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Adopt a Native Elder Program - Reaching Out to Traditional Navajo Elders in Need


Elders on the Navajo Reservation

Traditional elders on the Navajo Reservation - Gathering at Big Mountain Food Run

Courtesy: Adopt a Native Elder Program

Adopt a Native Elder Program:

Address PO Box 4301, Park City, UT, 84060
Phone 435.649.0535

What is the Adopt a Native Elder Program All About?:

Quite simply, the Adopt a Native Elder Program (ANE), builds bridges between the Navajo people and other cultures through meaningful personal contact. The program targets traditional, isolated Navajo elders who are in need. Program supporters can "Adopt an Elder" by providing at least four food boxes per year. Volunteers handle two annual food runs, work at the Park City, Utah warehouse as well as special events such as the annual rug show and sale.


Over 20 years ago a Park City artist, Linda Myers, was very moved by the stories of Navajo elders as told by Grace Smith Yellowhammer who had first-hand knowledge of their needs. Elders, often living in traditional ways - living in dirt floor hogans, herding sheep and weaving marvelously beautiful rugs, had basic medical needs, went without food during harsh winters and, moreover, needed contact with their own people and others who would come to care deeply about them. In the beginning, Grace and Linda collaborated by helping just a few elders. Over the years the program has grown and now 500 elders benefit.

About the Elders:

Many of the Elders live in hogans and in very remote locations on reservations in Arizona and Utah.

Many Elders have made their living by raising their own sheep and cattle. The sheep provide wool and food. They weave the wool from their sheep and goats into rugs that they can sell for cash to meet their needs.

And, as I found out, many of the elders assisted by the program are 80 - 106 years old!

How Do Volunteers Help the Elders?:

Volunteers participate in a number of activities that help the elders in culturally sensitive ways
  • Adoption Program which matches one to two program supporters with a Navjo Elder
  • Twice yearly food runs which involve driving boxes of food, gifts and clothing to remote areas of the Navajo Reservation
  • Program support such as working at the Salt Lake City warehouse or helping with the annual Rug Auction and much, much more. See Adopt an Elder Website

How is the Adopt An Elder Program Different:

ANE is neither a government program nor a faith-based program and is almost entirely run and supported by volunteers.

The program is assisted by traditional Dine' (Navajo) people who serve as coordinators in various parts of the reservation to help determine the needs of the Elders in their own culture and lifestyle.

Volunteers who participate are enriched by their experiences with the program and with the Navajo people as much as the elders benefit from the program. ANE is truly a cross-cultural meeting of the hands.

The Best Way to Start:

When people ask me how to begin involvement with the ANE program, I always say, "send in $25 for the newsletter." Once you read the newsletter and become familiar with the philosophy and good works of ANE, you will know better how to become further involved. You may want to adopt an elder, or send in a regular donation. Or, like me, you may want to see for yourself how the program works and participate in a food run.

What does the Program Need Most?:

Where is need the greatest? Linda, the program director, says that the greatest need is always food. You can purchase food boxes for $75 (for Fall food runs) or Basha's food certificates. These can be used to supplement the boxes purchased by those who have adopted elders. They can be available for the "forgotten elders" who are not yet in the program. See the website for ways you can purchase food for elders. To Purchase Food Boxes. To Purchase Food Gift Certificates.

Is ANE a Registered Charity?:

The Adopt-A-Native-Elder Program is a non-profit 501(c) corporation, and as such, all donations are tax deductible. The Adopt a Native Elder Program has been awarded a four-star rating by the highly regarded Charity Navigator organization, the nation's largest independent evaluator of charities.

Participating in a Food Run - VolunTourism on the Navajo Reservation:

I was so taken with the stories I read in the ANE Newsletter that I checked my calendar against the scheduled food runs and found one that fit perfectly. This was the Sanders, Teesto, Big Mountain Food Run based in Winslow, not all that far from me. When I looked for these locations on the map I could find only Sanders. It was then that I knew I was in for a thrill... I was going to the far reaches of the Navajo Reservation, to places I would not be able to go without being part of the program.

I soon learned that ceremony and letting go of belagana (white) ways was just as important to preparing for the food run as was loading the trucks. Sage smoke was wafted over and around me as I entered the building for my first ceremony with the food run volunteers. One morning I had the honor of greeting the dawn on a rocky lakeside outcropping with Navajo prayer and chants. I learned that the program had built strong and trusting relationships with the traditional Navajo people and their knowing that the volunteers who would enter "The Land" had been spiritually cleansed and prepared added to their trust of us.

Each day we lined up and caravanned to a different remote location. Each day food boxes were carefully placed in a semi-circle for the Rainbow Circle giveaway. Boxes represented donations for adopted elders as well as medical supplies.

Each day we prepared food for the elders, gave away small gifts and enjoyed getting to know each and every participant. Food was also provided to family and friends of the elders and the day took on a festive atmosphere. As people socialized, program nurses did assessments of the elders to determine their needs - often as simple as a walker, a cane or a box of Depends.

The elders and their families also gave back. Beautifully woven rugs were donated to the program for the annual rug sale and small gifts of appreciation were exchanged. The stories of gratitude, all delivered in Navajo, were heart wrenching.

The most difficult part of the experience was knowing that there were elders who were not in the program, needs that were not yet met and that we volunteers had to leave the beauty and simplicity of "The Land" and return to our belagana lifestyles.

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