SEUALG leads way on work camps to improve housing

A crew finishes painting a home on the Navajo Nation earlier this summer. The home is one of 15 painted by volunteers in a program managed by the SEUALG. Photo courtesy of SEUALG

It’s hot, it’s hard work, and sometimes the time spent at the group camp managed by the Southeastern Utah Association of Local Governments on the Navajo Reservation in southeastern Utah can be a little inconvenient, but it is worthwhile to those who participate.

In June of each year, a group of workers, some state and county employees and volunteers come together to help improve homes for Navajos.

While the actual work of revamping homes takes place in June, the planning takes place in April.

“It’s at that time that we go and evaluate all the homes for people who have applied for the work to be done,” said Greg Kinoshita, SEUALG weatherization manager. “They qualify for work to be done through the HEAT (Home Energy Assistant Target) program by utilizing their application process. A lot of the funding for the group camp work comes from the same funding they use.”

While the state and agency workers do much of the work during that week, students from all over the country come to help. A religious company called Life Tree that encompasses many different kinds of churches organizes the camp. Kids who come to help actually pay to work in the heat of southeastern Utah to help people out. This year 134 people arrived to work at the camp.

“People from this organization do this kind of thing all over the world,” said Kinoshita. “In this case each worker pays $450 to participate in this particular camp. That does not include the travel costs to get to the area.”

The kids and their adult leaders stayed at Monument Valley High School this year while they were there. All the work completed at this group camp was in Monument Valley proper. “A majority of the students were from Pennsylvania this year,” he stated. “Others came from Minnesota, Colorado, Texas and other states.” Interestingly, there were no students from Utah, and Kinoshita said that he never remembers any from the Beehive State ever coming to the camp.

Kinoshita supervises four employees from SEUALG and watches over the project as it is moving forward. Also helping in the project were five workers from the state weatherization program, one from the Six County Association of Governments and one from the Salt Lake Community Action Center. Those from SEUALG who worked on the camp included Kinoshita, Tyson Benally, Nelson Yellowman, Colton Cooper and Brandon Nez.

As for the work done, it varied from home to home and there were some projects that he said were outstanding, and in fact, touching to those involved. “This year was the year of siding projects,” he stated. “We send one crew out on siding, but if roofs need to be done we send a second crew as well. There were a lot of two-crew jobs this year.”

While the renovations help all the people who live in the homes, one in particular stuck out in Kinoshita’s mind: a project where they also built an access ramp for a disabled child.

“Before the ramp was built this summer, every day his parents had to pack him down the stairs to take him to the school bus,” he said. “Now they can just wheel him down the ramp in his wheelchair.”

He said they also renovated a home this year that was the biggest project he has ever done since he started working with the SEUALG five years ago. The workers completed drywall in the house as well as siding and roofing. They also put in new doors.

“There was really very little there to begin with,” he said. “There was no insulation in the roof or walls and everything needed replacing. It was pretty much just a shack. She had gone out over the years and bought little pieces of drywall as she could afford it, but she didn’t have much. She didn’t even have a kitchen counter.”

He said the total cost of materials this year was $75,597 to do all the homes. Along with that, various groups donated over $4,500 in food for the camp. This year the camp painted 15 houses, put on 14 metal roofs, added or repaired 10 porches and ramps, sided six homes, installed eight wood stoves, and put in drywall in one home as described earlier.

The executive director for SEUALG, Geri Gamber, says that the local agency could not run the camp alone without all the other agencies and support groups giving their support. “Life Tree is a large part of this program, and without the support of Brad Carpenter at the state the program probably could not operate the way it does,” she stated. “It is truly a team effort.”