Learning at Uncle's House

VTRC brings vocational skills to those who want them - and turns a profit

Posted: Thursday, June 06, 2002

In Tlingit culture, when boys were about 10 years old, they were turned over to their maternal uncles who taught, trained and disciplined them. Ha Kaak Has Ka Hidi, which means "Our Uncles' House," is the official name of the Vocational Training and Resource Center at 3239 Hospital Drive.

"What better facility to give honor to our uncles than to name this building after our uncles for the teaching and discipline of the nephews," said Archie Cavanaugh, VTRC director and manager of higher education.

VTRC's mission is to provide opportunities for training and career advancement through postsecondary academic and vocational education.

In its third year of operation, the VTRC offers a medley of vocational training classes to adults of every race, gender or national or ethnic origin.

"Normally businesses are given a three-year period of time to determine whether they will sink or swim," Cavanaugh said. "And this year we're very proud to say that we did make a profit."

In 1993, the Tlingit and Haida Central Council planned the construction of a vocational training and resource center to develop job training and small business programs to create an empowered and self-sufficient tribal membership.

According to Cavanaugh, an event happened in 1996 that never happened before in the United States: The Central Council in alliance with Hoonah Indian Association, Douglas Indian Association, Skaqua Traditional Council, Chilkoot Indian Association and the Organized Village of Saxman applied for and received a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for construction of the VTRC.

"Normally, only one tribe could apply for these HUD grants, but you would only qualify for a maximum of $300,000," Cavanaugh said. "Because these tribes were unified into one and applied as one, we were able to get $2 million."

Despite its increasing success, the VTRC was not always in such good shape.

"We didn't have enough money to finish this building," Cavanaugh said. "One time we didn't think we could finish the top floor of this place."

Through contributions and support from the community, the VTRC opened its doors Sept. 9, 1999.

"We're still here and we're doing better than ever," Cavanaugh said. "But it takes a lot of work."

Cavanaugh said the main income-provider is the computer classes the center offers.

In addition to basic skills classes in Microsoft Windows and Internet techniques, the center has beginning and advanced classes for many Microsoft programs such as Access, Outlook, Project, Excel, Word, PhotoDraw, PowerPoint, FrontPage and Publisher.

Adobe Photoshop is a new addition to the list of classes offered, and the Microsoft Office User Specialist program certification improves students' desktop skills for the workplace.

"All of the staff has taken classes here," said Phyllis Carlson, VTRC's tribal college coordinator. "We get so many good comments from people who come in and take classes."

Carlson said VTRC's computer classes offer opportunities for people who are employed or are trying to get employed.

"They may not have a whole semester to devote," Carlson said. "The classes are intense and in a more reduced time capsule."

Vocational classes from construction training to residential electrical wiring help students build skills that may be needed on the job.

Computer courses cost $99 for a one-day class and $185 for a two-day class, and vocational classes range from $125 to $1,800 per course, depending on length and level of training.

Financial aid for tuition, fees and books are available through grants from the center, but may also be available through other resources such as the Workforce Investment Act, Veterans' Affairs and Native corporations and organizations.

"The majority of our classes here are computer classes and vocational marine technology kind of stuff," Cavanaugh said. "We're pursuing a tribal college as well. We're very excited about that."

Carlson said the courses offered in the tribal college will help with common educational issues in Alaska, such the dropout rate that occurs between the ages of 11 and 14 and problems teachers have relating to local indigenous cultures.

"We want to take ownership of those issues and address them," said Carlson.

The VTRC also rents space in the building to others for classes and meetings. A computer lab, two classrooms and an auditorium that can be split into two parts are available for rent.

"We even throw in coffee, tea, sugar and cream," Cavanaugh said.

For more information about Ha Kaak Has Ka Hidi Vocational Training and Resource Center, call 463-7375 or (800) 344-1432 extension 7375, or visit www.ccthita.org.

Emily Wescott can be reached ewescott@juneauempire.com.

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