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First Things First Navajo Nation Region honored with Eddie Basha Award for Leadership and Service

Community volunteers from the First Things First (FTF) Navajo Nation Region were honored Tuesday, Aug. 17, at the organization’s statewide early childhood conference for their collective work, in a year of unprecedented challenges, to support the healthy development and learning of babies, toddlers and preschoolers in the region.

The FTF Navajo Nation Regional Partnership Council, made up of volunteers from the Navajo Nation, received the 2021 Eddie Basha Regional Partnership Council Excellence Award for Leadership and Service.

The members of the FTF Navajo Nation Regional Council are:

  • First Lady Phefelia Nez, member
  • Yvonne Kee-Billison, member
  • Dawn Yazzie, member
  • Victoria Begay, member
  • Benjamin Barney, member
  • Paula Seanez, member
  • Delores Noble, member
  • Rhonda Etsitty, Vice Chair
  • Cotillion Sneddy, Chair

The annual award from the state’s early childhood agency recognizes one of 28 regional councils from across Arizona for inspiring its local community to unite and promote positive and lasting change on behalf of young children, thereby enriching all of Arizona.

Brandon Basha, the eldest grandson in the Basha family, presented the award online to the community volunteers at the virtual FTF 2021 Early Childhood Summit.

He applauded the council “for their collaborative approach to supporting the young children and families in their region during the COVID-19 crisis.”

Through closures and stay-at-home orders, the regional council and FTF staff led the formation of a new Navajo Nation Early Childhood Collaboration Team, including local civic leaders, philanthropic and faith-based organizations, community partners and several departments from the Navajo Nation tribal government.

The team worked with Navajo United Way to secure a COVID-19 relief grant from Arizona State University and served over 400 Navajo Nation families with diapers and wipes, baby food and formula and personal protective equipment. 

And after identifying the pandemic’s impact on the mental health of children and families as an urgent concern, the Collaboration Team along with Project Indigenous LAUNCH co-hosted a virtual Early Childhood Wellness Day to learn from experts.  

Systems coordination around infant, toddler and early childhood mental health was strengthened, and Navajo Nation First Lady Phefelia Nez created a workgroup within the President’s Office to continue moving this work forward.

To help reach families with important early childhood information and resources, the council also implemented a variety of awareness efforts that didn’t require in-person interactions, including:

  • The Navajo Nation Resource Guide;
  • The Early Childhood Newsletter, distributed through the Navajo Times;
  • The virtual Dine Early Childhood Summit;
  • And a new, monthly Early Childhood Radio Speaker Series hosted in partnership with Project Indigenous LAUNCH and Navajo Nation Behavioral & Mental Health Services, with programs focused on mental health and wellness and other early childhood topics.
  • Miss Navajo Nation also worked with FTF community outreach to reach families with books, messages and early childhood materials at drive-through food box distribution events. She also recorded a monthly virtual story time with the books she distributed. 

“Growing from the values of kinship and unity, the Navajo Nation Regional Partnership Council strives to engage our community to come together to meet the needs of our young children,” said FTF Navajo Nation Regional Director Memarie Tsosie. “Our partners, leaders and families are valued and respected. And our shared work continues.”

The FTF Navajo Nation Region is defined as the Arizona portion of the Navajo Nation Reservation. The region covers nearly 16,000 square miles in the northeast corner of the state, stretching across Apache, Navajo and Coconino counties.

The award is named after iconic Arizona businessman, humanitarian and staunch advocate for public education Eddie Basha, who spent his life championing children and the communities that nurture them. Basha was one of the primary proponents of the ballot measure that created First Things First, Arizona’s statewide agency that funds early education and health programs to help kids enter kindergarten ready to succeed. Basha was one of the movement’s fiercest champions.

“Family meant everything to my grandfather,” Basha said. “He believed it was his duty — and the duty of everyone in our community — to strengthen families, and he fought to ensure that funds were available to support the health and learning of the youngest and most vulnerable. That’s why our family is so honored to have this award presented in his name.”

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