Pandemic in Navajo Nation has AmeriCorps members adapting to serve community members in need

Chinle Chapter members load water into plane to dispense to community
Alexander de Avila and Tyrone J. Begay

The COVID-19 pandemic’s disparate impact on communities of color is well-documented. All across the country, Native American communities have been feeling the effects of the virus and striving to formulate a response.  The virus has strained indigenous communities due to underlying chronic health issues and underfunded American Indian health systems, both issues that predate the pandemic.

Tribal economies have taken hard hits too. Communities that rely on tourism, gambling revenue, or other businesses operating on their land have had their tax base effectively cut to zero, making it infinitely more difficult to run health clinics and provide other services crucial to the vitality of their communities.

In Arizona, AmeriCorps members are helping the Chinle Chapter Government respond. Chinle Chapter is one of 110 Navajo Nation chapter governments. The organization provides essential services like financial aid for students, housing assistance, and public and youth employment programs.

AmeriCorps members have been embedded with Chinle Chapter since the start of the pandemic to help where they can. They have been intaking, inventorying, and boxing goods – sometimes at a rate of 500-1,000 individual boxes per week – to deliver to local communities in need. The AmeriCorps program and Navajo chapter have been working tirelessly with multiple groups supporting Native American communities, including the Navajo Nations Presidents Office and the Navajo & Hopi COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund.

AmeriCorps members have also been working alongside World Central Kitchen – a nonprofit food security organization run by world-famous chef Jose Andres – to distribute packaged meals to families in need. Food is not the only essential item being delivered. Local elders who are unable to travel to Chinle for necessary goods like water and wood receive care packages at their door. Items like this are vital to many livelihoods in Navajo Nation.

During the best of times, providing for all local community members is difficult and strains resources; during the pandemic, this challenge is amplified, especially with the added logistics of importing and distributing necessary PPE to halt the virus and keep frontline workers safe.

Tyrone Begay, Program Administrator for Chinle Chapter, has been overseeing the work of 13 AmeriCorps members on the ground. “The amount of effort and time they’ve put into helping not only their community but also the communities around them, has been self-evident,” reports Begay. “They come back day in and day out to make a difference providing supplies to those in need. They put the needs of others ahead of themselves.”

The community has also responded well to the work of the AmeriCorps members. According to Begay, “The community has been extremely gracious for the work being done, especially from elders and other vulnerable members of the population who don’t have anyone else to help them. These elders give heartfelt thanks.”

Chinle Chapter is not the only local Native American community that AmeriCorps members have been serving. Their tireless work has been on display in surrounding communities as well, including Nazlini, Cottonwood, Many Farms, Forest Lake, Whippoorwill, and Tselani, making their impact felt far and wide.

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