Executive Director of YEI!
Interview by Ray Newton
YEI!—‘Happiest Workplace in Yavapai County’
For almost 45 years, Prescott resident Brad Newman has been leading Yavapai Exceptional Industries (YEI!) in its mission of serving hundreds of adults with disabilities. He promises there will be no slowdown.
Newman, Executive Director of YEI!, over the years has created a productive network of jobs and career opportunities for hundreds — in fact, thousands — of adults with disabilities.
Laughing heartily when the word “retirement” popped up, Newman, now 68, says he can’t even spell the word.
“If I use that word around the YEI! offices, I’ll probably get laughed off the grounds,” Newman said with a smile.
Since that first January day in 1976 when Newman accepted a position with YEI! until this winter, the deeply suntanned and always grinning Newman takes pride in being directly involved in virtually every activity sponsored by YEI!.
He says the primary focus of what he does is to lead an organization that provides meaningful opportunities for work for persons with disabilities to help them earn a paycheck and give them multiple opportunities to participate in their families and households, their friendship circles and their place in the community.
“You’ll often hear me say when I’m talking to crowds or to folks visiting our facilities, ‘We’ve got the happiest workplace in Yavapai County.’ I think if you’ll tag along with me and listen to our story, you’ll begin to understand why I believe that,” Newman says.
Newman initially attended Brophy College Preparatory High School, a private all-male Catholic institution. He later attended the University of Arizona in Tucson.
“I was getting close to graduating and didn’t have a job, and I removed the faded job announcement at YEI! from a bulletin board when I was walking down a hall at U of A,” he says. He had just completed a degree in disabilities learning, and he knew he wanted to work in in Prescott. He had worked at a summer camp and ranch on Mingus Mountain and fell in love with the area. Newman was 22.
Newman was offered the job and took it. He said he was told many years later, “The only reason they offered me the job was I was the only guy that didn’t have a beard — because I was too young to grow one. They also told me nobody else wanted it because it really didn’t pay anything. But I took it gratefully! I have no regrets!”
YEI! has evolved from a small, unknown group of 14 people into what is now considered the outstanding organization of its type in Arizona — and in much of the United States. YEI! has almost 200 people attending daily in any given year from throughout the county involved in its several programs.
It wasn’t always that way. When Newman began his job, those 14 people were participating in what then was called Yavapai Rehabilitation Center. It kept that name until its 25th anniversary, when the board of directors decided to “get with the 1990s.”
Newman explains that then-dean of Yavapai College’s manufacturing technology college, Larry Strom, served as the board president. He urged them to change the name. Newman said the first choice was Yavapai Center for Exceptional Industries, but Strom said it needed to be a memorable acronym, so “Center” was taken out.
They agreed that name was perfect: It captured the nature of those it served being industrious people, being enterprising and being exceptional in multiple ways. Beyond that, YEI! is also the name of the Navajo spirit of healing and protection, also carrying the meaning from the Hopi and Yavapai.
Following that, Newman wrote the various tribes and explained that YEI! was proud to be associated with Native American tribes and people throughout Northern Arizona. He and his colleagues laugh about it: “We are the “YEI!-hoos,” and other people out there are “yaa-hoos.”
Interview Reveals Newman’s Shares Ideology…
Prescott LIVING: The past several years have seen YEI! grow far beyond expectations, number of people served and kinds of training and employment provided. Please explain those for the readers.
BRAD NEWMAN: In 1974, they were working out of a converted warehouse in downtown Prescott. Now, we’re a far cry from those early primitive settings. The changes in the training and the kinds of opportunities we’re providing are even more pronounced. Then we had the one facility.
Now, our downtown office here at 436 Washington is just one of three main facilities. This is our major headquarters, and it’s practically an adobe building we made ourselves.
We pick up our gang with vans going way out to Spring Valley, Paulden, Chino Valley, Prescott Valley, Coyote Springs, and of course, Prescott.
Another major building we occupy, one we just celebrated being in for the past 10 years, is Ruger Airpark Industries in the Prescott Industrial Airpark.
Ten years ago that was where we had only 12 or 14 guys and gals working. For years it’s where we’ve hosted our annual Christmas party. Santa arrives in a helicopter from Guidance Aviation!
That’s a tremendous facility, the one where we construct all our quality redwood outdoor furniture. Now, we have 45 YEI!-hoos building our award-winning patio furniture there. Ruger Park is where we’ve been partnering with M & I Doors and Windows since the day it opened.
That’s an interesting story. MI Doors and Windows is where we first got wood to start making patio furniture using the wood pallets MI received shipments on. That was cheap pine wood. It didn’t take us long to figure out that the wood warped and didn’t hold up. Before long, we decided to switch to quality redwood lumber, and we’ve used it ever since.
Prescott LIVING: Is the redwood furniture that popular?
BRAD NEWMAN: We didn’t understand back in the ‘80s how much people wanted quality picnic tables. When we first started, the tables we built were out of wood from the crates we got at MI. As we later found out, people wanted really well-built tables.
We shifted totally to quality, clear redwood. We designed a carefully created table that a really skilled craftsman planned. It’s all dimensional redwood, all bolts and vertical screws, no horizontal screws. It’s made to last. Carefully sanded and finished, every stick of that furniture is carefully checked before it goes out the door. And this past year, even more people want the picnic tables — 4-, 6- or 8-foot ones.
Prescott LIVING: How do you market your furniture? What strategies do you use?
BRAD NEWMAN: Honestly, our furniture markets itself. It is so well made that once people see it, they want to buy it.
Here’s what’s surprising. This past year, when everything got shut down, we had the biggest year ever for selling picnic tables. I figure people just wanted to get out. Eating meals in the backyard with the family was a great and economical way to play pioneer. It was something they could do on the spur of the moment, it took ‘em outside — and (laughing) they didn’t have to tip as much.
Seriously, after the first of the year, the YEI!-hoos built and sold more than 40 tables, and that doesn’t count the ones we donate to organizations and communities all over the county. Our tables are scattered all over the Courthouse Square and other places here in town. We’ve also got them in parks in Ash Fork, Seligman, Chino Valley — heck, name about any place where people have a need for a public picnic table. We’ve probably put it there.
I need to credit Cody Clark and his team. Cody is the woodshop supervisor. Been with YEI! for 15 years! Absolute tyrant when it comes to stressing safety standards for the workers. Cody also supervises several employees we have doing the birdseed mixing we do at Ruger. More about that later.
Let me tell you what’s the most gratifying element for me — the putting of our YEI!s to work in meaningful and purposeful work. In fact, I really want to bear down on that. What our workers do at the furniture shop — or any of the other places they work — is significant and dignified. These are not “make work” assignments. Anyone I know would be proud to have one of these jobs.
Likewise, great work and thoroughly engaging activities go on every day at Antelope Point @ EastRidge, our 9,000-square-foot training, employment, activity and warehouse in Prescott Valley.
Prescott LIVING: I keep hearing about the birdseed you mix for Eric and Gayla Moore and their family at the Bird Barn stores they own in Prescott and Flagstaff.
BRAD NEWMAN: Yep, people are always telling me we’ve gone to the birds. And we have. Almost nine years ago we jumped at the chance to build a working relationship with Eric. That’s been one of the best partnerships we’ve ever done for our YEI! family.
Eric and the Bird Barn made it possible for us to have huge flexibility of workspace as well as provide an unusual job opportunity that keeps bringing dividends. We get double duty out of the space, for our furniture manufacturing and for our birdseed blending. I’ll have Eric tell you.
Even the Birds Win with Brad Newman and YEI! by Eric Moore
My wife and family and I have been in the bird seed business 17 years this past October. At that time we had a small retail store on Willow Creek Road near the anchor Safeway store. We were hand mixing several blends of custom birdseed in the store’s small backroom.
About eight years ago, we entered into a relationship with YEI!. That has really been a positive step forward in many ways.
Since then, we added another store in Flagstaff, and there is a pet store in the
Village of Oak Creek that sells our birdseed blends in the greater Verde Valley.
But that’s beside the point.
I am responsible for ordering all the supplies, bags, thread, needles for stitching. I order all the raw ingredients. I work directly every Monday with Cody Clark, the woodshop supervisor for YEI! at Ruger Airpark Industries. I email him every Monday with the seed order for the week for all our stores. Cody organizes men and women into shifts and has them blend the seed. Every emphasis is upon precision measuring — and on personal safety.
We pick up the measured seed blends on Friday, so the seed is always freshly mixed and packaged. With precision and pride.
We’re proud of Cody and the YEI! team. They blend and package eight different blends now, all specific for the birds of our area. We don’t used “filler” ingredients like the big-box store seed. Our birdseed is unique.
We sell a lot of birdseed — about 500,000 pounds annually. I feel our business is going up each year as our business continues to grow in the markets we serve.
Most important, we consider our relationship with YEI! to be an essential element in our business. Our customers know about it and love to support us. They know when they buy bird seed at Jay’s Bird Barn, they also are supporting adults with disabilities.
Prescott LIVING: We wonder how many readers know that YEI! is involved in a game-meat/ground beef seasoning business. What’s the background on that?
BRAD NEWMAN: YEI! has owned “Spice ‘n Slice” since 2006. That’s operated out of our Antelope Point @ EastRidge facility in Prescott Valley. It has its origins when Grandma LaMure’s was a small local business that became popular. The first product was produced in 1978, and over time, it grew from being food seasonings produced locally into now what is a nationally marketed product. Usually, the seasonings are used with wild game meat.
Now we send our variety of different food seasonings around the country to people who enjoy the flavorful cooking that Grandma made possible. We don’t blend the splices in PV. But we do receive the spices from a blending facility in California and then we print the boxes and package the various flavors and send them out. You can find out all about Spice ‘n Slice by researching it at www.spiceandslice.com
‘My Own Job and My Own Place’
Prescott LIVING: understand that you not only give jobs to the YEI!-hoos, but you also provide housing for many of them.
BRAD NEWMAN: That’s right. We currently have two residences, one at Washington Hills and one at Rusing Hills here in Prescott. These homes were cleverly designed. We’ve got six residents in each home. We call them “Hosted Family Homes.” The host family lives in the home and are the supervisors. Each room has its own entrance. All have access to a kitchen, recreation room and private spaces. We’ve got “Jack-and-Jill”-type bathrooms. We’ve got 24/7 supervision and shared shifts. It is home: “My own place”.
I’ve encouraged the idea of living in these homes. If you look at our website, you’ll see some of the YEI!-hoos echoing the phrase “My own job and my own place.” We think it’s important that our workers have a sense of independence and dignity. Our board and community supporters and partners are now supporting some more homes.
Prescott LIVING:Tell the readers more about that. Can they help?
BRAD NEWMAN: You bet. We just started to construct two new family homes within walking distance of our 9,000-square-foot Antelope Point facility on Eastridge in Prescott Valley. We’ve acquired the land. Thanks to the planning of Sterling Ranches Hosted Family Homes in PV, we’ll have two 4,850-square-foot homes for our YEI!-hoos and a host family. We’ve just had a public groundbreaking attended by the mayor and council and our team of trades and suppliers! We have YEI!-hoos whose bags are packed! They’re ready to move!
Prescott LIVING: We understand you have some new partners.
BRAD NEWMAN: That’s right. Our Antelope Point facility in PV is going to serve as a distribution point in our new agreement with Prescott Woman magazine that Prescottonian Bree Hinkel owns. We also have an agreement to pack boxes for Cinnabar Specialty Foods at their shop, and YEI!-hoos will be measuring and packing seeds for Terroir Seeds.
We’re also assembling Acculine Golf Pucks, a golf-training aid that Ken Christopherson developed.
These are all new employment opportunities for our employees.
Prescott LIVING: Since YEI! was founded more than four decades ago, have you any idea of how many people have gone through the program?
BRAD NEWMAN: Thousands. Probably in the five thousands. Before COVID-19, we were working with 140 or 170 people a day, regularly. Now, maybe 75. But take that times 45 years. Thousands have benefitted.
Prescott LIVING: What’s the youngest employee? The oldest? The longest?
BRAD NEWMAN: Because our program is centered around working, we start at 16 or 17. The oldest? That’s Roy, and he’s 80. He’s been here more than 40 years. One woman, Susan, was here when I came to work, and that’s almost 45 years ago. We’re proud that just this year five staff members celebrated being employed at YEI! for 20 years. That’s a big number no matter where you work and another distinguishing feature of YEI!.
Prescott LIVING: Has COVID-19 impacted your budget?
BRAD NEWMAN: Seriously. I’ve said we’re in a period of parenthesis. By that I mean we are between two things, and the rules change day by day. But we still try to celebrate things we should celebrate — birthdays and such. But because of COVID-19, we can’t send the same number of people out in vans to work. We can’t take field trips the way we used to with the same number of people. We’ve got to be flexible. The protocols adopted throughout society, social distancing, sanitizing surfaces, face covering … have been adopted at YEI! with our usual vigor. The hardest adaptation is elbow-greeting, as we’re a high-fivin’, huggin’ kinda crowd.
Prescott LIVING: I’ve heard it said that YEI! is unique in Arizona.
BRAD NEWMAN: (laughing) We’ve been described more harshly than that. That’s a nice way of putting it. But yes, we are unique in the state and the Southwest. No other community has anything quite like what we’ve been able to structure. It’s because of the community we live in and the kind of support we get from all over Yavapai County. People really do care here. They feel for those who are disabled and yet still want to contribute to the economy and community, and they step up big time to support them.
But what I see even bigger — people really do care for each other in Prescott. There’s a lot of folks out there, and God loves them all. And here in Yavapai County, they’re willing to step up and help when they can.
I’ve been lucky. Nobody’s making wealth here. But we’re making wages. These guys and their families keep us going. We’re having fun. I’m addicted. I get to go to work with my best friends. I can’t imagine a better place to work.
Those who want to contribute to YEI! can take advantage of the Arizona Tax Credit, which allows a dollar for dollar credit for up to $400 for individuals or $800 for couples filing jointly.
Photo: Brad Newman at Yavapai Exceptional Industries is completing his 45th year in January. Photo by Ray Newton