Yavapai Exceptional Industries
by Ray Newton
In just a few weeks, Brad Newman, executive director of Yavapai Exceptional Industries (YEI), will celebrate his 43rd year with YEI.
YEI is praised as being a unique organization in Arizona that serves the needs of adults with disabilities through its support services, volunteer placement, job training and employment.
From that first January 1976 day when Newman began his career at YEI until now, the charitable organization has grown from a little-known group of 14 people scrambling around in a ramshackle warehouse.
It now is a nationally recognized entity that serves “188 persons a day at three different work sites — two in Prescott and one in Prescott Valley,” Newman said.
Once you meet the husky, deeply sun-tanned, always smiling, laughing and joking, deep-voiced Newman, you understand why people gravitate to him and follow his leadership.
When I scheduled my interview with Newman, he thanked me, saying, “Great. I’ll have time to get a haircut, shine my sneakers and lose 50 pounds.”
Four days later, he had done none of the three. Even so he welcomed me into his trophy-plaque-and-certificate-filled office — my wife would say “cluttered” — with a hearty handshake and introductions to several staff and men and women working there.
“Welcome to Van Central Station,” he said as he motioned toward several vans labeled with the YEI logo. “We transport some of our employees to other sites and to some activities, including a swimming event later this morning.”
Besides the main multibuilding facility on North Washington Avenue in Prescott, Newman and his staff supervise two other sites — Antelope Point at Eastridge in Prescott Valley and Ruger Airpark Industries north of Prescott near the airport. They are where YEI workers learn on-the-job skills and produce products either for sale or for local merchants who employ them.
When I asked Brad how many people work at each location, he grinned. “You mean I’ve gotta do some math? That’s not in my job description.”
He then explained that about 70 people are located at the main Washington Avenue Industries facilities, while 65 work At Antelope Point and 40 at Ruger.
I asked about the age range of employees.
“Sheesh. More numbers?” Brad then explained that ages range from 17 and 18 all the way up to a few in their 70s.
Many employees live in the residence homes YEI owns. The men’s home is in Washington Hills and the women’s in Rusing Hills.
Newman carefully explains that both homes offer nurturing family-style environments that feature security and independence.
Newman enthusiastically tells me what employees do, “We’re proud to say our jobs give developmentally challenged adults opportunities for learning mechanical assembly, packaging and kit-building, mail management, bench assembly, fabrication, warehousing and shipping and fulfillment and drop-shipping.”
Other functions employees handle includes blending and packing bird seed for local owner Eric Moore, proprietor of the well-known Jay’s Bird Barn. “Some employees blend and bag about a half-million pounds annually of bird seed for Eric’s stores,” Newman says.
“Most people don’t know that we pay our employees. Everyone gets a paycheck and they can go buy pizza, buy clothes, go to movies — whatever.”
Underneath his seemingly casual manner lurks a deliberately thoughtful administrator. With a budget approaching $2 million annually, Newman and his colleagues maintain carefully audited books and records.
Newman points at an exceptionally well-constructed Redwood picnic table. “That just one of the kinds of patio furniture our employees create for sale. They also make park benches, duet chairs connected by a small table, and garden boxes. And honest, we can’t keep up with the demand. Every year, after the spring home and garden show, we sell out.”
Accolades for Newman come from every direction. His longtime friend Henry Dahlberg, former owner of the former Mingus Springs Camp, says, “What a phenomenal impact he’s had on the community with a special population. He just never says ‘no’ to the any chance to help folks out.”
Former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer cited one of the YEI groups as the “Best Practice in Arizona.”
In 2012, Newman was honored as the Prescott Area Leadership Man of the Year.
Just this month, Steve and Cathy Trotter praised him for his efforts with their son Simeon and for his ongoing support of Special Olympics of Arizona, especially the Prescott delegation.
Steve, head of the Prescott Delegation 02-023, said this: “As the parents of an adult special-needs YEI employee, I appreciate how long Brad has supported and improved the well-being of special-needs people in Prescott. He has been a leader in helping YEI workers to contribute to society by providing an opportunity for them to socialize, exercise, laugh and have fun. Brad has managed to commit himself and the organization to provide service to the wonderful population of special people YEI serves.”
Trotter continued, “One example of what I mean occurred this past March when 15 to 20 workers from YEI supported the Special Olympics for this region at the YMCA pool in Prescott. He has created a network of unique experiences for special-needs people who otherwise would never have such opportunities.”
A graduate of Jesuit Brophy Prep in Phoenix, Newman later attended the University of Arizona, where he earned a degree in developmental disabilities. Now 66, Newman has dedicated his entire career to serving those who have special needs.
Perhaps his life is best defined by a phrase he often shares: “It’s really not how many people go to church; it’s how many go to Heaven.”