Think back to the year 1982. Nationwide, the country was experiencing a recession. Inflation was at 18%, and construction loans were 22% making it tough to acquire or build a new facility to a growing Prescott area non-profit organization like Yavapai Exceptional Industries (YEI!).
The organization was experiencing growing pains—it was becoming less feasible to keep YEI! running in its current capacity. But, if you’ve follow the YEI! story at any point over its 40-year history, you know that miracles are always around the corner, and that people really do watch out for each other in this great community so many call home.
As luck would have it in a timely manner, YEI! had recently received a legacy gift of remembrance through a donor’s last will and testament. The amount was just enough to begin earnestly looking for a place to continue the YEI! operations. It was during that time that a local builder had a vison to acquire and improve a neglected building on Washington Avenue which would later serve as a permanent headquarters for YEI!
Gerry Williams, who served on the YEI!! Board at one point, and who is still active in Prescott Charities, drove YEI! Executive Director Brad Newman to the current site of the Washington Avenue Headquarters in Prescott. Newman recalls that Williams told him, “You do whatever you have to do to get this – you give them your TRUCK if you have to!” Newman listened.
While originally only half of what the building looks like today, community businesses rallied around to begin the rise of a new location. At the time, YEI! was being squeezed out of the headquarters at Kelly Moving and Storage who desperately needed all the space they could garner for their growing bueinsses. YEI! was renting not one, not two, but three different storefronts throughout Prescott to accommodate their ever-growing population and was ready for a more permanent place to settle.
Creatively enlisting community members, Newman recalls, “We had a Community Work Day on Saturday. I enlisted volunteers to help out Tom Sawyer’s Construction Company! I asked people, ‘Want to learn how to lay adobe bricks? Then show up on Saturday!’ Over a hundred people did, and we could not have done it without them.”
Featuring participants as young as age eight from Newman’s own family. Newman recalls working with Fred Brown who supervised pouring of the concrete and “worked me to the bone!”Without a moment to lose, remodeling took place every single day for the duration of three months, two weeks and four days—including the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays of that year to complete the project.
The forces rallied, and with the help of many volunteers like Yavapai College Construction Technology Program, and the leadership of Dr. Henry Dalberg “Mr. Wizard” Volunteer Construction Superintendent, eventually everyone could see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Chartier Drywall donated drywall for the entire building. Masonry was spearheaded by Lorne Snyder, who so many in Prescott know from his mail route at that time, and his numerous roles collaborating with Newman in productions through Prescott Center for the Arts.
Governor Bruce Babbitt, who was en route to the courthouse plaza holiday lighting ceremony event that year, stopped in to lend a hand and to catch up on the progress. By that time, volunteers had put in a long day and the sun was going down. Newman and Dahlberg were dressed for their roles in the seasonal production of A Christmas Carol to take place later that evening. As such, Babbitt was greeted by two period-dressed Dickens characters who led him on a tour throughout the building with Coleman lanterns leading the way.
On a snowy February day in 1984, YEI!’s friends at Kelly Moving and Storage donated services to move gear and furniture into the new building. And, thus, the operations at Washington Avenue began. Three years later, YEI! was fortunate to acquire the abandoned lot to the north by the City of Prescott, and they added to the building.
Over the years, various businesses have lent a physical and financial hand to the operations of YEI! Newman recalls another snowy and cold day in February when Fann Contracting was widening Sheldon Street to the current five lanes. The state engineer informed the company that the weather was not appropriate for laying asphalt, so Fann took the asphalt trucks one block down the street, commanded Newman to move any vehicles, and in four days paved the parking lot of Washington Avenue Headquarters as it exists today. Founder of Prescott Charities, Russ Rusing, took it on himself to literally work the streets and buttonhole his crowd to solicit support of the paving project.
That Friday night El Chaparral Restaurant donated food, and Nick Awolt with Coors Distributing donated additional food and beverages for all. Rusing raised $1,250 from passers-by, and presented Mike Fann with a check which he thought would, “probably pay for soda and chewing tobacco for the workers!”
In front of 100 Fann employees YEI! staff, board members and volunteers, Fann tore up the check in front of a thrilled crowd. Fann support continues to this day through the many works of Fann employees and their FEMAD program.
Newman acknowledges that the current building works well, and employs about 75 YEI! guys and gals who are part of the numerous production teams. A small administrative staff works upstairs, and the production area is housed on the lower level, complete with loading docks and gates.
One of the first upgrades to the building included the handrail and the gates around the loading dock, creating extra safety to those loading, moving and facilitating the production work at YEI!
In upcoming months, thanks to the generous support of those who contributed to the 2017 tax credit donation program, the Washington Avenue Activity Room will get an upgrade in an remodeling project. Also on tap is the installation of new guttering from Arizona Seamless Gutters who will generously donate a large portion of the custom fabrication install for the guttering system.
A simpler time it was, yet YEI! remains as significant in the Central Highlands as it has since its inception. Five debt-free facilities later and production that expands the state and beyond, YEI! remains proud of their works, locations and program. They acknowledge the support of everyone through gifts and donations that furnish the interior, help with projects, lend a hand and get the word out every single day of the year.
Next time you are in the area, you will want to stop by and have a look. The Washington Avenue facility boasts a timeline of photographs sprinkled throughout and highlighted on the walls, photos which tell the tale from Newman’s early days as a new Executive Director 40 years ago, and when a building permit cost just $83.00. Says Newman, “The tour will make your day!”
Yavapai Exceptional Industries (YEI!) is a charitable organization founded in 1974 to support adults with disabilities. YEI! has been providing job training, employment, volunteer placements, and support services for these developmentally disabled adult residents of the cities and towns of the Central Highlands. Their program of “Developmental Employment” includes the award-winning “Community Contribution Corps” (community volunteer placements) and has been continually accredited at the highest level of service by the National Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF) since 1978.