Oklahoma’s extreme heat in the summer and frigid temperatures in the winter mean high utility bills and added anxiety for elders like Cherokee Nation citizen Roy Walden who live on a fixed income.

Walden, 72, of Big Cabin, Oklahoma, depends on Social Security, so money is tight. But for the last few years, Walden has received help paying his utilities from Cherokee Nation’s Elders in Need program. Launched in 2012, the program pays utility companies $200 twice a year on behalf of low-income Cherokee elders.

“It means a lot to me to have the help,” Walden said. “I have a hard time paying bills because they keep going up. Getting that money to pay for my electric and water is a big help. I don’t know what I’d do without it.”

In order to apply, participants must be at least 60 years old and meet income requirements. In 2017, Elders in Need assisted 1,357 individuals.

“It’s a great thing to see them help our people,” Walden said. “Most my family have been helped by Cherokee Nation, and I know other people who get help. The casinos are a great thing because they help so many people.”

Cherokee Nation Entertainment reinvests 35 percent of its gaming profits annually into services and programs for Cherokee Nation citizens. In 2016, that investment was $50 million plus an additional $14.7 million for construction of medical facilities for Cherokees.