Serving The Community Far And Wide Throughout All Areas Of The Central Highlands
When it comes to quality transportation in the Central Highlands, the trio of drivers who service Yavapai Exceptional Industries (YEI!) are the cream of the crop. Averaging over 400 miles per day among three drivers, their days are anything but routine, and often exhausted, engaging and fulfilling. The top-of-the-line vehicles make their job that much easier and more reliable, including a Dodge van donated by Red Arrow Real Estate, a Ford van made possible by Joe Preston and Galpin Fords, and a van donated by Prescott Charities.
Van driver Rob Winn has worked for YEI! since December 1, 2016—clearly the newest guy on the block, but Winn know the ropes, having driven for New Horizons for many years before shifting his work to serving YEI! Rob says that he enjoys his new job, and states that, “Scheduling is the big thing, making sure everyone is as happy as they can be to get them where they need to be on time.” For a guy who does pickups and deliveries during the day, he knows that his role is all about timing and safety. “Safety comes before timing, and sometimes it takes longer to get there, just to be safe.” Winn guesses he drives 60-80 miles a day. “You have to have a lot of patience when you are dealing with people who don’t have the same thought processes as you. They think differently, they learn differently and if you’re patient, it will all work out fine, and they are so appreciative. The guys will pick you up and much as you pick them up. Everyone is so excited to see us every day. Even on days off, you run into someone who will lift your spirits and help you get through the day.”
Winn is not alone in his duties. Enter Justin Bahnan. Prior to his role with YEI!, Bahnan worked in retail for years. Justin appreciates the variety that YEI! gives to the guys and gals who are employed there. On any given day at one of their locations, the crew may mix birdseed, build benches and perform other woodworking tasks. “This integration is an opportunity for them to do something different and experience a different skill set. We also work with Quality Connections, and we deliver office supplies and things of that nature, so I check the fulfilment and take guys out to deliver the office supplies. It’s one of their favorite things to do–they get to go out and see the town, they like interacting with the people and the businesses, and businesses love it. The guys love being able to meet people and walk in and do deliveries and get signatures. A lot of these guys are social anyway, and they like interaction with people they know. The more we can educate the community, the better. While we are entrenched in the community there are still many who aren’t comfortable with what we do. Executive Director Brad Newman agrees, “YEI! provides employment and economic integration. It is a valuable hopeful place. Our guys are full-fledged in the community and there is nothing sheltered about it.”
Bahnan saw his role in transportation as a new opportunity for him to service the community in a most outstanding way, and he knows he is making a contribution. He states, “I think it’s always good when you can have a job where you really feel like you’re making a difference, and you really feel good at the end of the day. It’s amazing working with these guys and seeing their growth and knowing what their goals are and being a part of the process to help them achieve their goals and branch out. What would these guys be doing if we didn’t have a program like this in place and something that wouldn’t help them feel productive? Here they can contribute, earn a paycheck, build community friendships and that is important. It makes me sad to think that there are many places in the country that don’t have this. It feels good to be a part of an organization that provides such a great service.”
Rounding out the driver trio is Art Fortier, who has been with YEI! for 14 years. In addition to driving an average of 250 miles a day, Fortier is an employment coordinator, and liaison between state and families and clients. Fortier loves what he does, and it’s evident when you see him interact with the guys and gals that surrounded him during this interview. When asked what he likes best about his job, he is quick to reply, “The people and clients I work with – if it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be here. My family got me involved in this type of job. I’m retired Army. This is a perfect fit. The schedule works out great, and company is fabulous and I’ve worked for all three shops and I know most of the clients over the years. We are all friends. I don’t think there is anyone here I don’t hang out with. We are a big family, we work together. His “fans” couldn’t be happier; heard among some of the shout-outs: “Art’s amazing, best driver ever,” “Art is a nice guy, I love Art,” and the ultimate compliment, “I want him to take me to the Bahamas!”
Newman himself is all too familiar with this type of organization, and will soon celebrated his 41st year with YEI! He cut his teeth as a pre-U of A college graduate when he ran a fleet of 16 vans throughout Tucson for Easter Seals. Newman learned quickly: “One of the lessons is that it doesn’t matter if you have the best program in the world. If you can’t get people to where they need to be, it doesn’t count. Our van drivers are invaluable! We like to spoil our families! For 40 years we have gone above and beyond to provide transportation to and from jobsites, appointments, and other activities. One van is dedicated to volunteer corps at all three shops, and recently we took them on field trips to the Musical Instruments Museum Scottsdale, and to see the Northern Arizona Suns. Our family residential homes use the vans on the weekend.”
Bahnan rounds out the interview, “YEI! is a unique organization and there is value to the community. It’s a different perspective once you start working here and once you see them and what their lives are like – as opposed to what they could be.”
Yavapai Exceptional Industries (YEI!) is a charitable organization founded in 1974 to support adults with disabilities. YEI! has been providing job training, employment, volunteer placements, and support services for these developmentally disabled adult residents of the cities and towns of the Central Highlands. Their program of “Developmental Employment” includes the award-winning “Community Contribution Corps” (community volunteer placements) and has been continually accredited at the highest level of service by the National Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF) since 1978.