Partner Q&A: Caring for Navajo and Zuni Elders in Gallup, New Mexico

Year-round, PWNA partners with hundreds of Tribal programs in the Southwest and Northern Plains to support their program goals and address the unique needs of their communities. This month, we’re spotlighting program partner Lillie Begay who coordinates the Sunny Day Assisted Living program in Gallup, New Mexico.   

PWNA: What is the primary focus of your program?

Lillie B:  Sunny Day is a senior residential facility serving Elders from the Navajo Nation and the Pueblo of Zuni who need to be in a group setting. We assist with activities such as transporting residents to medical appointments, getting prescriptions filled, supporting Activities of Daily Living (ADL), providing meals and providing education in memory, personal care and related topics. Our main goal is to keep residents safe and happy by providing a welcoming and cozy environment.

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

Lillie B: Sunny Day has had a partnership with PWNA since 2017, which was before I started. Since I’ve been here (about three years), we have collaborated several times and I enjoy the continued partnership.

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

Lillie B: PWNA assists Sunny Day primarily through the Residential service offered by their Southwest Indian Relief Council (SWIRC) program; they’ve helped us improve our overall programming, resources and results. PWNA delivers essential supplies to us on a regular basis, personal items such as toothbrushes, deodorant, toothpaste, shampoo and conditioner, bodywash, socks and toilet paper for the residents. Used as incentives, they help us keep Elders engaged during activities and arm them with everyday items some cannot afford on their own. In addition, this saves Elders money, so they have more freedom to buy the things they typically don’t purchase or haven’t had in a while. This boosts their morale and mental and emotional well-being. Most importantly, the supplies from PWNA make our residents feel loved and aware that they are not alone.

The facility also saves money with PWNA deliveries of PPE (face masks, gloves sanitizers), cleaning supplies, bottled water, bedding, detergent and paper products (paper towels, paper plates, disposable cups), and craft products.  We also participated in PWNA’s Holiday service last year, a welcome end to a year of pandemic.

(Lillie also noted Sunny Day has a garden that PWNA provided seeds for, and after learning about our community investment garden projects, she’s interested in learning more.)

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

Lillie B: Gallup was hit particularly hard with COVID-19. It became everyone’s responsibility to keep each other safe. The community pulled together and the donations we received from PWNA in PPE supplies made a difference. We’re thankful PWNA was willing to assist us, even during the pandemic, which cast many challenges upon the Elders. We had to separate everyone and ban visitors from entering the building. It was painful to watch the Elders go without social interaction for so long. They were unable to eat together as they normally do in the common area; nor could they participate in their routine activities such as cake walks, puzzles, adult coloring or simply watching TV together. I could tell it was lonely for them and another impossible challenge was grieving and fear from the physical loss of friends and family members due to the virus. Finally, with vaccinations, our facility is slowly lifting restrictions. Visitors are allowed, but masks, temperature checks, social distancing, and pandemic questionnaires are still required. I am thankful to work in a place that makes a difference in the lives of others and that we were able to weather through the storm together.

PWNA: What else do you want others to know about your PWNA partnership and facility?

Lillie B: PWNA has been a good program for our aging Native citizens. I do my best to make them all feel good during their transition to assisted living and make sure they feel welcomed, in part thanks to support from our PWNA partnership. One of the most enjoyable parts of my job is hearing stories from the Elders in their Native language. I am also fluent in Navajo and this helps me connect with my Diné residents.

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