Native American Elders Program: PaWaTing Senior Gatherings

The Native American Elders Program supports and empowers Native American Elders in the Greater Grand Rapids area to be healthy and strong leaders for their families and communities.

Twice each week (September thru May), Native American Elders from across the Grand Rapids area come together for our PaWaTing Senior Gathering.  This program welcomes anywhere from 40 to 100 people representing more than 15 tribes to these community gatherings.

Hunger Alleviation and Food Security

Each guest enjoys a hot, nutritious meal on site and is able to take home an extra meal so that every elder receives four meals a week through the program.

Safe Spaces and Social Connection

While there are a number of community meals offered in the Grand Rapids area, this program is the only meal targeted specifically to Native Americans.  Because Native Americans have been forced to live on the margins of mainstream culture and in the background of our society in general, it is crucial to provide this safe space where Native Americans can gather, connect, exchange stories, celebrate culture, and discuss the issues faced by this community.

Health Screenings 

Twice each month, nursing students from Calvin College attend the gathering to provide blood pressure checks and blood sugar screenings for the program participants.

Social Services Information and Referrals

In response to the needs of the community, representatives from partner agencies such as Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and Native American Community Services provide program participants with information on housing, jobs, counseling, addiction treatment, and other services as requested.

Community Service Partners

The Native American Elders Program serves as a host site for Native Americans who are on probation and are court ordered to participate in community service. These individuals work closely with our staff to provide vital volunteer services for the program while experiencing a community that is supportive of their efforts to address any life course changes that are needed. Program staff both supervise and report to the court on the participation and progress of these individuals.

Why it matters:

There are approximately 1300 people in Grand Rapids (5100 in Kent County) who list their “race” as American Indian or Alaska Native. This does not include those who indicated their “race” as two or more races.   In addition, the Grand Rapids area is home to many Native Americans who are members of tribes that are not officially recognized by the U.S. Federal Government.
The poverty rate for Native Americans in Grand Rapids is 33.6% (compared to 25.1% for the overall city population). Very few resources exist for Native Americans living in the Grand Rapids area.  Natives who are part of federally recognized tribes are usually required to travel to their tribe’s reservation in order to receive social services. For those who do not live in a tribe’s designated service area or are not part of federally recognized tribes (including those from Canada and the Grand River Band of Ottawa Indians), services are not even available on the reservations.