BASIS Flagstaff Teacher Organizes Navajo and Hopi Community Outreach
Andrew Robarge, a history teacher at BASIS Flagstaff and a veteran of the U.S. Navy Reserve, recently organized an impressive firewood drive benefiting Navajo and Hopi communities.
Robarge has been providing support to local Native American communities since 2020. What started as an effort to provide supplies to underserved communities during the COVID-19 pandemic has grown into an ongoing community outreach program. Throughout each school year, including the current year, Robarge manages donation drives for items that local tribes need most.
His efforts are earning thanks and accolades. Recently, Robarge received the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Middle School Teacher of the Year Award for Arizona. He is now up for the VFW’s national Teacher of the Year Award. Robarge was also featured in an article from Arizona Daily Sun.
We spoke with Robarge about the work he’s done with local Native American tribes and why it matters.
“To me, it’s about getting people involved in supporting our neighbors,” says Robarge. “Many of these individuals only live about 20 minutes away, but don’t have the basic necessities that many of us have.”
Providing essentials during the pandemic
Robarge’s desire to help local Native American communities was fueled in part by his wife, who works as a physician on the Navajo Nation. Through his wife, Robarge found out about the nonprofit United Natives and met its founder and CEO, Dr. Crystal Lee. He learned that Native American communities were hit particularly hard by the pandemic.
As of mid-2020, COVID infection rates among Native American populations were 3.5 times higher than those of non-Hispanic white populations.
“Since I was teaching remotely at the time, I had more bandwidth to help out,” Robarge says. Through United Natives, he began receiving large amounts of personal protective equipment (PPE), water, and other critical supplies and delivered them to Navajo Nation chapter houses and Hopi villages.
As the pandemic waned, Robarge continued to work with United Natives and other organizations to distribute supplies to these communities.
Getting students involved
Robarge has worked for BASIS.ed and BASIS Charter Schools since 2015. Over the years, he’s taught subjects such as U.S. History, World History, Classics, and even a senior capstone class focusing on major turning points in American history.
Recently, Robarge has been getting his students involved in donation drives. He offers students extra credit based on the needs of the community. Other BASIS Flagstaff teachers have been joining in, offering their classes extra credit as well.
“The kids love being a part of these activities,” he says. “At the start of the year, we focused on school supplies. Then we shifted to water, and currently we are asking for firewood donations.”
Robarge explains that students who are not able to bring in supplies can earn the same extra credit by creating cards for families in need. “This is really powerful and helps build community between our school and the Navajo and Hopi tribes,” says Robarge.
Robarge is also a faculty representative for the National Honor Society (NHS). Last year, students received volunteer hours for helping out with the collection and distribution of donations. “In December 2022, I had several NHS members help me process large logs of firewood. We loaded them onto trailers and delivered them to our partners from the Navajo Nation,” says Robarge.
Robarge hopes this experience will encourage students to seek other opportunities to help their community.
“By taking a personal interest in the wellbeing of our neighbors, we are not only building a stronger community, but better Americans as well,” he says. “We are giving BASIS Charter School students holistic experiences that will equip them for the world.”
Keeping families warm in the winter
Lately, one of Robarge’s main focuses has been collecting firewood and winter clothing to keep families warm during Northern Arizona’s cold winter months.
“Word is spreading about our efforts,” says Robarge. “I’m currently in contact with two local loggers and an excavator who have started dropping firewood at a lot we rent through United Natives. I also work closely with a local builder who has connections with tree services in town.”
Robarge is using his connections to source winter clothing as well. This year and last year, BASIS Flagstaff donated unclaimed winter gear from its Lost and Found to the Navajo and Hopi.
“Jackets, mittens, hats, and gloves help our neighbors stay warm even without a fire,” says Robarge. He notes that this has been particularly important over the last few months, as Flagstaff and the surrounding area have experienced record snowstorms. Over 11 feet of snowfall have been recorded from 2022–23!
There’s still work to be done
Despite the success Robarge has seen organizing donation drives for the Navajo and Hopi communities, he says his work is far from over.
“We are barely scratching the surface of the dire needs our neighbors are facing on a daily basis,” says Robarge. “Yes, we’re succeeding in getting huge amounts of firewood and other supplies. But the need is incredible. Every time we drop off a cord of firewood for a family, there are still dozens of families that are left cold.”
For more information on challenges facing the Navajo and Hopi communities and how you can help, visit the United Natives website.
“We are certainly lucky to have Andrew Robarge at BASIS Flagstaff,” says Carolyn McGarvey, CEO of BASIS.ed Arizona. “We commend him for everything he’s done for local Native American communities and we look forward to seeing the impact he makes in the coming years!”
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