New community center in Monument Valley celebrates soft-opening
MONUMENT VALLEY, Utah — As Navajo and Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief transitions into rebuilding and revitalizing communities on the Navajo and Hopi reservations, it celebrated the soft-opening of The Tsé Bii’ Ndzisgaii Community Center in Monument Valley Aug. 2.
Located at the Welcome Center in Monument Valley, the community center has many things to offer the community: a business center, with computers for people to use capable of printing, scanning, faxing and internet.
Shandiin Herrera, community center director, said that is one of the most used parts of the community center, so far.
There’s shared workspace for people like a student or entrepreneur who might have a project they’re working on and need more space. There’s a conference room where community members can hold a meeting or a Zoom call. There’s a small library and classrooms.
“We’re still working on getting more books… but all the books will be written by Native authors,” Herrera said. “It’s a really cute space to be in and do some reading. We’ve already had a few students utilize that space to do some reading and studying.”
Herrera said her personal goal with the community center is to have a safe place that everyone in the family because she’s seen some parents who are going to school but only they have access to the buildings and the kids have to wait in the car.
“Whereas our community center, this is a place for everybody,” she said. “We’ve seen an entire family unit come in. Dad is on the computer accessing some material to apply for work. Mom in the shared workspace working on a project. Their child is in the library reading some books. That’s what I take pride in, no matter who you are, you fit in. And we’ve seen a lot of people be excited about that.”
In the future, Herrera hopes the classrooms can be used for more than just students meeting up with a tutor, which is how they are being used now. She hopes one day to have presenters who will teach workshops on financial literacy or afterschool programming or programs like that to offer to people in the community.
During the grand opening that is planned for next year, the community center hopes to unveil its coffee shop and lounge area, too.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have any coffee shops in Monument Valley,” Herrera said. “When I was in college, I loved going to the coffee shop, getting some coffee and hanging out, doing work. We’re trying to create that space here.”
In addition, the community center wants to have cultural classrooms where members of the community can come in and share some of their knowledge on beading, weaving, pottery making to name a few.
“We have so many amazing, talented people in our community and there’ll be a chance for them to share some of that cultural knowledge and those practices,” Herrera said.
Also, the community center will have a gift shop, so the people who are artists or who make pottery, rugs can sell their wares and have another chance to create income for their families and a community garden.
“We’re trying to get folks to come in and teach traditional farming practices and gardening,” Herrera said.
Perhaps one of the most important things for a community that does not have physical addresses is the idea of creating a UPS locker system.
“Because we don’t have physical addresses it’s nearly impossible to get packages sent to us,” Herrera said. “We’re trying to provide a way for community members and business owners to have that access to where they can order online and they don’t have to travel long distances to border towns to do that.”
Right now, especially with the spread of the Delta variant, the community center is requiring masks and they have PPE on-site and making sure people social distance from each other.
Navajo-Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief transitions for the future
Ethel Branch, co-founder of the relief fund, said her goal is to have more community centers like the one in Monument Valley in different places on the Navajo and Hopi reservations. She said Monument Valley was chosen for the first site because of its size, it’s small community, which is under-resourced in a lot of different ways.
“We felt like we could have a huge impact with that local community,” Branch said. “There’s lots of opportunity there, especially in terms of local entrepreneur-ism, there’s a high volume of tourism traffic in the area that has been under-capitalized on and there was available space… find space on the Navajo Nation can be a challenge.”
Branch said there was a lot of local support from the local council delegate and chapter, as well.
Community leaders invited to speak at the virtual event included Representative Jasmine Blackwater-Nygren, Honorable Delegate Carl Slater, Former Oljato Chapter Vice President Tommy Rock, Honorable Delegate Herman Daniels, and Natasha Hale of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
"I'm really impressed with what this organization is doing for the community of Oljato and Monument Valley. This will really help our Navajo people," said Honorable Delegate Daniels. "The need for the resources now available in the community center has been ever present in the area."
Even before the soft launch was officially celebrated, a student was able to use the computers and printers to successfully apply for an academic scholarship.
Branch said it was important for the community centers to continue the movement that began with the volunteers who stepped forward to help protect their communities from COVID.
“We hope to continue this emergence and rise of these local changemakers and problem solvers,” she said. “They know and love their communities deeply, and are the leaders and talent who will revitalize and rebuild our local economies and food systems. We choose to invest in them and their potential to transform our communities through community centers.”