Navajo foster grandparents came from every corner of the
Navajo Nation to be recognized for volunteering with children
at Little America Hotel in Flagstaff May 26.
you for volunteering. You really deserve this respect and we are
all very proud of you, said Anslem Roanhorse Jr., executive
director of the Navajo Division of Health, who addressed 195 elders
who volunteer over 150,000 hours this past year. The recognition
ceremony is an annual event.
truly are the fabric of our nation, added U.S. Rep. Rick Renzi,
R-Ariz., a guest speaker.
Navajo Foster Grandparents program, a program under the Navajo Area
Agency on Aging office within the Navajo Division of Health, is
one of only four programs within the state of Arizona, but with
a volunteer rate that is 3-4 times higher than other Arizona projects.
program falls under the senior corp program of Corporation for National
Service, a federally funded national program with 30,000 volunteer
throughout the U.S. Elders who are part of the program work 20 hours
a week and paid a small stipend for travel. The Navajo Nation joined
the program in 1971, but the program initially began in the mid
1960s under the ACTION program.
Navajo Nation Foster Grandparents program is a model program in
Indian country, said Lenny Teh, a program official with the
Save the Children foundation.
Mandino, who has spent 20 years working with senior volunteers throughout
northern Arizona, believes the high volunteer rate within the Navajo
Nation is due to the culture. It is entrenched in Navajo culture,
said Mandino, senior program coordinator for Northern Arizona Universitys
Gerontology Institute. There have been so many generations
of volunteers on Navajo, that it has become part of the culture.
said elders are respected on Navajo They have better relationship
with children, then off-reservation people. They are the knowledge
of the people and are an untapped resource, said Mandino.
an estimated 20,000 tribal members age 60 years on up across the
said they enjoy volunteering because it makes them feel good. When
I go into a cafeteria, they are all shouting, Grandma! Grandma!
said Laura Desh, 64, a foster grandparent from Tuba City. It
is a good feeling...Everybody then turns around and looks. Theyre
like baby lambs crying out.
Eldridge, program director, said her staff works with local schools
and Headstarts to place grandparents in the community. At their
site, they teach the kids, one-on-one the Navajo language and culture
and help with reading, and even adjusting to school life. Last
year, a state official recognized that some children even had improved
their reading skills with the help of the grandparents, she
common concern among foster grandparents is the loss of the Navajo
language and culture. Todays kids are losing their culture
and language, added Irene Franklin, another foster grandparent
from Leupp. When we first meet them (kids) we tell them who
they are and where they come from. Some are slow and some dont
want to listen. They are all different.
said the foster grandparents make a big difference by mentoring
and teaching Navajo culture to the kids. All of them are very
concerned about the loss of our language and culture, she
said. This is why many of them sign up to volunteer.
common for some volunteers to have been with the program for 15
- 30 years, said Victoria Bahe, program staff with the Fort Defiance
office. In recent years, however, officials said recruiting has
become harder, because the stipend is not enough in these days of
rising gas prices. They are hoping that they can get additional
funding. Presently, the project is funded $558,489 by the Corporation
for National Service. The Navajo Nation then kicks in $200,000,
and the State of New Mexico helps with $99,392. Arizona provides
no financial support.
become a foster grandparent, an applicant must be 60 years of age,
meet certain income eligibility requirements, love children, and
be willing to volunteer 20 hours a week, said Bahe.
earn a small, tax-free stipend to cover the cost of serving. They
also receive reimbursements for transportation, meals while on duty,
annual physical examination, and supplemental accident and liability
coverage while serving.