Gentle Ironhawk Shelter reopens

The reopening of the Gentle Ironhawk Shelter in Blanding and an award recognizing community leadership were both celebrated this past week by Utah Navajo Health System (UNHS).

On July 14, a ribbon-cutting ceremony recognized the new partnership between the Navajo Nation and UNHS. 

After nearly a decade of operation, the Gentle Ironhawk Shelter in Blanding closed in the mid-2010s. In 2018, the Navajo Nation purchased the shelter, but it has continued to sit empty since then.

On June 8, 2021, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez signed an agreement to lease the facility to UNHS to provide shelter services in the area.

That agreement was formally celebrated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on July 14.

Attending the ribbon cutting event was Navajo Nation Vice President Myron Lizer, Navajo Nation Council members Amber Kanazbah Crotty and Nathaniel Brown, representatives from the City of Blanding, and the Utah Office for Victims of Crime commemorated the collaboration between UNHS and the Navajo Nation Division of Social Services, Department of Family Services.

At the ceremony, Vice President Lizer expressed the Nez-Lizer Administration’s full support of the partnership between the Division of Social Services and UNHS to open the Gentle Ironhawk Shelter and reopen operations to help Navajo families.

“On behalf of the Nez-Lizer Administration, I am honored to be part of this celebration to commemorate the partnership that has developed in the last few years to provide much-needed services for our Navajo people in the state of Utah,” said Vice President Lizer.

“Each of the partners involved have dedicated their time and resources to work through the challenges and create solutions to reopen the shelter.

“While we commend the reopening of the facility, we also continue to focus our attention to the root causes of the problems that create the need for such shelters. We must continue to work together with all of the partners to resolve those issues.”

Rick Hendy, Director of the UNHS Behavioral Health Department, and Michael Jensen, CEO of UNHS, worked with Regina Yazzie, manager in the Department for Family Services, to develop a collaborative solution to open the Gentle Ironhawk Shelter.

“When Rick and Michael proposed a partnership to reopen the shelter,” said Yazzie, “Mrs. Neswood-Gishey and I did not hesitate to take the opportunity.

“After the purchase in 2018, the shelter has not been operational as envisioned, mostly due to the challenges of our protocols.

“The partnership with UNHS allows the shelter to be what it was always meant to be: a haven for women and children. And that was always the ultimate goal.”

On the same day, the 2020 FBI Director’s Community Leadership Award for the Salt Lake City division was presented to UNHS and their Community Advocacy Team. 

Each year, FBI field offices nominate individuals or organizations that have demonstrated outstanding contributions to their communities through service.

Salt Lake City division Special Agent in Charge Dennis Rice recognized the UNHS community advocacy team with the honor in a special ceremony in Montezuma Creek.

Vice President Lizer, delegates Kanazbah Crotty and Brown, and Navajo Nation Division of Social Services Executive Director Deannah were also in attendance. 

The FBI recognized the UNHS community advocacy team for their work to assist individuals who have suffered financial loss, physical injuries, and emotional trauma as a result of violent crime. 

The program helps victims recover and rebuild their lives by facilitating shelter, providing safety planning, conducting crisis intervention, making referrals, and finding resources.

Despite COVID-19 pandemic challenges, the organization provided critical services to 220 clients, including providing patients with cell phones enabling them to communicate with Crime Victim Advocates, the FBI, and medical providers; providing victims with care packages containing essentials like livestock feed, firewood, clothing, blankets, food, hygiene, and cleaning supplies; providing safe temporary shelters for victims in need; and providing transportation for victims to Salt Lake City for court hearings.

“Navigating the aftermath of crime and the criminal justices process can be daunting for victims,” said Rice, “and they should never have to do it alone.

“The Utah Navajo Health System not only provides essential services, but helps build trust and cooperation with victims which, in turn, strengthens law enforcement’s ability to investigate crimes and prosecute criminals,” he added.

Vice President Lizer stated, “We celebrate today’s award because the UNHS Victim Advocacy Program’s hands, minds, and prayers were laid together to advocate for the safety of the communities that they assist.

“We’re very appreciative to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for their nomination of the award to the UNHS Victim Advocacy Program for their work and advocacy to reduce violence and sexual assaults in our communities,” he continued.

“As we move forward with these efforts, we must continue to be prayerful, to lend a hand, and to understand the trauma in order to help heal our Diné relatives.

“Congratulations to Utah Navajo Health System for earning this prestigious award.”

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