Program assists Navajo elders

By Glenda Galbraith
Close-Up Correspondent
Salt Lake Tribune

More than 20 years ago, Linda Myers met Rose Hulligan, a young Navajo woman who collected day-old bread and canned goods to support the older members of her tribe.

Myers, an artist, donated the proceeds of an art sale to fund a large shopping spree to Sam's Club and trip to the reservation.

"I thought that would be a nice thing and be the end of it," says Myers, who lives in Park City.

Instead, it would be the start of a lifelong journey of love, friendship and effort on behalf of a people ravaged by poverty, disease, and unemployment and who fight to maintain their traditional ways and ceremonies.

With Jeannie Patton, Myers co-founded the Adopt-A-Native Elder program (ANE) in 1993.

"The simplicity of these people and their daily struggles drive me," Myers says. "When I'm with them, I think, 'How can I make a difference in a simple way?' . . . Sometimes it's the small things that have great significance to them."

Patton's and Myers' charitable endeavors grew from a few food runs from the back of four-wheel drive vehicles to an organization with 450 volunteers from as near as Riverton and far away as Australia donating goods, time and services. The donated goods are stored at ANE's South Salt Lake offices at about 3100 S. 300 West.

Linda Pace, a Riverton volunteer who labors at the ANE warehouse, enjoyed her recent 1,000-mile round trip to work with the Navajo.

"There was a feeling of peace I got out of being there," she says. "I didn't have to be something I wasn't. It made me feel so good about the program."

Food runs are still the heart of the assistance program. In April alone, volunteers distributed 1,460 boxes - valued from $35 to $65 apiece -in 10 small southern Utah and northern Arizona settlements, including Tsaile, Bird Springs, Dilkon and Leupp, according to Ed Keane, ANE's warehouse supervisor.

Boxes vary based upon the receiving elder's age, gender and needs, and may contain standard items such as clothing, foodstuffs and over-the-counter medicine, among other items. Another 2,000 boxes are planned for delivery this October.

The elders - men and women, many between 95 and 105 - must be at least 70 to be eligible for the program.

"We try to serve the very oldest and neediest," Myers says.

She and her staff assess each elder's health, home status, food stability and eating habits, then see how best to meet those needs.

"If one has needs, they or their children will write to us and the program will try to assist them," Myers adds.

Beverly Benally, an ANE translator, says the elders appreciate the help they receive.

"Linda is a really nice lady," Benally says. "She goes and helps and is really close with them."

Food runs are financed by donors, who adopt an elder by donating at least $25 and two food boxes each year. To assure quality and maintain equity, food is purchased, stocked and packed at ANE's warehouse.

For those who are unable to "adopt," other volunteer opportunities abound.

Other workers shop, sort and pack food and clothing items, or work on the organization's newsletter, which comes out five times a year and contains thank-you letters from the elders and recognition for the donors.

"We're in desperate need right now for volunteers who have vans, SUVs or trucks for our food runs," Myers says.

For her Girl Scout project, 17-year-old Laura Mason of Salt Lake City donated 150 school boxes to children and 20 to 30 fleece quilts to send to teen mothers in Tsaile, Ariz. About seven troops assembled the quilts as a part of baby boxes, which included receiving blankets, knitted and sewn hats, diapers, outfits and a photo album for each mother. Mason also worked on Christmas stockings for Diné children.

"I really like doing things for people and seeing the kids' reactions in the newsletter," Mason says.

ANE also furnishes 500 backpacks stuffed with school supplies and 2,500 Christmas stockings filled with caps, gloves, crayons and other practical items to Navajo children at school.

"Schools walk a fine line between tradition and the celebration of Christmas," says Myers, whose organization is careful not to impose religious or political agendas upon those it serves.

For 17 years, Adopt-A-Native Elder has put on an annual rug show to finance the elders during the harsh winter months and highlight the beauty of their art and culture. Proceeds are used to buy firewood and give elders a $60 grocery certificate. Last year's rug show at Deer Valley yielded $284,000 to 75 weavers.

"If we give them wool, they'll weave a rug because they know it will help them," Myers says. "They're not a society where they don't help themselves."

Often woven by weavers between 85 and 105, these "heart rugs" may be crooked or imperfect, but they are no less prized. Myers recently bought several.

"They weren't perfect, but my gosh, she did a pretty good job," Myers says about the rug she bought from a 103-year-old elder.


For information about how you can help, call 801-474-0535 or consult the Web at


originally found at the Salt Lake Tribune, 24 August 2006


Reprinted as an historical reference document under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law.