Partner Q&A: Caring for Elders of the Tohono O’odham Nation

PWNA was founded 30 years ago with a mission to champion a brighter future for Native Americans. Since then, we’ve partnered with dozens of tribal programs in the Southwest and Northern Plains to support the individual needs of their communities.

We recently caught up with Mike Benavidez who coordinates the Pisinemo District Elderly Program on the Tohono O’odham Nation. Mike shared more about their tribe’s senior services and how PWNA helps with caring for the Elders.

PWNA: What is the primary focus of your program?

Mike B:  The mission of the Pisinemo Elderly Program is to develop and administer quality programs that support Elders in their efforts to remain healthy, active and independent members of the community. Our overall aim is to promote and enrich the general welfare of seniors, persons with disabilities, families and caregivers.

PWNA: How did you first hear about PWNA and how long have you been a partner?

Mike B: I first heard about PWNA in October of 2011 when I started working at the Pisinemo Elderly Center as a driver. I remember Cassandra Herrera from PWNA coming out of our coordinator’s office with a look of dismay and asked what was wrong. I learned she was trying to enroll the center in PWNA’s Healthy Living service and the coordinator had turned her down. Then she explained what PWNA had to offer. I was amazed and told her I would speak with the coordinator and maybe I could help. Shortly after, I submitted the paperwork for our first request and began to distribute the Healthy Living supplies to Elders in our center. That was 10 years ago. Today, I serve as the coordinator of the Pisinemo District Elderly Program and we are still happily partnered with PWNA.

PWNA: How has PWNA supported your program over the years?

Mike B: PWNA has positively contributed to our senior program in many ways over the past 10 years. The personal care products we receive through Healthy Living help save Elders’ money on purchasing these items themselves, which is critical considering many of them have limited incomes.

We also participate in PWNA’s food services. Their Southwest Reservation Aid (SWRA) Standard Food service helps us ensure Elders get nutritious, hot meals. Prior to the pandemic, we served meals in a congregate setting, but since COVID-19, we’ve been delivering homebound meals on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. We have also participated in PWNA’s emergency food distributions, getting a food box to every Elder over the age of 55 in the Pisinemo District (100 boxes last year). This past Thanksgiving, each of our Elders received a turkey and all the sides from PWNA. I am so thankful PWNA made that possible and I know the Pisinemo Elders are too.

In addition, we were granted support through PWNA’s winter fuel service, which helped the Elders pay electric bills for a month, and the weatherization service that assisted six Elders with winter readiness home repairs that likely would have cost thousands of dollars. Thanks to our partnership, we have also been able to distribute Christmas stockings, winter jackets, wool blankets and countless other emergency items. We cannot stop counting the blessings that PWNA has brought to the Pisinemo District.

PWNA: What do you want others to know about your partnership with PWNA?

Mike B: Our partnership has helped us be successful and create lasting relationships with the Elders. Everyone from PWNA is friendly, especially Rick Miller, Denise Suchy, Cassandra Herrera, Andrew Yellow Bird and Laura Schad. I am also thankful for the Pisinemo District administrators Chairman Stanley Cruz and Vice-Chairwoman Jessica Juan. But most of all, I’m thankful to the Pisinemo District Elderly Program Staff Diane Lorentine (cook), Eugene Cruz (driver), Denise Garcia-Wood (homemaker), Benardo Robles (Elderly assistant worker) and Arianna Antonio (Elderly assistant worker) for working diligently during the pandemic and supporting the efforts of PWNA and the Pisinemo District Elderly Program.

Thank you, PWNA, for all you do for our aging Native citizens. It does not go unnoticed – I see it in the smiles of the Elders every day.

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