If you were to meet Bud Frazier for the first time, he would introduce himself by saying, “Yá’át’ééh shí éí Bud yíníshyé’. Tł’ízí łání nishłį́. Hooghan łání báshíshchíín. Hi, my Navajo clan is Many Goats born for Many Hogans.”
Bud is the energetic young man behind the organization called “NavajoStrong”, which was created to help the Navajo community during the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis. According to Bud, its goal is to empower the Diné people against disease, poverty, and other health disparities.
Bud grew up in American Fork, Utah and when he was 17, his family moved south to Blanding, Utah in San Juan County. He attended college and graduated from the College of Eastern Utah – San Juan Campus (now Utah State University Blanding Campus) with his Associate’s Degree in 2002. His interest in the medical field stemmed from a job he had working as a
medical records technician at the Utah Navajo Health System (UNHS), a not-for-profit Community Health Center that provides medical, dental, and behavioral health care to Utah Navajos.
Bud went back to school and earned his nursing degree in 2010. Since then he has worked at Timpanogos Regional Hospital, helped establish a new hospital in Utah County called Mountain Point Medical Center, and currently he works as the Clinical Operations Manager for Mountainlands Community Health Center which is a non-profit federally-qualified health center whose mission is to “serve the underserved”. There he oversees the operations of
five clinics in Utah, and supports them in all aspects of healthcare.
The Beginning of NavajoStrong
“When the pandemic hit, I wanted to help in any way I could,” said Bud. “I actually applied to Intensive Care Unit (ICU) travel assignments in New York and Chicago, and even got permission to be furloughed so that I could help overrun ICUs in need of help.” However, Bud had a torn Achilles tendon at the time and his surgeon would not clear him to work in an ICU because one of the requirements was being able to lift 50 pounds, which much to his disappointment, Bud was not able to do.
In April, Bud saw a post on Facebook that his great aunt had passed away from COVID-19, and only a week after his great uncle had passed from the sane virus. He was deeply saddened by the news, as the last time he had seen the couple in person was at his grandfather’s funeral last summer. He decided to reach out to his distant cousins to check on their well-being and that is when he learned that they were in quarantine and had no way to access supplies that they desperately needed. That’s when Bud decided to go out and buy these essential supplies for his distant family. He used Facebook to post messages, asking for help, and eventually word traveled to Fox 13 News. On April 21st, they contacted and interviewed Bud and ran a story about his plight the following day.
Shortly after, Bud began receiving messages from all over the state from people who wanted to donate items. He brought those items to Blanding on April 24th, where his family helped sort donations and assemble plastic bins. That first weekend the Frazier family, with the help of Bud’s friend Nate Anderberg, and spent delivering 27 bins to family and friends near Tonalea, Arizona. And so “NavajoStrong” was born.
Because of the overwhelming response and donations, Bud decided to help as many people as he could. He began by creating a Google Form where people could request help. The form was shared on a Tuba City (Arizona) Facebook community page and the requests began to grow.
Each weekend, Bud would buy and gather supplies, and then make the five-hour journey south to Blanding where he would assemble the bins on Friday night and prepare for deliveries on Saturday and Sunday. However, this proved to be somewhat difficult due to the “lockdown”, or Shelter-in-Place executive order implemented by the Navajo Nation. Because the Navajo Reservation was a hot spot for the pandemic, and at the time, was measuring 10 times the number of confirmed cases per capita as the state of Arizona, residents were asked not to leave home except to work at jobs considered essential services. Luckily, Bud was able to use his nursing license and was deemed an “essential worker”. Since then, the shelter-in-place order restrictions have become more intense with the shutting down of gas stations and grocery stores over the weekend, so now the items can only be delivered on weekdays.
The initial goal of the NavajoStrong movement was to help and empower those living on the Navajo Nation by providing people with the essential supplies to help combat COVID-19. Bud stated that, “Finding cleaning supplies was hard enough up here in Utah County, I could only imagine how hard it was on the reservation. I grew up visiting my grandparents all the time in Tonalea. They lived in a remote area, with no running water or electricity. They have a special place in my heart and each time I deliver bins to the elderly, I think of them. I think of how my grandparents would have needed a lot of help during this pandemic.”
Family support for NavajoStrong
Bud has had a lot of help from his family. Both his parents work at Utah State University Blanding Campus and serve many students whose families live on the Navajo Reservation. His mother Teresa is the Director of TRIO Upward Bound, a federally-funded program that helps low-income and first generation students succeed in high school and pursue post-secondary education. His father Curtis is a Math, Business, and Computer Information Systems instructor and has been an advisor for USU Blanding American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) club. Bud says, “My parents have been supportive from the start. They are great examples of hard work, self-reliance and loving others. Seeing their careers at the college blossom has been great. They have real compassion for others, especially their students who live on the reservation.”
As you can imagine, Teresa is a mother who beams with pride when talking about her son. “Bud has always had a tender heart for his Cheii Tommie, Ma’ sa’ni’ Mary and his Nali’ Lucy Frazier,” she said, referring to Bud’s grandparents. “He has learned from them and respected their strength. He knows he comes from a rich heritage of strong Dine’ people, and he’s always been proud of who he is. The awareness of this COVID-19 relief project has brought attention the toll that this virus has taken on our people, especially our Elders. Bud’s heart was to provide relief for his Elders during this COVID-19 disease, but I think the by-product of this project has been the opportunity for others to love unconditionally, to give freely, and to recognize how humanity has stepped up and provided help to those in need. It helps give them the strength to endure the devastation this disease has brought to our Navajo people.”
Bud’s brothers have also contributed to the NavajoStrong cause. Tyler, Shea, and Travis have all made the trip from various parts of the country in order to help. “My brothers are always willing to help, even if I don’t ask,” said Bud. “When they can, they’ll be in Blanding to help sort, sanitize, pack up, and even deliver bins. NavajoStrong would not be where it is now without their help. They are heavily involved in the operations in Blanding, and they’ve worked hard for the last few months non-stop. They are the rock of NavajoStrong.”
In addition to the support from his family and Utah team, Bud’s organization recently added a new coordinator in the Albuquerque, New Mexico area. “He has been doing amazing work for us,” said Bud. “He reached out to us and we gave him the blueprint of our operations. Since then, he has delivered 25 bins to families in the New Mexico area with a lot more planned. You can follow him on Instagram at @navajoreliefdrive_taos.” The organization has also teamed up with others across the Navajo Nation to coordinate efforts to get to families on their list including Pete and Sahar with UNHS, the Sam family with First Peoples Covid Resource Drive, and Alicia Martin with Families to Families Ajooba’ Hasin COVID Relief group, among others.
Various companies and organizations have provided donations in various forms. The first big monetary donation was for $10k, which helped launch NavajoStrong. Bud said, “I instinctively hugged the person and it surprised her because we were supposed to be social distancing.” The Utah Sunset Fireman’s Association donated $9k, and Streamline Manufacturing donated 3,000 gallons of hand and surface sanitizer. Young Living Essential Oils donated hundreds of masks made by their own employees and assembled 500 hygiene kits that included hand soap, deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, bath wash, toothpaste, and their own disinfectant cleaner. “What’s surprising to me is the social media influencers,” said Bud. “We’ve had a couple (influencers) feature #NavajoStrong and when they do, our fundraising skyrockets! I’m talking about thousands and thousands of dollars.” Bud was also nominated to be a ‘Brawny Giant’, a contest sponsored by the paper towel company where people can nominate “Giants” for the work they do in their community. Brawny also recently donated 500 rolls of paper towels and a $4k monetary donation. “I’ve got to say, there have been so many people who have donated. I appreciate them all and wish I could thank them all in person,” said Bud. Even the smallest of donations are appreciated. One of Bud and his team’s most memorable donations was a can of beer and cigarette wrapping paper.
He continues to be amazed at the amount of support and donations NavajoStrong has received. “I am amazed at how much the communities from Ogden to St. George have helped us out,” recalls Bud. “Every week we fill a 24-foot enclosed trailer FULL of donations. It just blows my mind. And then to have volunteers help unload, sort, and sanitize in Blanding every weekend, it’s just amazing to see the support.”
So where does the money go? Bud explains that each week he spends anywhere between $2000 – $3500 on supplies, depending on what is needed. He feels blessed that this organization has had the financial resources to purchase bulk items like gloves, water, and food. He adds, “We have volunteers raid Costco each week for bleach, sanitizing wipes, and for the bins. Currently we are in the process of purchasing 55-gallon water barrels for a community in need. We are also planning to help when school starts back up. Our program director, Meredith Little, is brainstorming ideas for the school kids.” One idea they have is purchasing backpacks with school supplies to be delivered with the bins.
Recently, Bud and his organization was nationally recognized as he was a surprise guest on “Returning the Favor”, a reality web television series that travels across the US searching for people who are giving back to their communities. It is hosted by Mike Rowe, who is known for his work on the Discovery Channel series Dirty Jobs. Each episode of “Returning the Favor” ends with a surprise that helps the selected individual to continue doing good deeds in their community. In Bud’s case, he was surprised with a brand new truck that would allow him to haul supplies to more isolated areas on the Navajo Reservation.
“The national attention has been greatly appreciated,” says Bud. “Returning the Favor was a huge surprise. I never thought someone would buy us a truck, and it’s helped us so much!” Bud continues to be amazed at the overwhelming amount of people, from all over the country, who want to help. “One person drove from California to drop off a donation at our drop-off location in Lehi, Utah. In a time of negativity, hopelessness, dividedness, and uncertainty, there is still a lot of good being done. So many people helping, donating time and energy. It’s amazing!”
Challenges of NavajoStrong
But starting a national movement is not without its challenges. When asked what has been the most difficult task, Bud says, “Getting to all the people in need and finding time to do this project. It’s heartbreaking to not be able to get to those in need. It’s gotten better, but when we started out, we were only delivering on weekends, and only to a few spots on the reservation. There are a lot of people who have requested help that we can’t get to because we don’t have someone to drive out that far from Blanding. These last few weeks we’ve had some volunteers really step up and help us by delivering during the week and driving far distances to pick up the bins in Blanding and then go back out onto the reservation.” He stated that the national recognition has been good because it has brought in much needed awareness to the Navajo Reservation. However, in regards to the local government, particularly San Juan County, Bud wishes more could be done to directly support its residents more quickly. “Each day seems to get worse for the people,” stated Bud. “But what is happening is unprecedented and hard for anyone to manage or prepare for.”
Some of these challenges lead to devastating heartbreak. “There have been a couple of times that we were not able to get to someone in time,” recalls Bud. “We would get a message from a family informing us that there was no need to reach an individual because they had passed away. It’s sad, and it really shakes you up.”
Other challenges include finding time to respond to all the messages he receives on a daily basis, managing the project, fundraising, maintaining the website, and running all social media. Each one is critical to the organization running smoothly. The core team members are unpaid volunteers and all juggle full-time jobs and families obligations on top of the NavajoStrong cause. “I’m so grateful for those who have sacrificed so much to help us grow”, says Bud. “People like Kevin Kunz, Kati Price, and my parents. Even our website designer, Lilly, designed it for us for free.”
Even though Bud is faced with these challenges, he continues to persist and finds comfort and joy in helping these communities. “Oh man, each and every bin that is made is a great outcome! From start to finish. I love seeing the people who come to donate at our house. Then I see volunteers show up to help clean, sanitize and organize the bins, then I see people who come to pick up the bins to deliver them, and finally, I get to see the happy faces and tears of families and Elders who receive these bins full of supplies. We have a great team and I’m so grateful for them!” Bud was glowing when he announced that NavajoStrong had recently delivered it’s 470th bin.
The Future of NavajoStrong
In five years, Bud hopes that the Navajo Nation citizens will be supported by NavajoStrong year-round with a focus on the elderly, the single-parent families, and those with no transportation. “We will strive to empower them by gathering essential supplies, food, water, seasonal tools, administering vaccinations, and providing education to fight the disparities on the Navajo reservation,” said Bud. Regarding health disparities, Bud hopes to empower these communities with education on infectious diseases by providing essential supplies and offering seasonal vaccinations such as the influenza vaccine. In addition, and in regards to infrastructure disparities such as difficult access to water, clothing stores, and grocery stores, Bud plans to have donation drives that will provide essential clothing such as coats, blankets, and gloves. He also plans to arrange food and water drives for those in need, which will include rendering water barrels for families who haul water. In summary, Bud would like to see NavajoStrong assist and empower the Navajo Nation community in fighting the disparities that they face.
Since the inception of NavajoStrong, Bud’s life has changed dramatically. “I’m a lot busier for sure,” stated Bud. “This project has consumed all of my thoughts. I go to bed thinking about NavajoStrong. I wake up thinking about NavajoStrong. Thankfully, I’ve had a lot of help from my family and friends. I have also grown closer to my culture. I think a lot about our people and history and I’m so grateful to be part of such a strong lineage. I’m honored to be doing what I’m doing for such a rich, resilient, and beautiful culture. I recently heard a phrase that I want to live by, and that is ‘Be your ancestors wildest dream.’ If I could tell my grandparents or my great grandparents or their grandparents the things we’re doing, what NavajoStrong is doing, it would be such a crazy dream for them. I think they’d be so proud, they’d smile and say “Ahéhee’ shiyaazh (Thank you, my son).”
Jami Bayles is the TRIO Educational Talent Search Director and Grants Supervisor at USU Blanding. She’s a Blanding native, born and raised, and a good friend of the Frazier family.
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