Some mornings Nona Schuler would make the teeth-jarring drive along a washboard dirt road from her home on the Navajo Nation to her job in town only to discover when she got there that her earrings didn’t match. Without electricity and lighting, it was often difficult for her to see what she was doing in those early morning hours.
It was those small inconveniences that she spoke of most during a visit to her home on June 17 by USDA Rural Development Housing Administrator Tony Hernandez.
Hernandez, my staff, and I were at the Schulers to present the family with a certificate naming them as Homeownership Family of the Year for Arizona Rural Development. The designation was in honor of a solar PV system that was added to the Schuler home through a partnership with USDA, Grand Canyon Trust and Snyder Electric.
The Schulers received a $7,490 low interest home repair loan from USDA Rural Development to retrofit their home for a solar PV system. The system itself was funded by a partnership with the Grand Canyon Trust. Snyder Electric developed and installed the system.
When the Schulers and visitors stepped off the protected porch of the home to take a look at the PV array and the battery housing they were blasted by the strong wind that often blows across the open expanse surrounding the home. Mark Snyder of Snyder Electric explained that the Schulers project included a wind turbine as well as the solar. Nona said it is great because when it’s overcast and the solar isn’t as strong, the wind is blowing hard and generating electricity.
The Grand Canyon Trust (GCT) provided $15,000 in funding for the Schuler’s system. Altogether GCT has thus far provided 42 homes in the area, many of them for seniors, with solar PV systems. For those families, it was the first time they have had consistent electricity for their homes.
USDA Rural Development staffer Freddie Hatathlie pointed out that folks in this region of the Navajo Nation are often referred to as the “Forgotten People” because so few services are available. He added that it was good to see they are now receiving electricity.
Mark Snyder and GCT’s Roger Clark commented that bringing electricity to these remote homes did more than just provide lighting. They pointed out that without electricity the families have no way to keep food fresh, which forces them to either eat packaged goods or to risk food borne maladies by eating food that is not refrigerated. The high incidence of diabetes among tribal members also means that those without electricity have an ongoing battle trying to keep their medication cooled.
Hernandez agreed and added, “This is such a heartwarming project. This family now has what so many of us take for granted—a way to keep food fresh, to stay cool, to protect health and to bring light to their evenings.”
I congratulate the family and the partnerships that made it all possible. Nearly half a billion dollars in USDA Rural Development funding went in to rural Arizona housing efforts last year. This was a small loan but with really big results.
Today George and Nona Schuler’s system is keeping their food and medicine refrigerated, pumping water for their home…and ensuring that Nona’s earrings match every morning when she heads out for work!