Yuut Elitnaurviat – The People’s Learning Center is the result of a brainstorming session between Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation CEO, Gene Peltola, and U.S. Senator for Alaska, Ted Stevens. Both acknowledged the lack of vocational training opportunities designed to meet the needs of local residents and employers of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. The conversation soon manifested into a non-profit corporation, supported significantly by ten local “partner” organizations. Yuut Elitnaurviat is turning the “dream” into a tangible reality by creating numerous training programs and constructing a state of the art vocational campus.
Although Yuut Elitnaurviat might seem like a regional fixture after our ten amazing years, making the idea a reality was an often arduous process. Below is a brief history of Yuut Elitnaurviat written by original employee and Director of Operations Tiffany Tony.
Yuut Elitnaurviat (YE) has obviously come a long way over the years. It is hard to remember sometimes that in the late 90’s YE was little more than a lofty idea. The YK Delta had suffered repeated fishing disasters and Bethel had been the site of the first school shooting in the Nation. In response to the struggles our community faced, leaders from multiple agencies came together and envisioned Yuut Elitnaurviat as a way to address many of our socio-economic needs. In 2002 the vision started to take shape and YE became a legal entity. Janelle Vanasse had been the grant writer for the Lower Kuskokwim School District (LKSD) and she took the great ideas of our community leaders and turned them into a structured vision. Janelle was appointed Executive Director and began the arduous process of creating the entire infrastructure our newly formed organization needed. When Janelle started there was not a program, not a road, not a staff, not an office. It is hard to imagine how overwhelming it is to take an idea and muscle it into a functional tangible reality. I was the first person Janelle hired and to me she is the visionary that set our purpose and established a culture of “YE is necessary and YE will become a reality”.
During Janelle’s time at YE we started securing funds to construct our campus, the city jump-started our existence by generously donating 10 acres of land, and we started developing and delivering training programs. We were in office space generously loaned to us by YKHC, LKSD also hosted our accounting records, our salaries were paid through partner organizations, we had to borrow space every time we held a training and we had to house students all over town. It was not the most efficient model early on, but we made it work and we slowly started building our reputation for excellence as we were building our campus. Our early success was a testament to what real partnership and cooperation can do. We relied heavily on our partner agencies and they helped incubate YE as it grew.
In 2004, former BRHS Principal, Carlton Kuhns came on as our second Executive Director. By this time we had completed site work for our campus and were proceeding with our first construction endeavor; the Construction Trades Shop. When I think back to Carlton he was our rock. He was one of the most dedicated, forthright, honest, hardworking person I have ever met. He left YE with the idea that if we are meticulous stewards of our funding and deliver excellent programs, our reputation will always speak for itself. Carlton demonstrated that you work until the job is done to perfection and to never miss a detail. The Shop came online in February 2005 and we finally had our own building to use for trades classes.
In fall 2005, retired Aniak Principal, LaMont Albertson became YE’s third Executive Director. LaMont brought a confident swagger to our endeavor. He said things would happen and nothing stood in his way. He would sit on the doorstep of a legislator if he thought it might help secure funding we needed to complete our construction. He also never met a bureaucrat he could not sidestep to get things done. LaMont taught us how to sell our success so that our projects could continue to move forward. LaMont made sure we were known statewide as an up and coming force to be reckoned with.
In December 2007 our first two dormitories were constructed as well as the Shell and Core of our Technical Education and Support Services (TESS) building. We also began our relationship with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and decided to customize a dental clinic in the TESS building for the Dental Health Aide Therapy Program (DHAT). At the time the DHAT program was very politically charged. We welcomed them to have their clinical year here with us in Bethel and have never looked back. DHAT students benefit from the patient base we can provide and our community loves that they can get appointments. We secured a temporary clinic for the first cohort of students in 2008 and thank Bethel Native Corporation for helping us with that endeavor.
In 2009 the TESS building was finally completed and we were able to move our growing staff, we had grown from two to five by 2009, into our permanent home in the TESS building. DHAT was able to move into their permanent clinic and in the fall we adopted the regional Adult Basic Education Center.
In the summer of 2009 Kurt Kuhne became our fourth Executive Director and with his human resources background helped us with our transition onto campus. Our program numbers rose from 120 people in 2008 to over 2,000 in 2011. We now also boast a staff of sixteen and continue to expand the programs we piloted early on. We pride ourselves on being responsive to the needs of the YK Delta and continue to expand our facilities and infrastructure. We will be adding alternative power systems this summer and will have a third dormitory by the fall of 2013.
None of our accomplishments would be possible without the support of the YK Delta, our partner organizations, and all the students who have worked with us over the years.
– Tiffany Tony, Director of Operations