A Navajo Veteran’s Adjustment to Assisted Living

The average income of Native Americans living on reservations is less than half the U.S. average, making it difficult for many families to access proper food, education and health care. PWNA fights against these inequities through programs like the Southwest Indian Relief Council (SWIRC) and its Residential service, where program partners like Mercedes Antia at Sunny Day Assisted Living in Gallup, New Mexico, supply their Elders with products like shampoo, toothbrushes and deodorant and receive cleaning supplies to help run their facilities. 61-year-old Navajo veteran Bennie Dennison is one beneficiary of this SWIRC service. Still adjusting to his new life in assisted living, Bennie sorted through his Residential supplies with a smile on his face. “I needed this, I needed that… This is all very nice, thank you.”

A Navajo Veteran’s Adjustment to Assisted Living

The average income of Native Americans living on the reservations is less than half the U.S. average, making it difficult for many Native families to access proper food, education, health care and transportation. Partnership With Native Americans (PWNA) fights against these inequities through programs like the Southwest Indian Relief Council (SWIRC) and its Residential service. Program partners like Mercedes Antia at Sunny Day Assisted Living in Gallup, New Mexico, help their elder residents in need by supplying SWIRC products like shampoo, toothbrushes and deodorant, also receiving cleaning supplies and other residential items to help run their facilities.

61-year-old Navajo Native Bennie Dennison is one beneficiary of this year’s Residential service. A new resident of Sunny Day, Bennie primarily grew up in Oakland, California, with a mother from Iyanbito and a father from Vanderwagen, New Mexico. His father worked in construction in Oakland before they moved back to Gallup in the 1970s and both of his parents became silversmiths.

Bennie shared that it was interesting being a Native growing up in a city off the reservation. “It was fun growing up; it was different being surrounded by Whites, Blacks and all these cultures.” While both of his parents grew up on the reservation and were fluent in the Navajo language, Bennie only knew the basics until they moved back to Gallup. “I picked up Navajo pretty quickly back on the rez.”

Graduating from high school in Gallup, Bennie enlisted in the Marine Corp in 1981. Spending eight years in the service, Bennie met his wife (a Navajo Native of Chinle) while based in California. Similar to growing up in Oakland, Bennie enjoyed experiencing the different food and cultures in Okinawa, Australia and the Philippines. Almost seeing combat in Grenada, he saw many things as a staff sergeant and laughed at some of the stories from back then.

Bennie returned to the reservation in 1989 where he worked in security and law enforcement while his wife worked as a nursing assistant in Gallup and Chinle. Since his wife passed away, Bennie is happy to see his family any chance he gets. He has one daughter and four grandkids living in Chinle and says his younger brother and sister both come to visit him.

Since moving into Sunny Day, Bennie’s been more conscious of his health. “I’m good here. I’m trying to take care of myself so I can go back home… My mom is old, so I’d like to be taking care of her.” He often walks on a track outside and works out with the 10-pound dumbbell his mother brought him to “keep going.” Though it’s been an adjustment, he said, “I’m doing okay. The rest of the Elders here are a lot of fun. We like to tell stories.”

Sorting through the SWIRC Residential supplies, Bennie had a smile on his face while he said, “I needed this, I needed that… This is all very nice, thank you.”

Continue your support for Elders in need like Bennie and his new peers by donating to SWIRC today.

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