Navajo YouthBuilders program targets 16- to 24-year-olds

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SHIPROCK — When the task of adjusting a tape measure turned difficult, Lyle Maze paused to listen to his instructor, who advised him to use his knee to bend the tape as he positioned it along an exterior wall.

Maze's attempt to measure the length of exterior house trim was part of his work to renovate a home here last week.

Maze, 22, is participating in Navajo YouthBuilders, a program under the auspices of Capacity Builders Inc. designed to help at-risk Navajos between the ages 16 and 24 develop basic construction skills through classroom instruction and hands-on training.

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Joshua Evans, case manager for the program, said participants can enroll for six months or a year, and the program is designed to help individuals prepare for the GED examination.

The program is also open to individuals who have earned a high school diploma or an associate degree, or who have taken college courses and are seeking to gain work experience, Evans said.

Students receive classroom instruction each Monday and Tuesday at the former Grace B. Wilson Elementary School in Kirtland in space provided by the Central Consolidated School District.

On Wednesdays and Thursdays, they work on the renovation of a one-bedroom house in Shiprock.

"As much as this is to help the lady who lives here — and that, of course, is our main objective — the secondary objective would be to get these students trained professionally," Evans said.

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He added the program is accepting applications from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays at Capacity Builders, 414 W. Broadway in Farmington.

At the residence, students apply the skills they learn in the classroom with additional guidance from construction trainer Larry Clary and construction assistant Elton Brown.

In May, the students started renovating the house with materials donated from local businesses. They have reroofed the structure and are working on installing exterior siding and trim.

Clary said students learn the basics of construction, including roofing, siding, trim work, floor coverings, plumbing, electricity, insulation and drywall.

"By the time they get from outside to inside, they'll understand how to read a tape measure, how to be able to do some estimating on different materials," he said. "They'll understand how to set up and break down several different pieces of tools and equipment."

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With those basic skills, they can further their education or apply for a beginner position with a construction company, Clary said.

As Addias Begay, 24, nailed up a piece of wood siding, other students worked together to figure out the measurements of the next panel.

"I think of this as trade school for myself, and in the long run, I think it's going to be good use," Begay said.

Among those working on measurements was Jezlaine Dan, who started the program in June alongside her boyfriend, Tresean Janis.

Dan, 21, has a high school diploma but attends the GED classes to refresh her mathematics and reading skills.

"Ever since I started, it became fun to me because I learn a little bit more," she said.

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Janis, 22, grew up in Denver and moved to the reservation in 2011. After the initial move, his family kept relocating to communities throughout the Northern Agency. Janis said the constant change made him lose interest in school, and he dropped out.

He became interested in Navajo YouthBuilders because it offers GED classes, and the instructors support the students.

"I know I'm going to get my GED this time," he said.

Clary, the construction trainer, has owned a local construction company since 1995 and became involved with the program after seeing the need to train a younger generation.

"There's new technologies coming in, and we don't have any good young work force coming up to take place of the ones who will be retiring," he said.

In addition, he enjoys watching his students develop their skills each day.

"You can see it in their eyes, in their expressions. They're learning something. …They naturally want to learn more," Clary said.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.

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