Seven years ago, Ott was dealing with the sudden loss of a family member – a life that had been cut short because of suicide: one of the leading causes of death among youth in Native country. For Ott, a member of the Sac and Fox Tribe, this statistic hits far too close to home. He wasn’t quite sure where to go, who to turn to or even what to do on any given day.
“It was a really tough time in my life,” he recalls. “At a young age, I was suddenly having to face some serious questions about mental health, which this loss had brought to light for me.”
As a high school junior in Lawrence, Kan., things like homework and extracurriculars threatened to fall by the wayside as he tried to help himself and his family through a difficult time. He needed somewhere to go and a little extra support. He found it at his local Boys & Girls Club, a longtime grantee recipient of the Red Nose Day Fund.
“The staff and other kids at the Club helped to turn my rainy days into brighter ones,” he says. “Making those connections with peers who were dealing with a lot of the same things I was helped me learn how to handle my emotions better – helped me to cope.”
Attending the Club also helped Ott in school. Club-provided tutoring helped him realize his academic potential and achieve the success he knew he was capable of, supporting him all the way to Haskell Indian Nations University, where he’s currently enrolled as a freshman.
But his time at the Club didn’t just help him on his pathway to college. It helped him to find his calling in life: doing advocacy work for mental health awareness and becoming a leader in his community for other Native youth. Two years ago, Ott organized and hosted a suicide prevention walk and mental health awareness event, “We Got Your Back.” Putting on an event like this for his community helped him to further explore what he now considers to be his “mission in life.” Jordan now works part-time at the same Boys & Girls Club he attended as a child, supporting the next generation of youth in his community. And he has become a leading voice against the stigma of mental health locally and beyond, including using his platform as a member of Comic Relief US’s Youth Advisory Council.
Jordan Ott speaks at "We Got Your Back," a suicide awareness walk he organized in 2019.
“I consider it not only my purpose, but this is what I enjoy doing,” he says. “And it just wouldn’t be possible without the Boys & Girls Club. I honestly don’t know where I’d be today without them.”
Hope and opportunity in Native country
One way the Boys & Girls Club was able to have such a big impact on Ott was through the Native Services program. The culturally tailored programming helps Native youth affirm ties to their cultural identity and heritage; builds confidence and community; and provides educational and extracurricular activities led by staff members and peers who understand their unique experience and their history.
In fact, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America is the nation’s largest Native youth-serving organization, with more than 200 Clubs in Indian country, more than 120,000 Native youth served and 132 Tribal communities represented at Clubs nationwide.
“Ever since the first Club came to Indian country in 1992, Boys & Girls Clubs of America has been a champion for Native people,” says Carla Knapp, national vice president, Native Services, for Boys & Girls Clubs of America. “As an organization, we’ve always believed that our Native communities deserved culturally relevant services, and since then it’s been a game-changer for Native youth, especially.”
Carla Knapp at the Boys & Girls Club national headquarters in Atlanta, Ga.
But in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic posed a substantial threat to the Clubs in Native country.
Because the virus had a disproportionate impact on Native communities, both in terms of health and economics, many youth and families on Tribal land relied on their local Clubs more than ever before. In the past year, Boys & Girls Clubs on Native lands served nearly 1 million meals and 800,000 snacks to youth. On top of that, nearly 600,000 meals and snacks were served to families in need. Nationwide, nearly 10,000 family wellness check-ins were conducted by staff.
“During the pandemic, we thought we were going to lose Clubs for sure,” says Knapp. “We thought we couldn’t even sustain, let alone grow our footprint. But we did. And that was thanks in part to Red Nose Day.”
It’s not just a dollar
Starting today through May 31, Walgreens customers can help support organizations like Boys and Girls Clubs of America by donating to Red Nose Day. By donating online at Walgreens.com/RedNoseDay, Walgreens customers can continue the good work millions have done since the campaign’s launch in the U.S. in 2015, when Walgreens became the exclusive retailer of the Red Nose. Making a donation unlocks a Digital Red Nose using a special filter that can be shared on Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat.
All donations go to Red Nose Day, benefitting young people just like Ott: every dollar donated to Red Nose Day this year will have a direct impact on grantee partners like Boys & Girls Clubs of America. For them, $1 can provide nutritious food for a child … and $5 can provide a child with remote homework help and mentoring.
“It’s an amazing feeling to know that organizations like Walgreens are committed to helping programs like the Club’s Native Services and young people like me through Red Nose Day,” says Ott. “The dollar that a Walgreens customer contributes isn’t just a dollar – it’s direct support to youth, communities and families that need it the most right now. I’ve always believed that what you give will come back to you in a great way. That dollar is going to make the world a better place.”
For more information on Red Nose Day and how to get involved, visit Walgreens.com/RedNoseDay.