The Navajo Nation, which straddles the Four Corners area of Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, spans more than 27,000 square miles and is home to more than 170,000 people. Hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, the nation has recorded more than 4,400 cases of the viral illness and confirmed nearly 150 deaths since May 22.
“It’s a heartbreaking, dire situation,” says Utah State University Eastern alum Bud Frazier, a registered nurse, who serves as operations manager at Mountainlands Community Health Center in Lehi, Utah.
When Frazier, a member of the Navajo Nation, saw the pandemic unfolding, he teamed with his parents, Aggie alumni and USU Blanding employees Curtis and Teresa Frazier, to determine how to help.
“We came up with the idea of ‘NavajoStrong,’ a non-profit, grassroots effort to collect critical supplies and distribute them to families throughout the reservation,” says Bud, whose own family has been touched by the tragedy. His mother Teresa has lost two uncles and an aunt to the virus.
Reflecting on his own experiences visiting relatives on the vast reservation, he knows the high level of poverty and the challenges of securing even basic supplies.
“Many of the families we’re encountering have battled COVID-19 themselves,” Bud says. “And many have been quarantined without electricity or running water.”
In an effort that’s steadily grown since early spring, the Frazier family has been soliciting donations of non-perishable food items, bottled water, baby needs, cleaning and hygiene supplies and other necessities, recruiting volunteers and distributing goods to families throughout the reservation.
Among volunteers who’ve joined the effort are USU Biology and Ecology doctoral students Elizabeth Simpson, Megen Kepas and Hannah Wilson, who are sewing masks and collecting supplies in Cache Valley to send to the reservation. All three of the scholars are facilitators in USU’s Native American Summer Mentorship Program. They learned of the NavajoStrong project from Curtis Frazier, a founding faculty NASMP member.
“NASMP is in its seventh year,” Simpson says. “In previous years, Native American students, mostly from the USU Blanding campus, have traveled to Logan in the summer to experience hands-on research and learn about further higher education opportunities.”
This year, she says, travel to Logan was canceled due to the pandemic, but the program has continued remotely, with Logan faculty members sending research supplies and mentoring student participants by Internet.
“It’s been a challenge, because some of our participants don’t have access to high-speed Internet,” Simpson says. “But our participants are persevering with enthusiasm and figuring out creative ways to get around obstacles.”
Each year, NASMP has held an in-person student poster session at the end of the Logan session and this year will be no different – except it will be held virtually in early June, rather than in person.
“We’re working on a solution, similar to the format used for this past spring’s Biology Undergraduate Research Symposium, that everyone can access online,” Simpson says.
Simpson, Kepas and Wilson are gathering supplies in Cache Valley for NavajoStrong and invite the community to donate non-perishable food, hand sanitizer, soap, bleach, disinfecting wipes, toilet paper, paper towels, baby formula, baby wipes and disposable diapers and pet food to a drop-off site by Sunday, May 31. Donors can receive directions to the drop-off site by contacting Simpson via email [firstname.lastname@example.org].
“We also need volunteers to sew masks and we can supply a simple pattern,” she says. “Also, donors can make monetary donations directly to www.navajostrong.com.”
Bud says donations have been received with “tears of joy.”
“This is a frightening situation,” says the ICU nurse, who has more than seven years of experience in critical care. “When you take care of ventilated patients, you don’t forget it.”