by Cherie Foster
(Note: Cherie, from Perth, Western Australia, came to Salt Lake City August 1st, 2010 and stayed until September 6th. Her story shows how deeply the Program can affect people at a personal level. Those of us who had the privilege of meeting her were inspired by her commitment as well as her adventurous spirit.)
I found Adopt-A-Native-Elder Program towards the end of 2008 on a website of actor Jay Tavare. I was looking to see what other work he had done and find out more about him, as I’d seen him in the television production called Into the West. Jay had written about his association with ANE, which prompted me to investigate why this organization meant so much to him. I perused the ANE website and was impressed with the program and how they helped the Navajo Elders. I had visited the area nineteen years prior, and the Native American culture had fascinated me, not for any particularly explanatory reason. I enjoyed reading about their culture and the different nations. Along with that reading, came the sadness of the hardships and unfortunate circumstances which these first people of the continent that is now America, have had to deal with. The ANE program appeared to be helping substantially to assist the Elders, not just with supplies, but also with human to human contact which included sincere empathy. This was an organization I decided to become involved with as being able to see where donations were dispersed is important to me. In 2010 I was finally able to adopt an Elder and ended up receiving two, a husband and wife. I was thrilled to have an adopted Grandpa and Grandma! When the opportunity arose to travel to the USA in 2010, I was hesitant. Traveling by myself was not my ideal situation. To experience the world, I knew I must more deeply pursue the courage, strength and fortitude that I had discovered in myself a few months previously, thanks to an inspiring Native American of Apache ancestry who had given me inspiration to hope and dream for my future. Thankfully, when organizing the journey, I could not see my traveling to the USA was about to give me challenges that exceeded anything I had encountered before (including a devastating loss about to occur) or I wouldn’t have gone. Such is the mystery of life, sometimes leading down a road seemingly unable to be traversed for the huge boulders strewn in the direction one is going. Gradually the boulders become stones and pebbles as experience and lessons are discovered that are sometimes beneficial beyond recognition at the time of intense emotion and useless had they been revealed before the traveler was ready to listen and learn.
I embarked on my travel to Salt Lake City, Utah, with trepidation, as I knew no one. I had briefly corresponded with Joyce at ANE via the internet, asking advice about accommodations and supermarkets near to the warehouse where I would be volunteering. Joyce has been extremely helpful and enthusiastic, so at least I had one contact. Still it was daunting to be going there alone. I don’t think Americans understand that for foreigners, the USA is like another planet. Even though we all speak English, there are a lot of differences such as driving on the opposite side of the road, tipping, spelling English words differently, the date written differently, zip codes instead of post codes, and trying to understand accents can be difficult too. As I’m sure my Australian accent was challenging for some Americans!
Thankfully I had a friend in California, my dear Laura, whose gentle guidance ensured that I pursued and followed through with my desire to visit ANE. Laura’s persistence in being everything I could need in a friend was priceless on my journey before leaving home and while in the USA. Her constant reassurance and calm assertive attention assisted me in following my dream to visit ANE and its people. Laura’s tremendous gift of wisdom, of which I have been a recipient many times over, has been greatly influenced by her Native American Sioux ancestry. The Lakota culture is beautiful and powerful, of which I am always astounded and grateful that I have had the opportunity of receiving the wisdom that comes my way. When I faced my most difficult challenge just before the important food run, Laura was there as always, guiding me forward, encouraging and empathetic. The perfect example of the definition of friendship that I have been blessed to have in my life started with Laura and as I was about to find out, was about to continue with blessings from new friends coming into my life in Utah.
I arrived in Utah the day before I was to start work at the ANE office/warehouse in Salt Lake City. My first sunset in Utah was spectacular, even viewed from a hotel room overlooking a highway! The first day of work I walked from my hotel to the office on Gregson Ave, which ended up being a not so good idea as it was extremely hot. Joyce had tried to warn me, but I needed to find out for myself. Joyce offered to pick me up every day and drop me off at home as it was on her way to work, so I gratefully accepted! My first day at the office was fascinating. As Joyce showed me around I noticed a colour photograph of my Elders on the notice board! I was thrilled to see the picture from the newsletter in colour. There are wonderful photographs on the walls around the office of volunteers, Elders, and the events of ANE. Also there are many photo albums, which I was finally able to peruse a couple of weeks later. Joyce began to show me straight away what her daily work consisted of. The orders were coming in over the phone and internet for the fall food runs and had to be processed, which was time consuming. I couldn’t have chosen a more perfect time to learn how ANE operated. Actually that wasn’t my intention when I decided to go to ANE to volunteer. I thought I would be in the warehouse working, even on non volunteer days. Joyce had other ideas and once I started, I realized why. The administrative work was out of control! There was so much to do, which was wonderful for me to learn and great for Joyce that she had assistance. Of course she could handle it all herself, but it isn't good to be going at such a frantic pace every day. Joyce had been training volunteers to help her in the office, so I would be working with them in the following weeks. Gina was extremely helpful to me when Joyce was busy. Her smile lights up a room, as does her generous heart. As I was about to find out Joyce was a wealth of knowledge and was kind enough to share it with me in enabling me to learn how the ANE administration operated. Joyce also has a hidden talent. If you ever need a shoulder to cry on, she is able to assist. Her instincts and empathy are a precious gift.
Everyone started to appear as volunteer hours started, and I had my first introductions. Joyce was fabulous in letting me know who everyone was. I recognized people from their pictures that had been in the newsletters and on the ANE blog website. I met Wendy, Beverly, Gina, Oscar, Cheryl, Elinda, Art, Sandy, Dean, Roger, Ed, Nancy, Sheila, Fientje, and Janet. I left Joyce and headed out back to the warehouse where I was able to help with backpacks for the children. We the volunteers were loading them with school supplies. I was excited to be experiencing what I had seen volunteers do in pictures! Three hours goes quickly and then it was time for everyone to leave. I asked Beverly questions about weaving as I am fascinated as to how it is done. Beverly was patient with my questions and I learnt much from her. When it was quiet again I resumed helping Joyce in the office. The view out the window is spectacular with the huge mountains looming in the distance. After work Joyce took me around Salt Lake City. We drove around with Joyce familiarizing me with the layout of the streets and landmarks. She drove up the top of a mountain where I could overlook the valley and was able to see the entire city. Such a spectacular place and difficult to imagine the roads were on would be covered in snow in a few months! Joyce was my Salt Lake City tour guide and the time I was there we had many days of fun driving around after work having dinner, shopping, talking, laughing and learning about each other. Joyce is amazing and has so much knowledge! We settled into a daily work routine which really consisted of me asking lots of questions about how to do everything Joyce gave me.
Friday of my first week I met further volunteers Sandy, Boyd, Rodger, John, Eileen, Shirley, Mary Anne, Masuda, Betsy and Katie. Friday’s activity was quilting, as quilts were being made for the Grandmas to be presented to them at the rug show in November. There is always something to do at the warehouse. The enthusiasm of the volunteers astounded me. They are willing to give up time as well as use their own money and contacts to help the Elders. No challenge is too great for them.
My second week I was privileged to stay with Linda and Rodger where I was able to work at the ANE Park City office , the farmer’s market, and attend an ANE rug show meeting. I was fascinated to learn about Linda and Rodger’s journey through life, which had brought them to the place they now are. They were generous, kind and thoughtful to me and I will always remember their wonderful hospitality. I like to walk, so spending time walking with Linda was special to me. Her experience and words of wisdom also helped me on my journey. Park City is beautiful and Linda showed me around and what she does, such as picking up the mail, depositing donations at the bank etc. I was pleased to see where the Sundance festival is held and learnt that she had met Robert Redford. Learning different aspects of how ANE administration works at the Park City office was interesting. Much work goes into process of ANE functioning and I hadn’t thought about that until I saw it for myself and was involved in some of it. I was able to have a glimpse of the roles of people at ANE and it was great to see how the Elders are benefiting from time and effort. I was also able to spend more time with Wendy and getting to know how busy her schedule is. ANE and especially Linda are gifted to have her input, knowledge and sweet disposition.
The ANE stall at the farmer’s market was fun. The wind likes the market too, frequently increasing wind speeds unexpectedly to catch people off guard and then laughing at their reactions! Lots of people like the Navajo handmade crafts for sale, especially the jewellry. I was able to purchase a beautiful silver and black bracelet named The Storyteller, which has pictures engraved of Navajo life and the scenery, which now reminds me of my time visiting the Reservation while on the food run. I experienced the unique taste of a Navajo taco while at the farmer’s market. Delicious! Also I had a scrumptious mixed berry ice cream which was a refreshing respite from the heat.
Another volunteer Masuda, also now one of my new friends, was generous with her time, taking me out to eat in various locations in Salt Lake City and Park City and to do quilting with Betsy and Katie. Masuda took me to the location of the rug show at Snow Park Lodge so I was able to identify what I’d seen in newsletters and pictures. Now since I’m familiar with the location it will mean more when I see the rug show pictures. We had a marvelous brunch in Park City, some of the best food I’ve ever tasted and drawing on the tablecloth was something I’d never done before! Sometimes experiences shared cannot be put into words and sometimes no words need be spoken. Such is this unexpected friendship, which surprised me and came to me exactly when I needed it most.
John and Virginia were also wonderful to me. Long time volunteers, they are much involved with ANE. John’s photographs have been influential in my wish to get to ANE and experience it for myself as he manages to capture the essence of the program. It is a gift to be able to do that with words and pictures. So, thanks to John, someone in a land far away was able to grasp the essential meaning of Adopt-A-Native-Elder program. Virginia, with her sparkling, vibrant eyes took me to her home, so I was able to add to my experience of seeing how Utahns live! The three of us had a wonderful day talking and touring exquisite gardens in the city. I shall always remember the most delicious authentic Lebanese I’ve ever had.
Beverly, a long time volunteer at ANE was gracious in giving me rides to ANE events. She told me about her ancestry, of which I was fascinated. Her laugh makes me smile even now remembering the sound. Beverly is always busy, yet maintains calm and I’ll always have a visual memory of her working, surrounded by the wonderful rainbow colours of yarn.
On my last weekend I spent a day at the sheepdog trials at Soldier Hollow where ANE had a tent with volunteers working, displaying rugs, jewelry, etc for purchase. Some Navajo weavers were there, giving weaving demonstrations, which was fascinating for me to see, as I have purchased a few rugs and while there, realized that I’m not the only one with that addiction!
I’m grateful to Linda for allowing me to participate in the daily processes of the Adopt-A-Native-Elder Program. I’m grateful to Joyce for her patience in allowing me to learn and teaching me how ANE functions. I’m grateful for everyone for their assistance and patience in showing me what to do in the warehouse and help on the food run. Lastly, I’m grateful for the friendships I have been blessed to make, for without friends the journey would not have been as magnificent as it was. It was a pleasure to make the acquaintance of hearts and souls at Adopt-A-Native-Elder Program.