They say that laughter is often the best medicine. Ends up it also doesn’t hurt when it comes to raising money for a good cause.
At last month’s National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) show in San Diego, Calif., Raving Consulting, a Reno, Nev.-based firm that assists casinos and gaming companies worldwide in strategically improving their marketing, service and operations, with the help of Houston Productions, a casino entertainment buying and consulting business, held the first ever Native Strong Comedy Slam for the benefit of the Notah Begay III Foundation (NB3F), which is dedicated to fighting obesity and type 2 diabetes in Native American children.
The event, held at the House of Blues San Diego, consisted of a cocktails and cigars reception and featured the stylings of three Native American comics—Adrianne Chalepah, Marc Yaffee and Larry Omaha—all of whom donated their time and talent to the show. Raving sold corporate sponsorship packages for the event consisting of 10 tickets for $1,500. Companies that sponsored the Native Strong Comedy Slam included 7 Cedars Casino, AGEM, Buffalo Thunder Resort & Casino, Gary Platt Manufacturing, Houston Productions, IBM, mark-it Smart, MM/R/C, Raving Consulting and Wells Fargo.
All told, Native Strong Comedy Slam ended up raising $13,215 for NB3F and its causes.
“I think there is enormous opportunity in the gaming industry to raise needed funds for this cause; not only by direct donation, but by creating events and promotions that Indian casino vendors, guests and employees will enjoy while contributing to a worthwhile cause,” said Dennis Conrad, president and chief strategist of Raving, who adopted NB3F as the company’s charitable partner last year. “It’s shocking that one out of two Native American children born since 2000 will develop type 2 diabetes in their lifetime and that so many of these families, in our modern society, do not have access to, or cannot afford, healthy food.”
The NB3 Foundation was founded 10 years ago by Notah Begay III, the first full-blood Native American to play and win on the Pro Golfers Association (PGA) Tour, and his family members.
“Even while he was playing on the PGA Tour, Notah was still linked to his community in the southwest and wanted to figure out how he could give back to it,” said Justin Kii Huenemann, executive director for the NB3F. “He and his family got involved in youth activities, and came to realize the level of need in regards to physical activity, nutrition and wellbeing for Native American children. From this, they created NB3 and its mission to prevent childhood obesity and type II diabetes, which are perhaps the most prevalent challenges facing our young tribal people right now. Childhood obesity is a gateway to so many other serious adult epidemics including heart disease, cardiovascular issues and diabetes.”
NB3F has its work cut out for it, considering the lack of attention paid to this problem. “Part of the reason why Notah chose this issue was that there is almost no local or national activity around it,” Huenemann said. “As of today, we are still the only national, native-led organization working in this space. We are a young organization and learning as we go along.”
According to the NB3F website, the core of the foundation’s work is focused on partnering with tribal communities in a way that enhances their own efforts in combating type 2 diabetes and childhood obesity. NB3F’s goal is to encourage tribal programs geared toward reducing and preventing the stronghold these diseases have on Native children.
NB3F is the only Native-led organization employing community-driven and evidence-based programs to address type 2 diabetes and childhood obesity among Native American children. Of the organizations addressing type 2 diabetes, nearly 75 percent focus on treatment while NB3F believes that diabetes prevention is the key to tackling this epidemic and its current stronghold among Native American children.
NB3F tackles this task primarily through Native Strong, an initiative to build a national framework designed to reduce childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes in targeted Native communities by: building healthy communities by increasing access to healthy and affordable food, nutrition education, physical activity and capacity building; investing in asset- and evidence-based innovative programming; partnering with tribal communities to gather research and analyze data to better understand how the root causes and the social determinants of health are linked to obesity and diabetes among Native children; and linking communities to critical resources and addressing policy changes at the tribal, state and federal levels.
In addition to Native Strong, NB3F also offers Native Fit, a place-based effort to create, organize and fund soccer, golf and other athletic programs for tribal youth.
Thanks to initiatives such as Native Fit and Native Strong, NB3F is starting to gain traction in the tribal community. From humble beginnings in the New Mexico area, NB3F efforts have spread to Arizona, California, Washington, Oklahoma, South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota and, most recently, Wisconsin. “We now provide grants, technical assistance and evaluation research support to 41 organizations throughout the country who are working in this general area of childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes prevention,” Huenemann said.
Of course, an effort such as this requires a lot of money. So far, contributions have come from large grant providers such as the Robert Wood Johnson and W.K. Kellog foundations, donations from private individuals, and support from gaming tribes such as the Minnesota-based Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community that recently awarded a $1.1 million grant to NB3F.
“Tribes are very sophisticated in a lot of different ways and one is how they think about their giving,” Huenemann said. “Tribes are constantly being asked to support this and that. But just like in the business world, tribes increasingly want to know what is the return from a social good standpoint. NB3F is really positioned nicely to provide that kind of worth. We have combined research with evaluation and boots on the ground support efforts. That is a great combination.”
Count Dennis Conrad and Raving Consulting as among those that will continue to support NB3F and its initiatives. Conrad has stated he is “all-in” with NB3F and wants to raise $1 million for the organization over the next decade. He is reviving the Native Strong Comedy Slam concept for next year’s NIGA show in Phoenix, Ariz. He also has big idea fundraiser in mind for upcoming years—an attempt to turn the official national holiday of Native American Heritage Day, which falls on the day after Thanksgiving, into “A Celebration of Native Health” to benefit NB3F.
“We will be enlisting participating casinos, as well as sponsors, to be actively involved on that day and/or that month of November, which is Native American Heritage Month,” Conrad said. “We currently have two commitments to support those efforts: Ortiz Gaming has agreed to donate all of the winnings from its slot machines in Indian country on that day, and Raving will be donating the value of 10 percent of its booked consulting business for the month of November.”