Sue Bray

Editor’s Note: This column was written by Sue Bray who is well known in the RV community, primarily due to her work as executive director of the Good Sam Club. In 2009, she was inducted into the RV/MH Hall of Fame. When she retired in 2012, she started her own consulting business; visit www.suebray.com.

When I first shared an article about RVs 4 MDs in the pages of Woodall’s Campground Management with my husband, he looked at me and asked, “How could we not do this?” and headed for his computer.

RVs 4 MDs is a volunteer program which was established in late March when Emily Phillips, the wife of Texas ER doctor Jason Phillips took to Facebook to ask if anyone had an unused RV where her husband could temporarily stay so that he would not potentially infect their family with COVID when he came home from work. A friend saw her post, contacted another friend who owned an RV, and by 5 p.m. that day, the Phillips had an RV parked in their driveway.

Since then, nearly 2,000 RV owners have been matched with healthcare workers, providing them with their motorhomes and trailers at no cost, offering a safe place to rest, shower and sleep with the knowledge they are keeping their families safe while still close by.

We were soon contacted by Jillian Klowsoki, the Arizona Coordinator for RVs 4 MDs. A former elementary school teacher, Jillian is currently a stay at home mom to three boys under the age of seven and has no connections with either the RV industry or the medical profession.

“I read an article about RVs 4 MDs, and decided I wanted to help,” she said. “It’s so rewarding on my end to see these matches being made, and I love seeing pictures of the rigs being set up and delivered.”

So far, she has matched 20 RVs with various medical workers in Arizona.

Jillian took the information on our Grand Design fifth-wheel and assured us that we would soon have a match. I envisioned that we would tow our rig from our home in northern Arizona to a medical worker’s home in an urban area like Phoenix or Tucson, but when we were eventually notified that we had been paired we were quite surprised that it was with a respiratory therapist — who lived on the Navajo Nation.

If you live in Arizona, the Navajo Nation is somewhat akin to a mysterious foreign land. It’s 27,000 square miles extending into Utah, Arizona and New Mexico and is larger than 10 of America’s 50 states. It’s a mystical and intriguing part of the world, where the Navajo community is trying to preserve its culture while at the same time bring modern amenities and conveniences to the 200,000 people who live there. It is estimated that one in three homes doesn’t have running water. Multiple generations live together in very close quarters, and numerous people travel many miles for food and provisions. As a result, it’s difficult to self-isolate in this remote and desolate country, and COVID-19 has reached crisis levels — with a grim record of more reported cases per capita than every state in the country.

Needless to say, I was somewhat concerned about depositing our fifth-wheel, the second largest asset we own, 280 miles away in the middle of the Navajo Nation. But not Mel, my husband.  He immediately contacted our match, Yvette Cayedito who lives in St. Michael, Ariz., a small town close to the New Mexico/Arizona state line. And she turned out to be a total delight.

Yvette was born in Gallup, N.M., and was raised on the reservation by her mom, with whom she is still remarkably close. She attended the University of New Mexico and trained as a respiratory therapist in Mesa, Ariz. She worked in Phoenix for some time but says something kept drawing her to come back home and give back to her people.

“I missed being around the Navajo people, particularly the elders and being able to care for them,” she says. She also wanted to raise her own children within the Navajo community. Today, she lives with her two youngest children, ages 7 and 12. Her two oldest boys live in the Phoenix area and her 20-year-old daughter is a college student. Prior to the days of COVID, Yvette’s job was primarily providing out-patient respiratory care and education.

Suddenly all of that changed.

Yvette Cayedito standing outside Sue Bray’s RV.

“What is happening is unimaginable, just so very overwhelming,” she said. “I had not seen pediatric patients before, but in the past week there has been a surge of COVID patients and our whole unit is filled to capacity. We are now sending our most critical patients to Albuquerque or Flagstaff or Phoenix and continue to manage with what we can. Our unit can hold 25 at all levels of care from mild to moderate all the way up to critical care needs.”

Yvette’s life at home changed as well. Her older daughter came home from college so that she could care for her two younger siblings, allowing Yvette to work longer hours and more importantly only have minimal contact with her children so as not to infect them with the virus.

“When our hospital started planning for COVID patients, I started planning on how not to expose my family to the virus,” she said. That’s when she contacted RVs 4 MDs.

Although we’d had many e-mails, texts and phone conversations with Yvette prior to driving our RV to the Navajo Nation and her home in St. Michael, Mel and I were somewhat apprehensive, not really knowing what to expect. Like many RV owners, we have an emotional bond with our rig and the adventures we’ve had with it on our travels. We knew we were taking a giant leap of faith leaving our precious possession with a total stranger. But the transfer could not have gone better. Yvette and her family were so grateful for this gift and we could already see the effect it was going to have on their lives.

Yvette said, “When this all started, I began staying in a small room in the house, and I had to enter and exit by climbing through a window. I had minimal contact with my kids, everything was at a distance. I would leave early for work before they woke up and come home after they fell asleep, just to keep our distance. It was what we had to do just to stay safe.  Now that the RV has arrived, I can see my kids and hear them laughing.

“The RV lets my kids know that I’m safe,” she continued. “They no longer worry about me and see me crying after a hard day at work. I don’t have to worry about where I put my work things because I have my own space. And this space allows me to decompress.”

Yvette was wearing a T-shirt that said “Yéego ní dídzh”. In Navajo, it means “Take a Deep Breath.” Believe me, we did – in many ways.

It’s now nearly three months later. Mel and I once again make the long drive to St. Michael. The summer monsoons have arrived in Arizona and the fields and meadows in the Navajo Nation are turning vibrant green, contrasting with the brilliant red rocks protruding to the clear blue skies.

Unlike the rest of Arizona and many other states, the curve of COVID cases in the Navajo Nation, which peaked back in May when we delivered our RV, has flattened out considerably. Early on, they implemented mask mandates, strict curfews closing down the entire reservation on weekends and at night and stay at home orders and travel advisories for their citizens. Our friend Yvette has been relieved of COVID duty and has moved out of our RV into her home with her family.

We find our fifth-wheel right where we left it in Yvette’s driveway. It’s actually cleaner than it was when we dropped it off. She’s prepared us a lovely gift basket and her seven-year-old daughter has drawn us a picture of our rig complete with the four sacred Navajo mountains.  We hook it up and head for home.

These difficult times of pandemic and racial tensions are teaching us all many different things — but probably the most valuable lesson Mel and I have learned is it’s all about trust. We took a giant leap of faith and we’re so glad we did.