Stretch named Community and Cultural Outreach director
TAHLEQUAH – After nearly seven years with the program, the new director of the Cherokee Nation’s Community and Cultural Outreach, Kevin Stretch, has worked his way to the top.
The 59-year-old who lives in Tahlequah, said as he worked his way up “from the bottom” he was able to help many Cherokee people.
“I started as technical assistant specialist and that was through the COTTA (Community Organization Training and Technical Assistance) program. What that did was capacity building for community organizations, and that’s focused on the in-district (14-county jurisdiction) stuff using COTTA grants,” he said.
He then worked as an instructional designer for the Cherokee Language Master-Apprentice Program for two years, and then served as a special projects officer who worked on cultural affairs for at-large or out-of-state Cherokee community groups.
In January, while serving as CCO’s interim director, he was named its director.
He said for the past seven years he has enjoyed working with the people and organizations he has assisted “because those organizations are the heartbeats of the communities.”
“So, for us to be able to provide services and expertise and networking for those organizations to flourish and interact with each other has been very fruitful and satisfying,” he said.
It’s possible not as many Cherokee community groups would be active in the CN without CCO’s assistance, Stretch said.
“We don’t give them a substantial amount of money, but we give them more than money and that is the training and support that helps them be successful. I don’t know if they could get that otherwise,” he said.
There are 25 at-large Cherokee community groups in 11 states associated with CCO and 55 active Cherokee community groups within the CN jurisdiction.
“Over the years, we have worked with approximately 150 organizations. Some are more active than others,” he said. “Some people come and go. For a year or two they will come for help and then they will be self-sufficient for a while and then so they will kind of drop off our radar. They will still reach out to us for help, and we’ll still help them. Some organizations struggle with their membership and struggle with volunteerism.”
Stretch said his hope for the next 10 years is that CCO grows “its little wings” and that the CN has organizations in the jurisdiction and at-large that no longer needs CCO because they are self-sustaining and they are interacting with each other.
Recently, CCO fostered sister communities between local and at-large Cherokee communities, which can help those communities as they share ideas and resources.
“Sometimes it works pretty well and sometimes it doesn’t, but we’re always encouraging. Just last week we spoke to an organization that would like to reach out to another organization, so we facilitated that,” Stretch said. “Some at-large groups send funds and materials to in-district organizations. Some in-district organizations have made arts and crafts and sent them to their at-large sister city in order for them to raise funds through auctioning the items.”
CCO visits each at-large organization once a year. The meetings are picnic or potluck events and are attended by administration and legislative officers. At-large groups also get one history and preservation presentation and one cultural presentation a year, which are presented by CN staff.
“The chief’s picnic is the rudimentary term for it, but we have some community groups that combine. For instance, we have three organizations in the L.A. area and we just have one picnic that covers those folks,” Stretch said.
A new initiative Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. has charged CCO with is the “Sustainable Communities Initiative,” which is s $7.5 million, three-year plan to work with Cherokee community organizations with community buildings to update the buildings.
“There are 39 (buildings) in district. This new initiative is going to allow us to give them money to have green technology, something that’s going to lower their environmental impact and lower their utility builds and update their structures,” Stretch said. “That could be anything from caulking their windows or adding spray-foam insulation. It could be solar panels, geo-thermal or wind power, so it’s pretty much an open book.”
A kick-off meeting for the initiative was in December, and the CN is sending out inspectors and structural engineers to evaluate community buildings and their needs. After those inspections and evaluations are made, they will be given to the community group so they can determine what kind of assistance to request.
“We (CCO) are small in number but big in reach. I tell everybody we actually are the only organization in the Cherokee Nation that touches all of the Cherokee citizens throughout the country,” Stretch said. “We have a great group of people here, and I couldn’t be more proud of the folks we have working for us.”