Volunteering on the Navajo Reservation

Adopt a Native Elder Program

Volunteers have the privilege of meeting traditional Navajo Elders.

What a wonderful voluntourism opportunity. You can volunteer on the Navajo Reservation.

You may not realize it but some treasures from the past are living out on the far reaches of the Navajo Nation. Elders in long skirts, velvet blouses and turquoise jewelry can still be found weaving, farming and herding sheep. Elder men dress simply in western attire, often accompanied by silver belt buckles won in rodeo events. Some of these elders speak English and some do not. All are treasures of a bygone era.

Many of the elders live traditionally in dirt floor hogans and in simple frame houses or trailers. Many have experienced dwindling family support as family members move off the reservation for work. The elders I will visit have needs…. for supplemental food and, certainly, for the hands of friendship that we extend to them. Some elders in the program are over 100 years of age. These are amazing people.

Experiencing an Adopt a Native Elder Food Run

I volunteer my time with the Adopt a Native Elder Program and have the privilege of traveling to rural areas of the Navajo Nation to distribute food and develop friendships.

It’s almost time for one of my volunteer food runs to the Navajo Reservation. My friends are making up gift packets of yardage and I am collecting some small toiletries to give away. I’ve made my reservation at the simple Winslow, Arizona motel where we gather, The Lodge, and keep the elders, who I see twice a year, in my morning prayers.

Meanwhile, across the U.S., those who have “adopted” these elders are sending in checks for food boxes, yarn boxes and, since it’s fall, for firewood.

At the Adopt a Native Elder warehouse in Salt Lake City, even more volunteers are packaging food boxes for our upcoming drive to distribute the boxes. It’s a busy time and it happens twice a year.

Our group of volunteers meets in Winslow, Arizona and coordinates three food runs. One to Sanders, one to Big Mountain and

Navajo Elders

Navajo Elders greet the volunteers at the Big Mountain Food Run

the last to Teesto. We purchase the fresh food to add to the packaged food boxes from Salt Lake City, load the trucks and SUVs with the food and flour and decide which volunteers will drive.

We caravan out to a central location on the reservation to distribute the boxes and small presents, termed give-aways, and enjoy a meal and celebration with the elders while our volunteer nurses assess their medical needs.  Quite often the food truck will also be carrying a new bed, a wheelchair or a walker for an elder who has medical needs.

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

Conceptually, 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.

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.
The Best Way to Start:

It’s simple to become an Adopt a Native Elder supporter. 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.

More Information:
Adopt a Native Elder Program:
Address PO Box 4301, Park City, UT, 84060
Phone 435.649.0535 435.649.0535
Adopt a Native Elder Blog