Filling the Gaps with Community Support

Above:  Erick leading a Story Garden activity before Covid-19.

“The key is stability. Knowing that you are there for the community, knowing that the community and the families can count on you to be there for them. To hear them out, to see if they need anything, to hear their concerns. … So I think stability is a key to overcoming, to eradicating poverty.”

Erick Sanders

Erick Sanders has been part of the ATD Fourth World team in Gallup, New Mexico for the past five years. Helping support families facing obstacles because of poverty, he leads Story Garden activities and builds partnerships within the local community. A member of the Navajo Indigenous Tribe, Erick grew up and continues to live near his family’s native lands, 30 miles outside of Gallup.

Erick talks in this article about his role with ATD Fourth World, the rural community where he lives and works, and changes that have taken place with Covid-19. He also describes his approach to overcoming poverty.

Poverty and the extreme hardships many families endure are characterized by, Erick says, “isolation, poor living conditions, lack of indoor plumbing, electricity, and internet, as well as language barriers for the older generation.” Distances are vast in his region of New Mexico and not everyone has reliable transportation. Parents ask themselves: How will I get to the hospital if the kids are sick? Who can I depend on, who can I ask? Do I have enough gas money?

Community collaboration, working with others to fill the gaps, is the way to address these challenges. The ATD Fourth World team has built relationships with people through Story Garden (a form of Street Library in the US) for a number of years in Gallup.   Especially during Covid-19, these relationships remain key to a web of community support even when being together in person is not possible.

“But, regardless of [challenges related to Covid] we are still trying to overcome,” Erik explains. “We connected with families that we have phone numbers for. We called them [early in the pandemic] and through this decided to support them by mailing activities that families can do.

“We also partnered up with another organization that created a list of activities for families to get online. A lot of people, especially on a [Native American] reservation, lack a lot of basic materials and items to print these. So we decided to print them and mail them to families to help them. … Not having internet access during the pandemic is a big issue for families.”

Erick continues:

  • “For us, it’s not one simple answer. It’s kind of like a web of support that families would need to lift themselves out of poverty. … In order to really bring the community together, we need to reach out to other organizations who are trying, in a way, to fill in the gaps. People will meet either through emotional support, financial support, housing, education, creativity.”
Road in Navajo Nation leading to the home of a family where the ATD team has done a mobile Story Garden. Photo by Erick.

Erick and his teammates have started visiting people in Gallup and some remote areas of Navajo land with a small mobile Story Garden. Using social distance practices, these visits continue to be a bridge between people. The joy of Story Garden arrives along with needed resources like food boxes provided through a local relief organization.

  • “We’ve been visiting families to see how they are doing and do small activities with the kids. … When they see us and understand that we are there it’s like a regular old Story Garden – they’re happy to participate, they’re excited.

“With our connections, both personal and through ATD Fourth World, we are thinking of families who need these food boxes. We can be a middle person for families that may be afraid of asking for assistance.

For Erick, it is important to stand alongside the families in his community most impacted by poverty. Building bridges between them and others in the community is a critical element of overcoming the hardships they experience every day.

Find out more about ATD in New Mexico and other parts of the United States—and how you can become involved in supporting their work of fostering strong communities—here.

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