“I feel like a little bird carrying water in its mouth to put out a forest fire. We are very small, but our work is effective and done with a lot of...
Country Director Spotlight: Marilyn Reed
"People know that CHOICE will do as they say they will do.”
Meet Marilyn, CHOICE’s Country Director in Navajo Nation
Often, when we discuss devastating poverty, we think only of far-off places that are miles away from the United States. But did you know that even here, there are individuals living with those same challenges? Since 2020, CHOICE Humanitarian has been addressing poverty in a community closer to home: Navajo Nation.
At the helm of the Navajo Nation team for CHOICE is Marilyn Reed as Country Director. Her steadfast wisdom and compassion have steered the Navajo Nation program for the last two years. As November was Native American Heritage Month, we’d like to spotlight Marilyn and her work with CHOICE Humanitarian.
Serving an Area of Great Need
Marilyn and CHOICE were introduced through a food relief distribution in 2020 that was a collaboration between CHOICE, the Navajo Hopi Land Commission Office, and Native Builders, a Navajo-owned economic development company. Marilyn was volunteering to help distribute food to families in the Former Bennett Freeze Area, or the FBFA.
The FBFA is an area which consists of 9 chapters on the western side of the Navajo Nation. A moratorium on development was placed on this land from 1966 to 2009, and the Navajo and Hopi people fell into deep impoverishment during those 43 years.
The impacts continue to this day, affecting the 20,000 people who live in the region. Nearly 60% of people residing in the FBFA lack both electricity and water, and only 24% of housing is deemed to be suitable by U.S. housing standards. The people living in this region have been failed.
During the 2020 food relief distribution, CHOICE CEO Steve Pierce met Marilyn when she was serving as a community volunteer. Before CHOICE, Marilyn had worked extensively as an educator—first as an elementary school teacher, then as a principal, and eventually as a college professor. Shortly after meeting Marilyn, Steve Pierce hired her to work as the Country Director for Navajo Nation.
Food Security and Resilience
CHOICE’s work in Navajo Nation to provide food relief during the COVID-19 pandemic helped establish community relationships in the region. Soon after, CHOICE began assisting with the building of hoophouses and other agricultural projects. These initiatives are helping the Navajo people grow food in a sustainable and self-sufficient way. They are addressing food insecurity and increasing access to nutritious food. Additionally, CHOICE is rolling out housing projects to provide safer homes for families, a key factor in multidimensional poverty.
Marilyn shared that seeing hoophouses being built has been wonderful. “My favorite part of working with CHOICE has been working with my own people on the food security and housing projects. It gives me a chance to meet my people and hear from them their own needs, their solutions, and ideas.”
CHOICE believes that when people are given the privilege of choice, rather than hardship, they can be truly great. In her time with CHOICE, Marilyn explained that this is something she has learned time and time again:
“People are not born to be resilient. It is learned and often passed down through teachings to the next generation. Sometimes resiliency is not clearly passed down so people have hopelessness, but they can learn to be resilient if they are given the opportunity.”
Dedicated to Changing Lives
CHOICE Humanitarian fundamentally believes in employing local staff who live and work in the area, and these local teams ensure we are providing funding for the kinds of projects that will actually change the lives of those living in rural poverty. Marilyn’s lifetime dedication to improving her community make her an incredible leader for CHOICE.
When asked how CHOICE has changed lives in Navajo Nation, Marilyn responded, "CHOICE has affected my Nation by providing hope and a true sense that all problems have solutions. Being resilient is finding answers to problems.”
With local teams and community-led projects, the goal is always the same—to expand the range of options for the people we serve. And just importantly, to do that with collaboration, consistency, and follow-through.
Marilyn’s answer perfectly sums up the CHOICE vision: "People know that CHOICE will do as they say they will do."