Students reconnecting with their community
LEUPP-Crystal Drake is 13 years old. She is already in her fifth year of service learning in the Leupp community. This is her second year of being a project leader. Her part of the multi-fold Elder Help Service program is leading fellow students in cutting, chopping and delivering firewood to Navajo elderly.
She is one of sixteen student leaders from grades fifth through the eighth at the STAR School, located approximately 28 miles northeast of Flagstaff near the reservation community of Leupp. The project is funded by the Arizona Department of Education, Learn and Serve Program, the STAR School, and with support from the Leupp Chapter.
"I chose hauling wood so that I could help elders who cannot haul wood on their own," Drake said. "I also wanted to help those elders who couldn't chop wood by themselves. It is easy to get the boys in my class to help because they want to chop wood."
Drake is the quiet member of the partnership. Sheldon David, who is 12, also lives in Leupp. He was at first rather reluctant to be named as a co-pilot for the wood-hauling project, but is now one of the most outspoken supporters of the program.
"I like to visit with the elders," David said.
The elders appreciate our help and they are very happy when we come. I picked the wood-hauling project because it was something I could do. It's something I do at home."
When David heard that one elder's wood had been stolen, he took it upon himself to do what he could about it-he wrote letters to the editors of several newspapers. In his letter, he states, "I was very disappointed in what the people did to an elder. I was surprised that someone would do that."
Gerod Cook is 1l years old, and has been involved in the wood- and water-hauling project.
"I like working on the project because I like to help the elders." He said that he is getting to know the elders in his community through service learning, and knows that they need help.
"The elders show their gratitude by telling us 'thank you.' The elders live off the road and some places are pretty far away," Cook said. "Some of the elders do not have vehicles."
The wood-hauling project coordinates with the water hauling project led by Keshia Yazzie.
"I remember how my grandmother didn't always have water, and I helped haul water for her with my dad," Yazzie said, explaining why she chose her component of the project. "I just want to help people. I also like helping with Crystal's project because my dad and I always hauled wood too. We don't have a wood stove anymore and I miss hauling wood." She knows that her work is appreciated.
"I was talking with one of our clients, and I found out that I was her niece. She was happy that we brought water and wood."Yazzie was present when the grandmother reported the theft of her wood. "I felt like, 'why would people want to do that?' She's old and she needs the wood. Whoever took the wood should be ashamed of themselves."
Yazzie does not see her imminent graduation from eighth grade as the end of her service learning experience. "I would like to do this when I go to high school and college. If I was to go to college in Phoenix, I'd still like to come back and help the elders in my community," she said.
Afton Solomon heads a project that visits and provides activities to the Infinia Nursing Home in Flagstaff, as well as visits to homes on the reservation. She and co-pilot Kennedy Slowtalker have brought plants to elders that were grown and potted by members of the entire student body, decorated wheelchairs, made Christmas cards and decorations with elders. Most importantly, these students have been generous with their time-invaluable to the people they visit.
"I chose the nursing home because I care about elderly people," Solomon said. "I helped my grandmother when I was small. She was in a nursing home in Phoenix, and we visited her there. The thing that makes me happy is the expression of joy on the elders' faces. When we first arrive, people look sad, but once they see us, they look happy."
Solomon has visited several home sites, and has learned that there are other needs in her community.
"Some need electricity and heating, some people need propane so that they can cook an enjoyable dinner every single day," Solomon said. "Some of the houses need porch repairs and kitchen cabinets, organizers, and things like that."
An important component of this project is reconnecting the younger generation with the older. There are barriers-most of the students speak very little, if any, Navajo. Nonetheless there is a connection being formed between these children and the elders they help.
Zoe Worker, who serves as an interpreter for the project, has helped this bond by describing what elders are saying. One afternoon, she sat with six students on an elder's bed and enjoyed the octogenarian's tales of days gone by. The students have learned to accept the fact that she has difficulty with time orientation. Sometimes she speaks as though she were in her 60s, or believes herself to still be living on the reservation. Other times she is definitely in the moment, explaining that her stay in the nursing home was because she was knocked down by a billy goat.
"I think this is a good project," Worker said. "There are elderly and disabled people who can't do work for themselves. The kids are learning to help them. There is a need for a better connection between the kids and the elders of their community. Maybe this way they will learn to understand their own language, perhaps talk in the Navajo language...[and] if the relationship continues, some of the kids may even learn to weave... Some of them don't have their own grandparents to teach them."
Worker has also helped do field assessments at different home sites.
The home repair component is directed by Ralph Drake. Drake is a man of many talents-he can rebuild an engine, build a greenhouse, troubleshoot a solar electricity system or computer, but is also willing to dig a hole or move an outhouse. Most importantly, Drake has a natural rapport with children.
"I enjoy serving the native people in my community and helping the needy. I feel that basic home repair work is an important component... Our students have the opportunity to apply mathematics and communication and writing skills where they are able to work with lumberyards... I want our kids to learn everything," Drake said.
The youth who participate in the service learning work are largely enthusiastic about helping. Even the younger students eagerly await an opportunity to assist, though projects they undertake must be simple. While they may not be able to chop wood, they are able to do other things for the elderly recipients.
The number of individuals that the youth can assist is small. To date, the Learn and Serve team has evaluated 15 homes and has provided service to four. There are plans in the work to serve 11 more homes over the next four months with projects ranging from stair repair, painting, the sewing of curtains and more.
Individuals who are interested in donating time or items to support this project-or just want more information-can call Ralph Drake at (928) 606-6423.