Spring 2022 Newsletter: Elizabeth speaks on finding the Celebration, the Care and the Power in Our Work
From the Ground: Recentering, Homes and Deeper Healing
Red Feather Program Coordinator Elizabeth Freeman speaks on the power of re-centering, the need to celebrate success, incorporating education into everything we do, and when a home assessment is so much more than a home assessment.
'Since we’ve grown our Direct Solutions program, which provides a limited budget for home repair materials for families across both Hopi and Navajo, we’ve seen a huge increase in the number of calls and applications. It’s been exciting but it’s also been a lot! Remembering the big picture is essential for me when I get overwhelmed with the amount of demand we are facing, or the amount of calls that come in during the day. People are facing a lot, and this is our way of doing something immediately, of meeting immediate need. The growing of the Direct Solutions program is intended to be that, and in so many ways it is succeeding.
'Acknowledging and celebrating that re-centers me.
'Despite the struggles, we are doing so much good work. I mean, we are really doing SO MUCH, reaching so many homes. And sometimes, in the constant drive to do more, we don’t always take the time to stop and spotlight and celebrate what we are doing, which is so important. Because we are reaching a lot of people. When you are as dedicated as we are to trying to help and to serve, it can be overwhelming to come in in the mornings and just see ‘Oh, I have 30 missed calls and 50 new emails’ but the power is in realizing that these are all people we are reaching and people that will be helped.
'I’m a big believer in stopping to recognize accomplishments and celebrate them. The truth is that Red Feather has grown a lot and is doing amazing work, so let’s acknowledge and get joy out of that too, while also recognizing that of course there will always be more work to do.
'I don’t think anyone should undersell what they’ve managed to overcome or succeed at, and that goes for both our employees and those that we serve. People just need to hear “You are doing fantastic!” and this can start a positive cycle of encouragement and self-belief. As we are focusing on meeting these immediate physical needs in the home through our Direct Solutions program, there’s this other side too of just making sure people feel seen and acknowledged. I think this is something we all need.
'When we are in the field a lot, we have to focus on the negative aspects. When you are doing home assessments, you have to look for what is wrong in the home in order to find what is most needed. So this sort of negative focus has to be there, and especially when you are working in communities with endemic poverty and centuries of oppression and trauma, sometimes it’s easy to see only that, to stay in the negative, to just be in the thought process of “how did people get to this point?”
'But there is such a powerful mindset switch we can do too. Like yes, when we are doing home assessments we focus on the negative, but there is also space for the positive in our interactions.
'This is where our education programs come in, because there is a space for change and hope and possibility when people have life tools and not just home fixes. Knowledge cannot be taken away from you. There are so many types of education too, you don’t have to have a degree to gain knowledge.
'At Red Feather, what we want to do is also provide a pathway to the power of knowing that you can take care of yourself. I think that there are many layers to things, and yes its great to have your home fixed, to have heating, to get these needs met, but then there is the deeper emotional level, also the emotional healing, that can come from a feeling of "I can take care of myself."
'This is how I see our programs coming together. We all have a hierarchy of needs. With the Direct Solutions program, and also our HHESI and other home repair programs, we target that base layer on Maslow's pyramid. We all need a home, we need somewhere to sleep, somewhere safe to be, to be warm. Of course we all need that.
'But I don’t want to just leave someone with a healthy home kit and call it a day. We are trying to leave people with something that they can use, that they can pass on to the next generation, that can have a longer-lasting impact.
'I mean, look, we are trying to address this major, age-old housing crisis on the Hopi and Navajo reservation. That’s what Red Feather is here for. But how can we move from just immediate crisis response to preparation, to prevention? I think that incorporating education, financial literacy, all of it, into everything we do is key.
'It is my intention and hope that people pass this all on to their kids, that we can all become better examples, that the next generation has something more to work with.
'My hope is that I can give people the tools, the resources, so that when tough situations come up they have something to throw at that, to address that. We are working on this as a key aspect of our programs at Red Feather all the time.
'People’s actions reflect their mindset and their current emotional state. There’s always a reason for why people are in the situation that they’re in. We all express our needs in different ways. We don’t always know what people have gone through, but we are all human. Having one’s needs be ignored is a kind of neglect.
At its most basic what we do at Red Feather is try to see people’s needs, to make sure that people know we are seeing them. That they’ve been noticed, that someone cares, that they’ve been heard.
'It might seem simple, like we just provided someone with a smoke alarm, fixed their window, gave them a safer stove, but in this context of deep historical and cultural trauma, what I think this can also give, or at least I hope this can also give, is a sense that at least someone saw me today, cared about the situation I was in. At least, if no one else did today, Red Feather saw that need and tried to do something, cared, was there to be present.'
It is important to recognize that Native communities were America’s first land stewards, holding a deeply interactive and impassioned connection to the natural world. Today, for a variety of reasons, we are now seeing unprecedented, large wildfires across the western United States as well as coordinated efforts to solve that problem. Thus, Red Feather’s collaborative effort to provide firewood to Native families in need is part of a holistic solution to reduce wildfire risks and restore some level of socio-ecological balance. As a housing organization, we could not stand idly by as families faced freezing to death, due to inadequate heating fuel.
Recognizing that firewood alone is an imperfect solution to keeping families warm and healthy, we have continued to expand related aspects of our work, such as our retrofits and repairs of roofs, windows, and doors. We have also greatly expanded our heating system improvement program, which has included replacing older, inefficient potbelly-style stoves with modern EPA-certified, clean-burning devices. Additionally, we have installed more than 50 mini-split heat pumps, which produce zero emissions and have the added benefit of providing air conditioning--a growing necessity that few Native families have historically been able to enjoy. We are also installing solar heating furnaces as a supplemental heat source that improves air quality and reduces heating expenses.
Our flexible, adaptive programming has allowed us to be quick and nimble during these unprecedented times. When the pandemic swept across Navajo and Hopi lands, we promptly responded by providing hand-washing stations to families without running water in hopes that improving access to hand hygiene would slow the spread of the virus. We have also been able to re-envision our educational classes by developing an on-line suite of videos and instruction materials. Now students can stream or watch DVDs that provide practical strategies for creating healthier living environments. To further advance this work, we are distributing customized, healthy home kits. These do-it-yourself kits can include items such as carbon monoxide and smoke alarms, fire extinguishers, chimney cleaning brushes, and aging-in-place items.
The one constant in all these efforts is the generous trust that all of you place in us. Your continued support of our work allows Red Feather to keep evolving and supporting those in need. For that, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
Red Feather Executive Director Joe Seidenberg
The Evolution and Growth of a Dynamic Organization