youth Council!