By Rebecca Roybal Jones

Young Leader

Emelia Pino Gathered Donations for Educational Care Packages

While most kids were relaxing this summer, Emelia Pino, 17, a senior at Bernalillo High School, spent many of her days collecting educational and fun items for kids at Zia Pueblo. It wasn’t easy collecting the donations for the 253 children during a pandemic.

Pino persevered, though, and delivered care packages made up of chapter and picture books, flash cards, board games and more in July.

“For my first project, it’s going all right,” she said this summer, taking a break from sorting the books, games and other educational items. “We had a little trouble at one point, but we made it work. “

It all began when she was reaching the end of a program she was part of called the Healers of Tomorrow, an eight-month program offered through the Native Health Initiative (NHI), which supports indigenous high school students interested in health care careers.

During the last session of Healers of Tomorrow, the aspiring pediatrician told the group that her pueblo was struggling with the curfews and everything else associated with COVID-19.




Anthony Fleg, MD, MPH, an associate professor with the UNM School of Medicine’s Department of Family & Community Medicine, who oversees the program, encouraged her to apply for a grant from NHI, a nonprofit organization that mentors youth and encourages them to lead community projects.

Fleg, who is the director of Community Wellness within the HSC Office for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, said he was impressed with Pino’s idea and effort to help her community.

With her $300 grant in hand, Pino realized she would need many more donations to bring her vision of giving each child an educational care package come to fruition. Raising funds and collecting donations during the pandemic wasn’t easy, she said. At one point, her pueblo’s offices were closed when she was trying to find out how many children lived there.

“I was worried about how to make this work,” she said.

After a story ran in the Albuquerque Journal about her efforts, the community pitched in with donations of the needed items and money. The United World College donated lots of board games.

Using the grant money and monetary donations, she bought 108 chapter books and spent lots of time at Lakeshore Learning Store buying items such as flash cards, writing tools and books on how to write in cursive.

Depending on the age, the youths received care packages that included flashcards, math and beginning reader books, writing pads and a game. She found gifts for babies, too.

“Honestly, it was more (work) than I expected but people were willing to help out,” Pino said.

Thanks to help from Fleg and NHI, she said, she had about three truckloads full of books and toys for the kids. “We really appreciated all the donations. This is more than blessings. I know I couldn’t have done it without my family and Dr. Fleg and NHI.”

The effort, she said, “put lots of smiles on faces.”

In addition to her donation drive this summer, Pino and other Native American youths were recently featured in a video created “to give youth voices a spotlight, feeling that they are often left out of the conversation,” Fleg said.

The video’s premiere was part of the keynote talk at the annual conference of the New Mexico Public Health Association earlier this month, he said.

Categories: Diversity, Top Stories