I saw a post on social media in 2017 about a 12-year-old boy who was collecting clothing from school lost and found closets. He sought to provide support for children in the Navajo Nation. Chance Peterson took on the cause of to supporting youth like himself after being inspired by meeting Elsie Elthie, a caseworker who served Navajo foster children in the remote regions surrounding Tuba City. Hearing of the need, I offered our help, and on September 9, 2017, we loaded the Arizona Helping Hands (“AHH”) box truck with beds, cribs, clothing, diapers and more and traveled the 3.5 hour drive to Tuba City to provide resources to Elsie’s kids! That Saturday morning I met children and families who were impacted by Elsie’s work and saw first-hand the impact this woman had on so many lives.
The Navajo reservation spans 27,000 square miles. Elsie is the caseworker responsible for approximately 65 children spread out over more than 5,000 square miles of territory. Such a huge responsibility and a demanding task. She spends much of her time traveling to homes that have no running water, and seeking out supplies to help grandparents raising grandchildren, along with other foster providers, trying to meet the needs of children who have been removed from unsafe environments.
Elsie Elthie chats with Dan Shufelt during a supply run at Arizona Helping Hands
Elsie has become a regular visitor to AHH, traveling down I-17 to receive support for the children. Since meeting Elsie in 2017, AHH has provided 30 twin beds, 6 cribs, 80 birthday packages, clothing, diapers and so much more to help the families to whom she gives her heart. The entire AHH team knows the dedication of this angel, and adds our love to the loads of materials that travel the journey back north. Elsie has become a member of our family.
The Navajo Nation has experienced the highest COVID-19 infection rate our country has seen. The virus has caused devastation for so many, and it is understandable that with Elsie’s commitment to serve her families that she put her own health at risk. I received a call from Elsie’s husband, Gary, on December 22nd that she was on a ventilator, in the hospital with a severe case of COVID. Gary also had been infected, and was fighting off respiratory challenges, but thankfully did not need hospitalization.
Hearing this horrible news, we posted Elsie’s story on our social media (@azhelpinghands) and asked our community of friends for prayers. Our FACEBOOK post alone has been seen by 9,000, and has 450 comments, all of which extend thoughts and prayers for her recovery. I’m hoping that this outpouring of love will yield positive progress for Elsie.
As of the 28th, Elsie’s is slowly improving. She is still sedated, but Gary told me they remain hopeful. He asked for continued prayers for her, and shared that after multiple weeks being out of work, he was going back. His debilitating cough has somewhat subsided.
The pandemic has wrought its horrors throughout the land. It has put everyone at risk and wreaked havoc on many lives. There is an angel who has devoted every ounce of energy to making lives better for the littlest children who have been victims and deserve better. I pray that Elsie will overcome this challenge and soon be back on the road, bringing more beds, cribs, clothing, diapers, birthday packages and love to the children of the Navajo Nation that rely on her.
I recently met representatives from other native lands – Hopi, Tohono O’odham, Gila River and San Carlos. They all shared the same message – that the virus has been horrific throughout their communities. AHH continues to support families and children in need with the material products, while all of us hope that medical advancements will soon lead to an easing of the pain borne by Elsie and so many. Let’s all do our best to stem the curve. Angels like Elsie are way too valuable to lose.
Dan Shufelt is the President & CEO of Arizona Helping Hands, the largest provider of basic needs to Arizona’s children in foster care. Learn more about the Organization at www.azhelpinghands.org and contact Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org