Children of the Navajo Nation have an Angel looking out for them!

April 25, 2022


Dan Shufelt

Every year approximately 800 Navajo children spread across the 27,413 square miles of the reservation become the responsibility of the Navajo Nation Division of Social Services.  These boys and girls are placed in foster care for the usual reasons – abuse and neglect, most often due to alcohol and drug exposure. 

Elsie Elthie is one of only two foster home licensing personnel who oversee these children’s cases.  She travels thousands of miles each month doing home visitation, case management and attending judicial meetings, among other responsibilities.  The travel from Tuba City to outlying regions along dirt roads, or to make the 3 and a half hour drive to Phoenix to check on the well-being of her families would take an enormous toll on anyone. For Elsie, at 59 years of age, this is what she has done for the past 9 years.

The Navajo Nation experienced the highest COVID-19 infection rate in the United States, and not surprisingly, considering her role, Elsie became a victim of the virus in December, 2020.  She spent weeks on a respirator fighting for her life, followed by months rebuilding her strength in order to be able to return to the vital work she performs. This Angel must have had an army of Angels looking out for her, because Elsie is back on the road supporting the children in foster care who rely on her.  She is now a ”long hauler” of COVID-19, experiencing lingering symptoms, which include a cough and short-term memory loss. 

One member of the Nation contracted COVID while pregnant, and her baby was delivered by C-Section before she succumbed to the ravages of the disease.  That baby is now placed with a grandparent who gets by on a fixed income.  Many others have lost parents due to COVID, and are now in foster placements.  Elsie tells me that most of her placements are with kinship providers, usually maternal relatives, who struggle to make ends meet, but want to do all they can for their young relatives in need.

Elsie is a warrior, a woman of enormous heart and dedication who knows the challenges these families face.  The travel and responsibilities are great, but the rewards of seeing children safe in a loving home give her life purpose and meaning beyond words. 

Within the past several months, she’s supported seven new teen placements.  She tells me that clothing, socks, underwear, shoes and hygiene items for these youth are always in great need, along with diapers and wipes for the little ones – including that 3-month-old baby.

Fostering is difficult at any level, but compounded by the pandemic it has been much worse, and would be nearly impossible without angels like Elsie.  The work she does and the commitment she makes to serve the needs of so many is truly inspiring.  There is no doubt that the children of the Navajo Nation have an angel looking out for them.  This fact is known by me and the host of angels who carried Elsie through her battle with COVID to keep her among the living.

If you, your business or organization is interested in supporting Elsie’s work, please reach out to me at   

According to CNBC, one-third of Navajo Nation residents do not have running water.

Dan Shufelt, the former CEO of Arizona Helping Hands, has been involved in the charity world as an executive and grant maker for many years.

If you enjoy learning of caring people and the amazing work they devote their energy to advance, be sure to sign up for Dan’s blog (see sign-up form below).


  1. Jenny Cook

    What a wonderful post! Elsie, you are amazing and your dedication is so inspiring. If there is ever anything we can do to support the kinship families you work with, do not hesitate to reach out. We can ship anywhere in the state. I pray for your continued healing and recovery from the effects of Covid. Keep up the great work.

    • Dan Shufelt

      Thanks Jenny! I will happily pass your generous offer on to Elsie!

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