Many of the questions from the residents on the Navajo Reservation this weekend included something along the lines of: “What church group are you with?” “Are you Mormons?” and (jokingly, I think) “What did you all do to get court ordered so many hours?”
Our response, we are just a bunch of athletes that like to do more for our communities!
While not everything went as planned this weekend (this would have meant that there was a specific plan in place; which come to find out is not really how things are done on the Rez), the Vacation Races staff and myself were constantly inspired by how volunteers showed up for all of the projects that were presented to them.
Our first day out, we ended up helping with major clean up projects for community members in and around Page, Arizona. There is not a trash service on the reservation; which means that families need to figure out ways to not only haul trash (and other household items that no longer serve their purpose) to the dump but also have to have the funds available to dump their trash there. This might not seem like a big deal to many of us, but for some of these families it is a huge barrier to keeping your home clean.
This could have been disappointing for volunteers that showed up ready to build, but you would not have known it from how they jumped right in and tackled many, seemingly hopeless projects! Leaving our work sites on Thursday was rewarding, we were able to see a transformation from trash and debris to the potential each site held.
On Friday, we had a bigger group of volunteers out and ready to work. Due to the bigger number, we split into a few different groups that were sent to a variety of sites within the Reservation. This was extremely hard for me, because I truly enjoyed working with and getting to know the volunteers with us.
However, we were brought back together that night for Navajo Tacos provided to us by our partners at Horseshoe Bend Slot Canyon Tours. They organized this 3-day project on the Reservation, knowing the needs their community were faced with. It was great to hear that most of the groups had started to prep for constructing a shelter the following day. Again, I was blown away by the initiative our volunteers took with very little direction.
Finally on our last day and with the highest number of volunteers so far, we again were sent out in various directions to work on completing the projects that were started earlier in the week. Teams were motivated, and with some of the volunteers returning to the same sites they were at the day before, magic happened! Shelters were constructed, mountains were moved (even if they were mountains of trash) and our volunteer crews showed a small community what a group of people who are motivated to make a difference can do!
Many of us drove to Page which allowed time on our drives back home to reflect on what this experience taught us. For me, I have a lot of “to do” takeaways for the next projects. However, the one thing that was reinforced more than anything was how inspiring Vacation Racers athletes are! The volunteers that showed up each day did so ready to work with a smile; the camaraderie formed will long last this weekend in Page, as athletes were already talking about the races where they can reconnect in the future. I am coming home with a full heart and feel grateful to be a part of such an amazing community!