Ahwatukee Girl Scout troops, with members spanning various ages, are fulfilling their Scout Promise “to help people at all times” during the COVID-19 pandemic time.
Though troops can gather only through Zoom or other online platforms, at least five troops are hosting a Drive for the Navajo Nation and Hopi Lands, focusing their charitable activity on one of the most virus-ravaged populations in the nation.
Last week, federal health officials said the Navajo Nation – which sprawls over 2,700 square miles along the borders of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah – had a higher per capita rate of positive virus cases and COVID-19 deaths than any state in the nation with more than 3,120 confirmed cases on the reservation and more than 100 deaths fatalities.
The approximate population of Navajo Nation is 175,000 and is the nation’s largest Native American tribe.
“We have a close relationship with the Girl Scouts on the Navajo Nation and know how desperate they are right now for supplies,” said Rebecca Smith, a member support executive for the Girl Scout Arizona Cactus Pine Council and an Ahwatukee resident.
The bond between the Ahwatukee Girl Scouts and their fellow Scouts on the Navajo Nation isn’t newly forged as Pamela Meade, who works with the 10 Girl Scout troops in Pinon, Arizona, explained.
“Our community is in the heart of the Navajo Nations. We connected with the Girl Scout Troops from Ahwatukee a few years ago, and organized Pen Pals – sister to sister,” she said. “We even had several camping weekends in Prescott and Flagstaff where the girls got to meet face-to-face.”
Bianca Gonzalez Soto of Ahwatukee, a Troop 1395 member, is participating in the Pen Pal program.
A Girl Scout since kindergarten, Bianca also gathered donations for the drive from her neighbors and purchased some on her own.
“This project for the Navajo Nation allowed me to help those who don’t have as many blessings as we do and put a smile on their faces during this difficult time,” the Horizon High School junior said. “I’m grateful I’m fortunate enough to help others in need.”
Meade said when the Navajo Nation COVID-19 numbers started climbing, the Arizona Cactus Pine Council and Troop 1395 Scoutmaster Karen Meinerz – who originated and recently reprised her Scout to Scout Pen Pal program – reached out to see how Ahwatukee troops could help their fellow Scouts.
“The Navajo Nation has been on severe lockdowns all through April and May – no travel any weekday evening and all weekends, Meade explained. “This helped to slow the spread of the virus, but limited the Navajo people from traveling to get supplies that are needed.”
Meade said there are only 13 grocery stores on the expansive Navajo Nation and some people must drive in excess of 100 miles to reach one – only to find disrupted supply chains that limit what’s available.
“Essential items are needed here – gloves, masks, cleaning supplies as well as water and food. Over 30 percent of homes here do not have running water and most families live in inter-generational homes increasing the spread of the virus quickly,” Meade said.
On May 1, Rebecca Smith – who is considered a “Legacy Scout” because her mother was also a Girl Scout leader – passed along a letter from Meade relating struggles they were seeing and experiencing in the Navajo Nation.
Meade also relayed how her Girl Scouts troops could use encouragement during their severe lockdown time.
“Because we’re on lockdowns every night and every weekend, most of us haven’t been able to run to town for anything. I know the girls would love to get stickers or pencils or any little gift,” she said.
“When families struggle to get basic needs like food and water met, a personal note as well as a small token of friendship can go a long way to making the girls feel connected and important.”
The Ahwatukee Girl Scouts, who have gathered large amounts of food and supplies from their own larders as well as their friends and neighbors, responded to their peers’ needs with age-appropriate gifts and cards.
Girl Scout Dahlia Rubio, daughter of Girl Scout Troop Coordinator and Troop 385 leader Mari Rubio of Ahwatukee, was among those who gathered colorful construction paper, markers and glitter to create heart-felt cards of encouragement.
One handmade card read, “When it rains, look for rainbows; when it’s dark, look for stars.” Another, accompanied by a smiling heart face, said “Have faith and joy!”
Another Ahwatukee Girl Scout decided she wanted to sew masks for the reservation and even after her sewing machine developed a wonky bobbin, she didn’t give up but took to hand-stitching them.
“Some of the kids’ parents have tested positive for COVID and I know these masks will help them stay a bit healthier,” said Amber Chen, Troop 3835 member, a Monte Vista Elementary School fourth grader.
“Even though it’s harder to sew the masks, I want to do it because I think it’s a good thing, and because I’m making the world a better place,” said the 10-year-old, who also sewed and distributed masks to local health workers.
Meade’s husband Sean Meade is a physician at the Pinon Health Center – which is associated of the Chinle Service Unit’s Indian Health Services Clinic in the heart of Navajo Nation.
She said there was also a lack of basic personal protection equipment even as virus cases continue to escalate.
She noted that beleaguered residents on the Navajo Nation have been heartened by the efforts of Ahwatukee Girl Scout troops as well as by the newly-established With Love, From Strangers organization that mobilized to fill the shortages of personal protective equipment for health care workers and others.
Although the Pinon Health Center, as part of the Indian Health Services run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, cannot receive private donations, their staff as community members can.
“All medical sites are still low on PPE,” she said last Friday.
“The non-clinical staff are still making disposable masks and gown covers out of medical material – hundreds each day,” Meade explained. “I’ve been sewing masks for the health care workers, visiting nurses, school transportation departments and the community. I’ve personally made about 500 but our group has made 21,436 hand-sewn masks for the Western and Eastern Navajo communities.”
The group Meade referenced is the Western Navajo Seamstress United COVID 19 Dooda, formerly called Navajo Seamstresses United AZ.
That group is also on Facebook soliciting masks for health workers on the Navajo Nation and Hopi Lands.
According to spokesperson Christina Spicer of the Arizona Cactus Pine Council, the Girl Scouts partnered with the Coconino County Department of Public Works and the United Way of Northern Arizona to help transport the donated items to both Hopi Lands and the Navajo Nation.
“We estimate they (Ahwatukee Girl Scout troops) donated around 250 pounds of supplies, including dog and cat food, bottled water, cleaning supplies, toilet paper, paper towels, masks and canned goods,” she said. “We currently don’t have plans to do a second drive but will regroup once this drive is complete.”
The donations were delivered Friday to the Peace Academy in Hopi Lands and to the Meade home on the Navajo Nation.
Ahwatukee Girl Scout Troops who gathered donations include: Troop 4260, a multi-level troop composed of girls from over nine different Kyrene Schools who meet at Pima Canyon Church; Troop 385- a fifth grade junior troop based at Horizon Honors; Troop 3786, a multi-level troop of girls in kindergarten through fourth grade representing 10 different Kyrene Schools who meet at the Liv Generations Club House; and Troop 1395, a Senior/Ambassador troop of high school sophomores and juniors.
Ahwatukee Girl Scout troops’ efforts to gather donations has brought not only gratitude but solidarity with the northern Girl Scout troops.
“The Girl Scouts Arizona Cactus Pine Council has been so supportive. It has really fostered and supported Native Communities in Arizona and has specifically made efforts to include the Northern Arizona Troops in events,” said Meade.
“So many of the resources and activities for Girl Scouts are in Southern Arizona – often the Northern Arizona Girls do not get as many opportunities. GSACPC has facilitated and supported efforts like the Ahwatukee-Pinon connection and we are so grateful for that connection.”