Dotty Spears will retire in the spring from her position with the University of Arizona’s Cooperative Extension program. Spears came to the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community in March 2002 as part of a grant-funded program to teach Community children skills in nutrition and gardening. She has worked with the Youth Services Department and the Boys & Girls Club Red Mountain and Lehi branches, and also hosted various gardening, nutrition and youth skills programs with the Salt River Recreation Department.
Every county in Arizona has a cooperative extension program, and Spears works for the Maricopa County office as senior program coordinator. “I work for the University of Arizona, and the idea of this grant was to get people involved in gardening inside their community,” said Spears.
“We did a lot of other things as well, including archery and different 4H projects,” said Spears. She helped build gardens in Lehi and at the Cultural Resources Program in Salt River. She and her staff also deliver items to the local food bank and help out at the Early Childhood Education Center to teach younger children about nutrition.
Spears explained that once the original 4H contract ran out, another one opened up called SNAP ED (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), which was a nutrition education program. It made a lot of sense to use the fruits and vegetables that were growing in the gardens on the Community in a Community nutrition program to get the children to eat fruits and vegetables. Children enjoy eating anything they grow themselves in their gardens.
Spears also taught Community youth how to prepare healthy foods. “I have also always worked with the Recreation programs like the Young Eagles and After-School Program, as well as [going on] field trips with Youth Services where children learn about nutrition. It has turned out to be very successful, because most of the children know a large amount [about] nutrition, more than they learn in school,” she said.
Spears has worked with the Cooperative Extension for 21 years and has worked with children from preschool to high school for the past 35 years.
She said she loves being out here working with the children of the Community, and one thing that she will always remember is the respect that they show their elders and each other.
“When you work for all the other places I worked for, [it’s rewarding to] come to the SRPMIC, where the families teach their kids to respect one another and their elders. The children always teach me something about the culture all the time, [and I’m thankful] to the Community for being so gracious to me through all the years, and to all the staff that I worked with.”
Spears plans to continue working until she retires from her position with the U of A in the spring. “I just want to thank the Community for giving me the opportunity to work with the youth, and thanks to the employees of Youth Services and Recreation,” said Spears.