Our Apache community has lost a ‘gentle giant’ with the recent passing of Charles Russell. Over the past 25 years I was fortunate to work with Charley, and get to know him as a humble man with good humor - an intelligent and resourceful man - always willing to help. He was not a giant in the physical sense, but he truly was in his lifetime of positive impact for all San Carlos Apaches. When I learned of his passing last week, I was compelled to share this story, I want people in our communities to know how Charley helped so many pay for utilities and to improve their lives - and to say “Thank you, Charley.”
I still remember this so clearly: back in May 1995 a middle-aged Apache man with thick glasses walked into my office in downtown San Carlos, introducing himself as Charley Russell and saying he worked at the Tribal Planning Department. He dropped a thick packet of papers on my desk, explaining they were for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program - which you may know as ‘Utility Assistance’ or ‘LIHEAP.’ Charley urged me to read it, invited me to call if I have questions. He emphasized its importance: a way to help low income families with federal money for which you need to reapply every year. We implemented the grant and we have been reapplying every year for 25 years; beginning with $16,000 to help low-income families pay for propane, natural gas or electricity. Over the years this grant grew tenfold - from $16,000 to $160,000 - increases led by the economy, household size, and income. To this day we continue to compete for, and win, this grant that helps families defray the utility cost for heating.
A couple of months later, Charley came to see me again - asked me how LIHEAP was working - and Charley said “Here’s another grant that helps families,” giving me another stack of papers to apply for the Community Service Block Grant (CSBG), designed to help families get off of welfare by successfully finding work. The grant helps defray the cost of gasoline, work clothes, minor repairs on cars. For 25 years now, Tribal Social Services has implemented both LIHEAP and CSBG. Our office has helped many individuals, families and our communities. We were able to help families because Charley Russell took the initiative to write the grants and we were able to assist many families throughout the years. Every once in a while Charley would ask if we still had the grants and I would say “Thank you and its still going and we helped so many families this year.” These are just two examples - and there are so many more; ranging from grant-funded programs, economic development, and infrastructure - where Charley worked so hard behind the scenes.
San Carlos Apache Telecommunications (SCATUI), new Tribal buildings constructed in the past 30 years, Apache Gold Casino - it’s an impressive document when you begin to list all the projects and grants that Charley was involved with, and helped make a reality for us.
We need more people like Charley Russell in our community. We need more young people to follow in his footsteps, lead our Tribal departments - and give their energy to helping Apache families.
Again, “Thank you, Charley” for giving me the confidence 25 years ago to apply for grants, and coaching me -- and many others who work for other Tribal departments - helping us all with ways to successfully implement them over the years, benefiting hundreds of families through these grants.
Terry Ross, Tribal Social Service