by Max Efrein
The Daily Courier
A re-purposed cowboy in a sense, Brad Newman, 63, is one of Prescott’s premier residents.
He’s served on numerous boards in town and contributed to local charities and arts groups, such as the Prescott Child Development Center, the Church on the Street, Prescott Fine Arts and Arizona Classical Theatre.
Most notably, he’s been executive director of Yavapai Exceptional Industries (YEI) for 39 years.
Originally named the Yavapai Rehabilitation Center, YEI – which is Navajo, meaning protection and healing – provides job training, employment, volunteer placements and support services for developmentally-disabled adult residents within the Central Highlands, according to the organization’s website.
The organization has three campuses, each serving Prescott, Prescott Valley and north Prescott/Chino/Paulden. All essentially run the same operation, but produce different products. The products range from patio furniture to meat spices, and are made and assembled by the more than 150 adults who work there with the help of YEI’s 45 staff members.
The organization and Newman have received countless awards and continuous recognition for the unique opportunities YEI has provided the past 42 years for the developmentally-disabled adult community in the quad-city area.
Prescott Mayor Marlin Kuykendall declared Jan. 25, 2011, Bradley J. Newman Appreciation Day in honor of Newman’s 35 years of leadership and service within the Prescott community at the time.
Speaking from his office in YEI’s Prescott location – which, he noted, is made of adobe brick that YEI members made themselves – Newman explained how YEI became a part of his life and why he has chosen to stick with it for so long.
DC: How did you get involved with YEI?
BN: I was working on a ranch up here on Mingus Mountain and, back in the day, a chunk of it was a summer camp. The first load of campers that came to summer camp were Easter Seals kids, which I was like ‘what is this, Jerry’s kids?’ I was just a rootin’, tootin’, hippie cowboy and these guys just charmed the heck out of me and they were just so much fun. So we just did ranch work with these kids tied to our saddles. From there I started a rehabilitation major at (University of Arizona), finished a bachelor’s, was working on a master’s, walking down the hall and I saw the job announcement for rehabilitation center, executive director, Prescott, Arizona, and I said, ‘Well, my life is complete, I know where I’m going.’
DC: Why did they give you the job?
BN: One of the founding board members, who interviewed me for the job and has since gone to glory himself, said years and years later that the only reason we offered you the job is you’re the only guy we interviewed that didn’t have a beard and we found out you were too young to grow one.
DC: How do you train the developmentally disabled that you employ to do the job and do it well?
BN: We have to start you out where you are. In fact, we call it developmental employment, which is a phrase I kind of steal from Piaget learning theory – see I went to U of A; I didn’t go for nothing. It’s ‘you learn to walk and then you learn to run.’ You learn this skill and you learn on top of it to build another skill. I say ‘I can train you to be a brain surgeon if we had enough lifetimes to hook together.’ One of the strengths of our people – speaking generally – and a benefit to our production partners is that when they [staff] learn the task, that’s what they do. They’re not going to try to out-think you or skip the quality control station. They get the procedure and that’s what they do. That’s why the quality that comes out of these shops never ceases to amaze people.
DC: How does this community of people react to being employed?
BN: I always ask them what do you want? What are you here to do? And I hear ‘I want to be a working guy. I want to earn that check.’ You know how you and I get our W2’s and I go ‘What a waste, look what I paid!’ We’ll hand out W2’s to our guys and I swear they’ll say, ‘This is how I helped the soldiers. Look how I helped the teachers. I helped the firemen.’
DC: I’ve heard you have pursued many hobbies throughout your life. Can you please tell me a little about them?
BN: I’m a musician. I play at Brick and Bones on Tuesdays. I’m an actor. I’m currently in production of ‘Much Ado About Nothing.’ I’m a Colorado River guide. I have – just mostly for fun with a buddy of mine – done the ‘deadliest catch’ before it was cool.
DC: How do you fit it all in?
BN: I don’t know if I do. If you interviewed others, you’d say ‘He screws this up, he screws this up and he screws up this thing.’ I joke around and I say when the governor makes a speech and says that they created 20,000 new jobs in rural Arizona, I raise my hand and say I know because I got three of them. I’ve got the best day job in the world; I’ve got the best night job in the world; and I’ve got the best weekend job in the world. So I’ve got it made.
DC: Are there things you wish you were better at?
BN: I wish I was more skilled as a manager and could do more. You know, there’s always more. I feel like I’m way short of where I want to be, which is why I’m 39 years on overtime.
DC: What goals do you still wish to accomplish?
BN: We have a small endowment fund at Prescott Charities and it is formed to, of course, face the future head-on. My goal is $10 million in an endowment fund, and that runs the service program at Yavapai Exceptional Industries. That means that my guy doesn’t have to wait in line at the government office and this organization is not dependent on the whims of political wind. In one year, disabilities are up; in two years they’re down; and right now they’re like not even on the screen. It means this thing survives whatever comes to it. We have our buildings, we have the physical plant, now we need to take the great kernel that we’ve got planted in this endowment fund and really turn it on and get this done. And then maybe I’ll take a day off.
DC: You are 63. Does retirement look like something for you in the near future?
BN: No, I’m not even thinking about it. I have friends who tell me that if I retired, I’d be doing the same thing anyway, which is totally true. I’ll tell you, though, when the day comes when they do pull me out of here, this will be the prime gig in the country for anybody in the disability movement; because, first of all, in our little world of nonprofits, nobody hires an executive director unless there’s trouble. Somebody got canned, or bankruptcy, or there was a scam. This thing, somebody’s going to walk into one of the top-flight operations in the country. But that is a long way down the road.