by Jane Wierengo
Shirley Upchurch and I traveled to Winslow from Phoenix on September 26th, 2011 to participate in the Dilkon, Leupp, and Birdsprings food run. We are from Georgia. It is our 6th year to come on a food run. But we have come about 9 times altogether. I have helped with photography about 4 times.
We arrived at the Super 8 and immediately ran into Linda, Rodger and Celeste. It was good to see the whole family at this food run, including CJ. Celeste had big shoes to fill taking Wendy's place for this food run due to Wendy's accident. She was surely missed by everyone who knows her! Pravin and Aruna, the managers at Super 8, welcomed us with open arms.
Ray Coleman and Cindy Cook were out delivering shoes for the Walk In Beauty program. We were looking forward to our reunion with them. Ray was the one who first convinced Joyce Reese and me to come on this particular food run about 6 years ago. He has since "watched over us" very well!
On the 28th, we had our cars loaded and headed out for Dilkon in a caravan. We were proud that Lorna, Kate's Mother, was able to stop what she was doing and drive the medical van down from SLC at the last minute.
We headed to the LDS church but it had not been opened. Everyone had unpacked the cars and when we saw that we would have to rearrange, the volunteers put all the things back in the cars and we made a smooth transition to the Chapter House at Dilkon. That is one of the things that continues to impress me about the volunteers for ANE. They see a job and get it done. There is no whining or complaining! There seems to always be a "plan B"!
I liked the Chapter House because it had 2 open doors and there was good air flow and plenty of room to move around to give out the "giveaways" and also to greet the elders. The bad thing was that there was not a real kitchen so the kitchen workers had a hard time of it but they pulled through in great style.
Emil was a new volunteer who got to meet his elder for the first time. Rodger interpreted for him and I was glad to be a witness thru my camera.
During the Dilkon food run, my elder, Anita Jackson from nearby Teesto , always comes to check to see if I am coming to see her afterward. Shirley and I made the trip out to her house after the food run. We are always impressed with ourselves that we can find Anita's house as there is no GPS that could take us there. It is so special to be invited to visit with her and to talk to her about her life past and present.
The men of the group always do the most excellent job working together , setting up the boxes and the accessories. Although we had beautiful weather on this trip, I have seen them work thru 70 mph wind storms and they never take a break. They have a job to do and they work together to do it.
I think it is at Leupp that I cherish my role as photographer. I love to take portraits and some of my favorite elders are here. I think as a photographer, you have to hope for the best. You don't know what opportunities you will have, what the lighting will be like, if your camera will work and so on...
The elders at Leupp are happy and joyful. So many of them express their appreciation to us for coming from near and far to serve them. This year we had volunteers from AZ, WI, FL, GA, UT, NH, PA, CO, WA, and other places.
Kate couldn't come due to a family emergency and her Mom, Lorna, filled in by driving the medical van. "Nurse" Trudy(CO) and "Nurse" Krista (WA) took over Kate's duties and did a great job serving the elders.
One of my favorite photos was of Trudy talking to George Willie. It expresses tender care and concern as well as admiration for his role as a Code Talker in WWII. Their hands lovingly touch to form the "bridge between the cultures" which is one of the goals of ANE. This photo to me shows the heart of every volunteer who was on this food run. It shows love in action.
I have to admit I have a few favorite elders whom I love to photograph. One of them is Woody. Woody won "Crackerjacks" for being 96! I was amazed that Woody was 96. I think he wanted to win the prize and that he is really 88. But, nevertheless...he still herds sheep. He wears magnificent jewelry to the food runs and he expresses his genuine thanks to us for helping his people...all said through the Navajo language and interpreted by Mary.
Mary Robertson Begay is our interpreter along with her husband, Harry. They are dedicated to helping the elders and are from Big Mountain. They continually express sincere thanks to the volunteers for coming to help their people.
Another favorite couple at Leupp is Alice and Austin Tso. These are Shirley's elders. They love Shirley and she loves them back.. Their daughter, Linda, watches over them and communicates with Shirley as they do not speak English. They have formed a true friendship across the miles. It is fun to see them participate in the games. At first you think they are quiet and shy. But, in the games they become playful. It is rewarding to get to see that side of them!
I like to see all the joy of the elders during the planned games. I think of all their hardships, their daily struggles , the problem of how to get to the center for the food run, the struggles with their health and so forth. But, the joy on their faces at these food runs touches my heart. The planned moments of fun will be something they will talk about until the next food run.
At Leupp, Lola is the coordinator. I was glad to hear Lola sing. I believe she sang "Jesus Loves Me". Very quietly and one by one the 40 or so elders joined in. It was inspirational to hear and it touched my heart . I found out on this food run that Lola and her husband are gospel singers. Lola retired but no one could be found to replace her at the Senior Center, and she was hired back. Everyone is delighted. She is trying to provide healthier food choices for the elders.
Victoria Begay is another of my favorites. She has the most beautiful countenance on her face. She has a peaceful , beautiful spirit. She especially likes Ray and she usually brings something for him. She couldn't understand why her sponsors were not at the food run. By her expressing that thought, I could see how important it is to the elders to "see" their sponsors. I know it is hard to come from far distances due to the cost and so forth, but it means a lot to the elders if you can make it to a food run.
One thing so outstanding that I want to mention it here is the antique sewing machine. Trudy brought an antique treadle sewing machine to her elder. The lady getting it was so thrilled. Trudy had to go to a lot of trouble to bring that sewing machine to the reservation, but now it will go back into use. Such a thoughtful gift!
Normally, I can never catch the guys in one place. They are busy arranging the boxes, taking boxes of give aways into the chapter house and so forth. But, I caught them "resting". Well, truthfully it is a "set up" shot.
Last day. The weather was nice so we headed out to Sadie's land. Sadie looked great! She has had a hard year or so, and has bounced back.
Her daughters , Toni and Terri, prepared a beautiful meal for us. They received the ANE blankets as a gift.
Zonnie and John Slowtalker are two of my favorites. I think I am "in their clan" as I am also a "slow talker" from Georgia!
The elders love to see young people volunteering. Hayleigh and Michelle are here with Lillie Curley.
Cindy is the sponsor of Jill Curley. They are 2 of my favorite people to photograph. As a photographer, I do not know why I am drawn to certain people. But with Jill, it was his big rodeo belt buckle that he earned in his youth. When I first saw Jill, I wanted to know his story. He is in his 90's, but he used to ride in the rodeo. I could imagine how interesting it would be to sit down with him and many others of these elders to hear the stories of their lives. Jill gave Cindy his watch last year as a gift. (The "giveaway" circle is a beautiful thing to behold. The elders give what they have, and we give what we have and it is never ending...) It made him very proud to see her wearing it. Again, the touch of their hands creates a healing gesture between our cultures. It is a reminder that one person can make a difference in the life of another... wounds from the past can be healed through a loving touch of kindness, generosity, and genuine caring for another person. Just to recognize what the elders have been through and to try to make a positive difference at this point in their lives is important for us as volunteers.
I could never guess what was in store for me the day I found the Adopt-A-Native-Elder Program on line. Everything about the program blesses me. I am thankful that Linda paved the way 25 years ago for the rest of us so that we would be trusted to come out on the land. I feel I am witnessing a vanishing people and their way of life. I have received more blessings than I have given. I have been thankful to work with volunteers with open and loving hearts for others. I feel so fortunate to be integrated into the Navajo culture even for a brief period of time. I have loved meeting the elders, learning about their lives, being welcomed by them as they now recognize "the peaches", and being able to share from a first hand experience about their needs to people in Georgia.
To be given the opportunity to capture these elders on film has meant a lot to me. I look forward to "the next time". As for the volunteers and the elders..." one is silver and the other gold". It is difficult to "tell" about a food run. You have to experience it to really know what it is like.