Using Your Experience to Better Your Community

How one man used his personal experience and professional contacts to start an illuminating humanitarian effort

Mylo Fowler, @navajomylo on Instagram, is perhaps best known for his stunning landscapes as a National Geographic Adventure photographer. When the pandemic hit, his first thought was about the needs of families whose children were being sent home for remote learning.

You see, Fowler has spent his life in Arizona and Utah, as a photographer, guide, and member of the Navajo Nation. He personally knows families with no electricity or WiFi. He was born into one. Fowler recalls doing his homework by kerosene lamp during his school days.

So he got to work. He reached out to non-profits and organizations that provide renewable energy to work toward solving a very real and practical problem for the community during the pandemic.

Although Fowler couldn’t have known when he put his idea in motion that the Navajo Nation would become one of the country’s biggest COVID-19 hot spots, he used his professional contacts and applied what he did know about the community to launch a humanitarian effort that has made it possible for thousands of children to keep learning during the pandemic.

Together with the help of Goal Zero, Swinerton Renewable, Heart of America, and the RSL Foundation, he has delivered 10,000 distance learning kits to schools and reservations from Utah and Arizona to New Mexico and California. The kits, suitable for PreK through 12th-grade students, contain grade-/age-appropriate books, hand sanitizers, masks, notebooks, coloring books, pencils, markers, erasers, glue, STEM activities, solar toy car kits, and Goal Zero solar panel crush lights.

Fowler was able to quickly build this effort because of his professional contacts, experience, and prior work helping the community. Fowler has used Goal Zero gear for his landscape photography and knows well how efficient they are to operate. Even before the pandemic, Fowler had been delivering solar light kits to families who had previously been using costly generators or car batteries to run lights and charge cell phones.

Without lights, these homes are in total darkness after sunset until sunup. As if on cue, Fowler’s Instagram story from February 21, demonstrates the difference between total darkness and solar lights inside a family’s home after an installation. The family is immediately impressed and appreciative.

That a photographer, a capturer of light, would provide literal light through solar kits and figurative light through distance learning kits to his community’s children is one a meaningful and inspiring real-life metaphor.

But this is no unintentional metaphor. Fowler writes, “For many years my email signature ended with ‘Waiting for the Light’ which has been a photographic phase. Nowadays it serves another purpose because many Navajo families are still Waiting for the Light.”

And he is certainly doing his part to bring it to them and their children.

What Can You Do?

It’s important to keep in mind that you don’t have to build an effort from scratch like Fowler has to better your community. There are many ways to get involved and use your skills and knowledge to help others in need.

If you have an idea for a new effort, reach out, like Fowler did, to professional contacts you’ve developed over the years who may be willing or have the resources to help. It will likely require more than the single email and two phone calls that Fowler made, so don’t be discouraged if it requires multiple calls and emails! It will be worth your effort. Also, be open to refining your idea or approach based on feedback from your professional contacts. Collaboration often leads to the best solutions.

To donate to the effort to provide more distance learning kits, visit the non-profit Heart of America donation page.

And other opportunities to put your skills and experience to use abound:

  • • Volunteer as a business mentor or work with an experienced business mentor with SCORE Greater Phoenix.
  • • Check out HandsOn Greater Phoenix for more volunteer opportunities. On the site, you can specify what you like to do, who you would like to serve, and when you’re available to easily match up your interests with available opportunities and organizations looking for volunteers.

Nelida Ruiz is a marketing and business development consultant and coach helping business owners maximize thought leadership with blogs, articles, and social media. For more of her work visit www.nelidaruiz.com

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