Monument Valley welcomes new community center under direction of a familiar face

A resident of Monument Valley opened a new community center in August to provide support to her community. The Tsé Bii’ Ndzisgaii Community Center was opened earlier this year under the direction of 24-year-old Shandiin Herrera.

Herrera grew up in Monument Valley, Utah, and graduated high school from Monument Valley High in Kayenta, Arizona before earning a Public Policy degree from Duke University.

Herrera came back to her hometown in 2019 as part of the initial class of the Lead for America Hometown Fellowship, she now serves on the board for the organization.

Lead for America helps recent graduates across the US return home to do community development work in areas where challenges can outpace available resources.

“After being in North Carolina for four years, I definitely felt this pull to come home,” Herrera said in an interview with Red Rock 92.7 FM.

“It’s really difficult for young people to come back to rural communities, especially on Navajo where our unemployment rate is regularly at 50-percent. When thinking about my next step I was very grateful for the Lead for America organization but it was challenging to think about how I could impact my community and just as I was finding my footing a global pandemic hit.”

Herrera was working as a Policy Analyst and Project Consultant for the Oljato Chapter when the covid-19 pandemic hit the Navajo nation.

Her vision to open a community center in Monument Valley was delayed as she dove into relief efforts helping create a nonprofit known as Yee Ha’ólníi Doo, which translates to “May our people have fortitude in times of difficulty.” The nonprofit does business as the Navajo & Hopi Families Covid-19 Relief Fund.

The organization has helped organize relief efforts and distribute funds across the Navajo and Hopi nations raising over $18 million. Most of the relief funds have provided food, water, personal protective equipment (PPE), and other essential items.

Among the donations, $7 million came through GoFundMe efforts an additional $10 million has come from MacKenzie Scott the former wife of Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.

While the Navajo & Hopi Families Covid-19 Relief Fund has focused on food, water, and PPE the organization has also delivered 800 handwashing stations for homes without indoor plumbing, 75 boxes of winter clothes for children, and over 140 tons of coal to heat homes.

Through these various programs, the organization was able to serve over 500,000 people including 86,997 households through their food distribution program and 140,000 individuals through their PPE program.

In addition to sitting on the all-woman board for Yee Ha’ólníi Doo, Herrera was also the distribution lead for Monument Valley.

“In the Monument Valley area, we were able to provide over 1,300 PPE kits and serve over 1,400 households through our food distribution program, it was just an amazing opportunity for me and my family who served as my volunteer team.”

With vaccination rates up on the Navajo Nation and corresponding restrictions loosened, Herrera was able to open the Tsé Bii’ Ndzisgaii community center in August.

The Tsé Bii’ Ndzisgaii community center is an initiative of Yee Ha’ólníi Doo, and the organization envisions opening additional centers on Navajo and Hopi lands in the future.

The new community center is located at the Monument Valley Welcome Center in Buildings A & B and features a business center with wifi connection, printing/scanning and copying capabilities, a shared workspace, conference room, library, and classroom.

Since its grand opening, the center has had 218 visitors as of September 24.

Herrera says the center was identified as a priority during a listening tour she held in 2019.

“I spent about four months reaching out to organizations and community members in the Monument Valley area and having really great conversations with people and learning about what they want and what they need out of our community.”

A community center was the number one priority identified. Herrera says Monument Valley wants a safe place for their families to go and access resources, such as broadband and computer access which can be hard to come by.

“My mom was a high school counselor for 30 years and I was very fortunate to have access to her office to get on the computer but there were times where we didn’t have access and we’d have to travel up to Blanding. People were regularly traveling over 140 miles to access a computer or fax paperwork and so having that available for our people here again is just a dream come true for me personally.”

In addition to current services offered at the center, Herrera looks forward to opening a coffee and gift shop open at the center. Herrera says they’d like to see artisan-led workshops and provide a place for those who take the classes to sell their art at the gift shop.

“The idea is really to promote our entrepreneurs and bolster opportunities for young leaders and community members. Create this beautiful and safe place for community members to convene.”

Although Herrera had planned to leave at the conclusion of her two-year fellowship she’s staying for another year.

“With the work that I’m doing, I felt a need to stay home a little bit longer so I deferred law school one more year, to stay in my community and became the new director of our community center.”

Herrera will attend Law School at Arizona State University next year.

The center is open Monday-Friday from 9 am to 5 pm. additional information can be found on their webpage and their Facebook page: Tsé Bii’ Ndzisgaii Community Center.

You can listen to Shandiin Herrera's Red Rock 92.7 Radio Interview here:

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