Merehuka: ECA Graduate, Giving Back
“I saw a job posted on the NAYA website, and I thought ‘that’s the exact position that helped me. I would love to help another ECA student that way.’”
Merehuka Heta-Lane, Menominee & Ngai Tuhoe Maori, went to high school in New Zealand – sometimes. “I was in and out of school. The credits and years are different, but for most of my Junior year I basically didn’t go to school at all.” Merehuka is Indigenous to New Zealand, and the area she lived in was 40% Indigenous people, but 100% of her teachers were white. “They just wouldn’t give the kids very much attention. They wouldn’t ask why I was late, they would just say, ‘you didn’t show up and we’re going to punish you.” Eventually, Merehuka dropped out. Instead of school, she worked and saved money to fly to the U.S., ending up in Portland.
Merehuka’s aunt, Tawna Sanchez, is NAYA’s Director of Family Services, and encouraged her to enroll in the Early College Academy. It was there that she met NAYA’s Tamara Henderson, former College and Career Specialist who now works in the ECA. “Tamara made that difference. I wouldn’t have done it without her.” Merehuka graduated from the Early College Academy in 2011 thanks to the intentional supports offered to her. “NAYA is a family. The difference is in the attention that you get, it’s smaller and you get those relationships, which are so important.”
Now Merehuka serves in the College and Career Center in a position much like Tamara Henderson’s, spending her time encouraging and guiding youth as they apply for colleges, scholarships, financial aid and FAFSA, helping students to succeed the way she has. When she’s not at work, Merehuka attends Portland State University to pursue a degree in Business Management and Leadership, eventually hoping to obtain her Masters of Public Administration.
Merehuka is living proof that the Early College Academy changes lives. We don’t just teach the basics, we also teach culture. Students are invited into the community, the family, and taught how to give back. We invite you to join the circle of giving at the heart of our community: Make a tax-deductible donation to sustain this family and support our ongoing programs and services, changing the lives of Native American youth across our region. Please give today.