American Indian communities have always held their Elders in the highest regard. For the Oneida Indian Nation, that tradition and respect for earlier generations is shown through the significant, and often life-changing, resources it offers its Elders. The Nation’s Respite Services program is a shining example of how it continues to provide Elders with the best possible physical, emotional and spiritual care.

Jeanne Dee Northington (Wolf Clan) has worked at the Oneida Nation for twenty years and began working at the Ray Elm Children and Elders Center as the Nation’s Respite Aide in August of 2008. Jeanne takes great pride in the close-knit relationships she developed with the Elders at the center and on home visits. It’s something she takes seriously in her role, which continues to grow and evolve. “I’m working with all of the Elders at the center to start building those relationships so that if they need respite care in the future they are comfortable with me,” Jeanne said expressing what she wants to do in the future as the Nation’s respite aid. “It’s important to build that level of trust in our family.”

Jeanne currently works and visits with ten local Elders who are homebound with physical limitations, but can also visit Elders in local hospitals and nursing homes. She schedules times to meet with each Elder at least once a week to bridge the gap they might have from seeing a family member.

“In between weekly visits, my Elders can always call to get what they need,” Jeanne said describing her busy schedule. “Texting also makes it easier to communicate if they need someone to talk to immediately.”

Helping Elders maintain a certain level of independence and companionship are two significant areas that Jeanne works hard to provide. Assisting with the completion of those often wearisome errands like paying bills, going grocery shopping and doing some light housekeeping lifts a huge burden off Elders who may not be able to drive or get to those hard-to-reach places to clean their home.

In addition to those tasks, Jeanne also changes bedding, takes out the trash, brings pets to the veterinarian, and cleans out refrigerators, which can be difficult for Elders that have trouble bending or sifting through the lower shelves and bins.

The calendar in Jeanne’s office is scattered with scheduled appointments that take her all over the local community. She spreads out her appointments to accommodate her Elders.

“I’m there to see if they need anything,” she said. “Even if it’s just to pick them up a coffee or doughnut. I want to make sure to touch base with them when I can.”

Jeanne also brings the daily lunches offered at the center every Monday through Friday to the local Elders she services that can’t get to the center on their own. The popular service provides approximately sixty lunchtime meals each day for the Elders.

Monthly care-giver meetings are another service offered to family members that assist Elders. In these meetings, Jeanne leads discussions with family members to share stories of support. The job can be taxing, particularly if an Elder is ill, but Jeanne says the support of the staff and the Elders makes the atmosphere feel more like a close family.

Jeanne’s role often involves helping out with activities at the Elders Center as well. She assists the Elders Center staff with off-site trips such as the monthly trip to Green Lakes Lanes in Fayetteville or special events like bingo in the center’s dining room.

Jeanne manages several of her own activities with Elders, too, such as the walking group and the fitness squad. Her walking group is an incentive-based program that meets once a week. Elders earn points based on how far they walk and can exchange them for special gifts and prizes. The fitness squad meets every Thursday for about an hour of light aerobic and strength-building exercise. Jeanne says she gets about six or seven Elders for each session.

“Every few weeks I’ll change it up to add variety,” she said. “I actually went to a fitness class in Oneida to learn how they do it so we could bring it to the Elders at the center.”

The Nation’s respite services are a saving grace for many Nation Members and their families that can’t give their Elders the care they need all the time. Jeanne’s favorite part in her role as respite aid is the building of close relationships with everyone at the center. She says the job delivers something different every day and you never know what you might get to do. Her work is vital to the mission of the Oneida Nation, which has always included providing the best services for Elders.