San Juan Chapter hosts back-to-school event

Noel Lyn Smith

LOWER FRUITLAND — As a way to start the school year on a positive note, the San Juan Chapter will host a back-to-school event on Saturday.

Tahliyah Thomas plays with a balloon June 25 with her family during the Ashlynne Mike Awareness Fundraiser at the Walter Collins Event Center in Upper Fruitland.

Organizers said the event is designed to build on the strength the community has developed after the murder of 11-year-old Ashlynne Mike in May.

"It was time for the community to get together, to start the school year off on the right foot, surrounded by positivity," Shawn Mike, one of the organizers and Ashlynne's cousin, said today.

Mike said a new school year for students is similar to New Year's Day because they look forward to setting academic goals, achieving good grades and reuniting with friends.

"We want them to go off without fear. We want them to feel blessed and feel like the community is supporting them," Mike said.

San Juan Chapter President Rick Nez said residents continue to heal by uniting and talking about the importance of keeping the community safe, including watching out for suspicious activities.

"This whole incident has caused us to be a stronger community," Nez said.

He added the event on Saturday will provide encouragement to students, as well as remind parents to keep up the support.

Chapter members gave their approval for the event when Mike presented the idea during a chapter meeting on Aug. 7.

The back-to-school event starts at 10 a.m. Saturday at the San Juan Chapter house. The turnoff to the paved road that ends at the chapter house is located between mile markers 12 and 13 on Navajo Route 36.

Organizers said the event will be casual, and people are asked to bring their own chairs because a limited number will be provided by the chapter.

Although the event has no budget, organizers are beginning to receive help, including from bands who will perform a variety of music. An information booth will be set up by Sexual Assault Services of Northwest New Mexico, and organizers are open to additional organizations sharing information about services. Food will be provided by a cookout and by a community potluck.

Neil Johnson, who serves as interim minister at the First Indian Baptist Church in Farmington, will offer a prayer at 2 p.m. Because the event is interfaith, it is open to prayers from other denominations and to anyone who would like to share words of encouragement.

If organizations or businesses are interested in donating to the event, contact Shawn Mike at 505-801-3530.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.