The Hopi Connection
A SUN reader takes action

Every now and then a news story does more than just inform its readers — sometimes a story incites its readers to action.

Last April, The SUN published a feature about a local non-profit organization, the Hopi Connection, which raises funds, collects donations and coordinates home improvement projects for members of the Hopi tribe living on the Hopi reservation in Arizona.

When Doug Roberts read The SUN feature about the home improvement project the Hopi Connection was planning, he decided to do something to help. In April, Hopi Connection founder Wilma Sawatzky coordinated a group of volunteers to continue much needed repairs on the home that tribal member Eldon Kewanyama shares with four generations of his family. Though the Hopi Connection had already fixed the roof of the home and made other improvements the previous year, the April project was important because the house was still lacking so many basic necessities.

“My wife and I read the article in April and we made contact with Wilma and expressed our desire to help,” Roberts said. “Wilma suggested we visit the reservation in July, which we did. As soon as my wife (Karen Roberts) saw the conditions of many of the homes on the reservation, she said, ‘This just isn’t right.’ So we decided to invest our time and make some financial contributions to try to help.”

Although the April project had seen a ceiling installed in Eldon’s home, and a number of other improvements, the house still had a long way to go to reach true livability for Eldon, his children and young grandchildren.

Luckily, Doug Roberts knew just where to turn for assistance with the improvement project. Roberts, a part-time resident of Pagosa Springs, part-time resident of Santa Barbara, Calif., is a member of the California non-profit Arson Rebuild. The group is made up of 20 Christians from the First United Methodist Church and 20 Jewish members of the Congregation B’nai B’rith, who team up each year to travel south and help rebuild churches that have been burned during the previous year. Unbelievably, a number of black churches are still burned each year in the south by white supremacists. Arson Rebuild seeks to set right some of this injustice through a multi-faith effort to rebuild churches and show solidarity with fellow men and women who’ve been victims of hate crimes.

This past summer, however, Arson Rebuild had to cancel a church rebuilding project in the South due to lack of due diligence on the part of members of the burned church’s congregation, explained Roberts. “So a few of us we were available to help with some other kind of project,” he said. And then the SUN feature on the Hopi Connection project was published, and Roberts had his project.

Roberts put together a team of volunteers, including Jim Cappon, his son, Jon Cappon, Jim Jorden, Bill Straka and Vince Schlerf. All of the men have years of experience with various kinds of construction. And Jim Cappon is a retired NASA electrical engineer. “Jim just happened to be at NASA in Houston when Apollo called in and said ‘Houston we’ve got a problem,’” Roberts told The SUN. “It seemed like Cappon would be a good one to put in charge of electrical wiring for the project at Eldon’s house.”

In addition to some expert wiring by a former NASA engineer, Eldon’s home was also was updated with a new water heater, new vinyl flooring (with some cushioning to help ease Eldon’s bad hip condition, exacerbated by years of walking on his home’s old concrete floor), plumbing for the kitchen, bathroom sink, shower and a flushing toilet, some new windows, a new pot belly wood/coal burning stove with 200,000-BTU capability and much more.

It was the volunteers with Arson Rebuild mentioned above who put in most of the labor on this final project at the Kewanyama home, spurred on by the feature in The SUN about the Hopi Connection, but according to Doug Roberts, none of the work would have been possible without the support and constant dedication of Wilma as well as other Hopi Connection volunteers like Jerry Sawatzky, Carol Otis, John and Judy Cramer, their families, and other volunteers in and around Pagosa Springs.

While Eldon’s home has at last reached a state of comfort and safety, there are many more families in need of assistance on the Hopi reservation. Currently the Hopi Connection is working to raise funds to help a single mother with nine children to buy a new mobile home. The young mother and her children are living in a very old, completely dilapidated trailer with a badly leaking roof, no running water and little protection or insulation from the elements outside. According to Wilma Sawatzky and Doug Roberts, it is absolutely vital that this family have a new place to live, as soon as possible.

Additionally, the organization is raising funds to purchase a wood/coal burning stove for a small church on the reservation which is currently lacking an adequate heating system.

Hopi Connection was delighted that the last SUN feature resulted in such a rousing response from volunteers with time and skills to share. Carol Otis, a long time volunteer with the Hopi Connection asked The SUN to publish an update on the new and improved state of Eldon’s family home, as well as an update on some of the supplies and work that other tribal members desperately need. “We are so thrilled with what volunteers have been able to accomplish on the reservation with recent projects,” said Otis, “but there is still so much to be done.

“In addition to needing monetary donations to help with the purchase of a trailer for the family mentioned above, the reservation is in need of donations of the following items: non-perishable food items, twin beds (mattress only), blankets, small appliances that college kids can take to school with them, small furniture especially things that can be used for storage such as book cases, small dressers and trunks and finally, winter clothes. Perhaps another reader out there will be inspired to make a donation of time, money or supplies,” Otis said.

To make a donation to the Hopi Connection, or for more information about the organization, contact Wilma Sawatzky at (970) 731-4846 or via e-mail at wsawatzky@centurytel.net.


Photo courtesy Doug Roberts,Jim CapponThe Kewanyama family stands outside their newly renovated home, on the Hopi reservation in Arizona.

Photo courtesy Doug Roberts, Jim Cappon
Jon Cappon (left) and Doug Roberts, a part-time resident of Pagosa Springs, install vinyl flooring in the home they volunteered to help renovate this summer.

Photo courtesy Doug Roberts, Jim Cappon
Volunteers for the Hopi Connection take a well-earned break from their construction labor to eat a meal. From left the volunteers are Jon Cappon, Jim Cappon, Bill Straka, Doug Roberts, Vince Schlerf and Jim Jorden.