Zuni Adapts

Thelma Zuni Senior Center has to rely on the support of other programming to deliver all the services to the Elders in their communities.

The Zuni Senior Center is tucked under highway 40 on the western border of New Mexico.

PWNA’s Southwest Reservation Aid (SWRA) Standard Food service is just one of many that the Zuni Senior Center utilizes to support the aging residents of the Zuni Pueblo.

A longtime PWNA partner, Zuni Senior Center offers a variety of programming supported by many entities, including the SWRA program. Like most Senior Centers operating on a tight budget, the Zuni Senior Center has to rely on the support of other programming to deliver all the services to the Elders in their communities.

They are part of the tribe’s service delivery system and partner with other agencies for “the coordination of a comprehensive set of services that meet the needs of older persons and offers information and learning opportunities about aging to interested persons.”

Their website defines the center as, “A place where older persons can meet, receive services, and participate in activities that will enhance their dignity, support their independence and encourage their involvement in and with the community.”

Photo of the old condemned building Photo of the old building condemned by the flood.

Each time we have visited the Zuni Senior Center, it is clear that they uphold their vision of providing: “Recreational services which teach skills for leisure use, offers assurance against loneliness, gives opportunities to maintain or renew self-respect, gives opportunities to learn ways of improving one’s health and teaches the older adults that they still have a significant voice in the affairs of the community.”

When a disaster hit the Senior Center in 2014, the community rallied together to make sure that the services were still available. A storm hit the Zuni Pueblo and flooded the Senior Center with water. The building has always had some challenges with water during storms, but this was particularly bad. The consequences were severe and permanent — the building was condemned.

Erika, our partner within the Adult Day Center, remembers that day vividly. She said, “the water was ankle high.” The staff congregated at the center — many with their trucks — to remove as much of the furnishings as they could get out to prevent additional damage. There were fourteen homes that were affected as well.

Photo of the new building Photo of the new Senior Center.

As soon as the site was closed, the team worked with the tribe to find a temporary space to continue their important services to the Elders. The school lent out the concession stand for meals and Elders were bussed to the Day Center for activities.

The Adult Day Care facility sits adjacent to the Senior Center, but is on a slightly higher elevation and was not impacted. The administrative staff moved into an older tribal building until another supporter came through with two modular units to use during the interim. They received tribal support to seek funding for a new facility, and their state senator was helpful in getting capital outlay funding from the New Mexico Aging Department. All the while, regardless of the space that the Senior Center operated from, PWNA services were still used to help provide meals and other services to the Elders.

It’s been almost three years that the Senior Center has been in temporary housing, but the end is near for the Zuni Elders to enjoy their new and safe Senior Center. The Elders from the Adult Day Care and the “young Elders” from the Senior Center are looking forward to being within walking distance of one another again.

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