Josh, Ashton and Delbert WilsonPhoto by Chris Jennings

From left, Josh, Ashton and Delbert Wilson sit in their new affordable rental home thanks to help from the Choctaw Nation, family, both local and non-local organizations and churches, Choctaw Nation employees and many community members. Over the years, the Wilsons have experienced several setbacks in the form of illness and bad luck that plague many across the country.

Help and hope is available for every Choctaw family

By Chris Jennings
June 3, 2024

This story is told with the permission of the Wilson family, who want to share their story with other tribal members who may be in a similar situation, to let them know that there is hope and help available.

Several Choctaw Nation programs, community members, and outside organizations have come together to help Delbert Wilson and his family escape extreme poverty.

When Delbert Wilson talks about how things were, he says things weren’t always this bad. Over time though, due to illnesses, things got progressively worse.

At the time, Delbert, Trish and their three children, Jeff, Josh and Ashton, lived in an 85-year-old family home that belonged to the children’s great-grandparents.

When they moved in, the home needed work, but Delbert was able to do some of the repairs himself. When the couple were both working, they got by okay.

“The roof was leaking into rooms real bad, but I managed to put a new roof and trusses up,” said Delbert Wilson. He was also able to do some electrical repairs and other things to try to keep the house in as good a shape as he could.

In 2010, Trish was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease. This genetic condition causes brain cells to lose function and die slowly. Due to symptoms of the disease, which can include dementia, difficulty swallowing, and an inability to walk without assistance, it eventually got to the point Wilson’s wife couldn’t work and needed complete care at home.

On top of Trish’s illness, Delbert also struggled with diabetes, and it eventually got to the point that he was not able to work and was on disability as well.

After Trish fell ill, and her income was lost, things started to get harder, and much-needed repairs had to be put aside for the time being.

Delbert’s niece, Shelly Maxey, explains, “They were at the point of her [Trish] not being able to work because of her health and him not being able to work because of his health. No one in that house was healthy enough to fix it, and there was no money to fix it.”

Eventually, Wilson’s wife passed away from the Huntingtons Disease; that was a particularly hard time for the family. Not only did they lose a wife and mother, but around the same time, Delbert’s diabetes had progressed to the point that he had a leg amputated.

The outside of the Wilson's old home showing boarded windows and broken glass.
Photo by Chris Jennings

The Wilson's old home was in serious need of repair.

At this point, the family was living in a slowly dilapidating house. Delbert’s leg didn’t heal correctly and atrophied at an angle, meaning he could not walk.

For Delbert, getting around and doing basic everyday tasks requires a lot of help from his son, Josh. “It’s not what I wanted, but it’s what I’ve been dealt. Before, I did everything myself, working on cars, roofing and plumbing; I’ve done it all and would still do it if I could,” said Delbert. “I try to tell my kids how to do it, and Josh has worked on my vehicle by me telling him what to do, but I can’t get in there and help him at all.”

Delbert, who has dialysis three times a week, can still drive to his appointments, but Josh has to help him get in the car. He also gives his father baths and assists with other general everyday tasks that many take for granted.

Josh graduated high school from a special education program. One of his classmates, Hailey Kiefer, says Josh had a profound impact on her life. Because of her experience helping Josh in Home Economics class for two years, Kiefer went to college to be a special education teacher.

“It is the reason that I do what I do. I had never worked with anyone with special needs until that year started. So, when it was time for me to go to school, I picked the only thing I had any interest in,” Kiefer said.

Now, the man who required enough help in high school to inspire someone to become a special education teacher is taking care of his father.

Over the years, after his wife’s death, the Wilson house slowly degraded around Delbert and his family. The windows had to be boarded up; the concrete in the bathroom floor was broken to the point that it would shift when Josh walked on it; the kitchen sink had fallen in, and the family was forced to use bottled water.

After an argument with his father, Jeff, the oldest son, moved out with nowhere to go. Thankfully, with Maxey’s help, Jeff Wilson could get into an apartment with the help of the Choctaw Nation.

As she was helping Jeff get settled, Maxey realized he needed help learning to do some of the most basic things required when living independently and caring for himself.

According to Maxey, Jeff had containers of cooking grease everywhere. And he hadn’t taken the trash out. “And I’m like, Jeff, you have to take the trash out every day, especially if there’s food in it. And he said, ‘Well, I couldn’t fit that one box in the trash chute. So, I didn’t know what to do.’ He just didn’t know how to function,” Maxey said.

Maxey explains that over the years, the family has helped the Wilsons out of predicaments. “I’m ashamed to say it’s something that we just grew up knowing. When the little boys were very small, people would put in Department of Human Services (DHS) referrals, and we would all rush over there, clean the house and help make it better. So, I kind of existed knowing that things were not great over there,” said Maxey.

As Maxey was helping Jeff Wilson at his new apartment, he said something that shook her. He said he wanted to bring his family to the apartment because it was too cold for them to live in that house, and he couldn’t stay there knowing that they were freezing to death.

According to Maxey, that comment made her decide that if she could do this on a small scale with him, she could do it for the whole family, too.

Getting them help was going to take a lot of work. After the revelation from Jeff, she went to the house and saw the condition it was in. That’s when she made it her mission to get the family help.

For years, Maxey said she prayed for the family. “I’m praying about it, and praying about it, and praying about it,” said Maxey. “I finally just said, I gotta get them connected; I have to do something.”

Even after going in to help the Wilsons over the years, Maxey was still surprised at the house’s condition. “They stopped letting us inside about eight years ago. But I got in just a few feet several months ago, and the smell coming from the rotten home — the smell would have knocked you out,” said Maxey.

Delbert admits to not letting people in because he was afraid Ashton Wilson would be taken away from him when they saw the house’s condition.

“I’ve been worried about that for years. That’s why we didn’t have people coming in. There was a fear of that, and I just couldn’t stand it because I love her to pieces,” said Delbert.

Maxey, who previously worked with Child Protective Services (CPS), said, “There has to be some extreme allegations of physical and or sexual abuse to get a court order to burst into someone’s home. If someone calls and makes child abuse referrals on the condition of the home or neglect, they cannot just burst in. So he [Delbert Wilson] learned years ago, just don’t let anybody in, and then everything will be fine; she won’t get taken away.”

The thought of being taken away scared Ashton, too. “I was so scared; I didn’t want to lose my two brothers or my dad because I already experienced losing my mom,” she said through tears. “I didn’t want to lose anybody else.”

According to a study on, living in poverty can lead one to make poorer decisions. The researchers called this the “burden of poverty.” The study says, “Lacking money or time can lead one to make poorer decisions, possibly because poverty imposes a cognitive load that saps attention and reduces effort.”

This burden of poverty can explain why Delbert couldn’t get the family into another home. Wilson said that without any real help, it was overwhelming when he had previously filled out applications for rental assistance with the U.S. Government.

Now, that much-needed help was available. Maxey was there every step of the way, helping the family fill out the required paperwork to get into a Choctaw Affordable Rental Home.

Now, with the help of several other people and different programs in the Choctaw Nation, they successfully got all the required paperwork and now live in a much smaller, more efficient home. Previoulsy, much of Delbert’s limited income would go to heating and cooling the older, less efficient home.

Maxey quickly points out that she was not alone. “I could not do this by myself. So many people helped,” explained Maxey.
As she tried to thank those who helped, she came up with 36 different people, Choctaw Nation programs and outside organizations that came together to get the family help.

Laura Beshear with Choctaw Nation Family Preservation said it’s an ongoing process saying, “We’re still in the process of amending their case plan, because we’re still finding other needs that they have that we need to connect them with.”

Family Preservation is an in-home service provider for native children at risk of abuse or neglect. They provide parenting and education, case management, and referrals to other Choctaw Nation programs and community resources. They can also identify a family’s strengths and needs and try to get them met.

Maxey says Delbert is getting set up with the Advantage Program so that Josh won’t need to be his care provider anymore.

They [Family Preservation] are also working on getting the family mental health counseling so that they can communicate better. “We also plan on working with them on basic things, like making a grocery list from meal planning so that they’re not spending all their money on eating out. Ashton is capable of cooking but not grocery shopping and meal planning,” said Beshears.

The family will also get help planning meals using the commodities available through the Choctaw Nations to help make their dollars stretch.

Family Preservation can also provide financial assistance if it reduces the risk to the child. “We could purchase things for Ashton because she’s the child in the home, but we could not purchase things for the adults, so we had to get donations for all of their needs,” said Beshears.

Some of the programs that helped were Choctaw Nation Housing, Family Preservation, Community-Based Social Workers and Food Distribution programs.

Help not only came from these programs but also from individuals within the programs who saw a need and donated money, time or items to help the Wilson family.

Outside organizations also contribute to the family. Stipe Senior Center provides hot meals; the Advantage Program is working on a helper for Delbert, so Josh doesn’t have to do it all; Hilldale Church in Tulsa donated money for household items; the KEDDO program donated a wheelchair and walker; Shared Blessings donated bedding; Mike’s Club donated household items; Leader Group Realty donated money for household items, and the list continues to grow.

While the move to the new home has affected the whole family, Maxey says she has seen the most profound effect on Ashton.
“Just six months ago, she would just stare at me and not speak. I would ask her a question, and she would just stare at me,” Maxey said.

“It [living in that house] was just so depressing for me; when we finally got the news that we were going to be moving, I just broke down,” Ashton said. Having lived in the old house since she was born, things were never like they should be for a young girl.

“When I was living there, it just seemed so hopeless to me,” said Ashton. “I would always get mad at my brothers, or I would cry in the laundry room by myself because I didn’t want anybody to hear me.”

Ashton Wilson stands in her old home near where she slept.
Photo by Chris Jennings

Ashton Wilson stands next to the spot in the living room of her old house where her bed used to be, directly under an award she received for academic success in science that's still taped to the wall. Her father, who is unable to walk on his own, would sleep in the recliner in the corner, and her brother would lie on couch cushions on the floor.

Many programs across the reservation assist families, such as Family Preservation, Dental Services, Affordable Rental Housing, and Food Distribution.

However, you must know those programs exist before you can ask them for help. For Delbert, because he wasn’t the Native parent for his Choctaw kids, he wasn’t aware of everything available to them through the Choctaw Nation.

“It’s deeply appreciated. It’s something that not too long ago, I didn’t envision at all,” Delbert said. “Like Shelly said, I just didn’t have no hope.”

The story of the Wilson’s is just one of the many cases Choctaw Nation’s programs and services help with on a daily basis.
If you or someone you know is in need of help and you are unsure who to contact or where to get started, contact Family Preservation at 800-522-6170. They will be able to help you get in touch with the right programs and services. See a complete list of Choctaw Nation services.