Though the morning could be cool, even pleasant at times, scorching heat was promised to each of the more than 250 volunteer students who signed up and traveled – some more than 2,000 miles – to Monument Valley, Utah, to work in the desert sun on Navajo homes.
Utah Rural Development State Director Dave Conine traveled to Monument Valley June 28 to view firsthand the nature of the project that attracts so many youth to southern Utah and has for the past 12 years. Group Cares is the faith-based nonprofit behind Workcamps that facilitates short-term humanitarian trips to repair houses within the United States and internationally. In Monument Valley, Navajo families receive desperately needed assistance in rehabilitating their weather beaten homes.
Alma Sutherland lives with her daughter, her nine children, and two grandchildren with another on the way. A group of five students and one adult crew leader spent the week installing a metal roof on Alma’s house. She wishes the original roof wasn’t tile. “When the wind blows, the tiles from the roof just blow off. When it snows, they just slide off,” Alma said. Now her home is protected from both wind and snow. “I love it,” she emphasized. Alma’s daughter has a home next door that was also completed with a metal roof. Now that volunteers have finished, she and her children will have a safer place to live and grow up near Alma.
32 family homes underwent rehabilitation treatment which involves any or all of the following: building porches, stairways, and wheelchair ramps, installing new roofs, and adding fresh coats of paint to best protect the homes. All projects are completed in a 5-day period by groups of 5 to 6 volunteer youth who are mixed together from around the country. Students cited their hometowns proudly and expressed the wealth of experience they gained while working for the Navajo people.
Two students, Grace Vigliotti from Denver, CO and Kathleen Skidmore from Denton, TX, weren’t able to converse a lot with the owner of the home they worked on, as she spoke little English. However, homeowner Meta Atene showed her gratitude by opening her door each day to watch the volunteers work and greeting them every morning. When her husband died several years ago, Meta found herself unable to make necessary repairs on her home so she usually went without. In five days two groups of volunteers built her a new roof and a sturdy new porch with a wheelchair ramp. “You can tell we’re making a difference,” said Kathleen.
Workcamps just completed their 13th year working in Monument Valley. Since 2000, 613 homes have been preserved through the work of more than 140,000 volunteer hours. USDA Rural Development is proud to be a part of this project for this year and next year, with grant funding through RD’s Housing Preservation Grant.