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Native Learning Center arms reach near and far

HOLLYWOOD — The Native Learning Center 2015 calendar is divided into quarters and color coded in eight shades of busy for the Hollywood-based staff members.

Marie Dufour Bonville, director of Training and Technical Assistance, said a 2014 cooperative agreement grant infusion of $700,000 through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Office of Native American Programs puts the team in ambassador roles throughout Indian Country and strengthens its presence on the Seminole reservations.

“We are not just about where we go to help on the outside but how our work stays right here to help the [Seminole] Tribe,” Dufour Bonville said May 1 in the bustling office on Taft Street. “We always have our fingers on the pulse on what is happening here and now because first and foremost we are the Seminole Tribe NLC.”

The department is dedicated to the Tribe’s education needs directly and indirectly related to housing. But NLC also works as a fountain of knowledge for the Tribe and other Tribes to build, grow and secure their futures via strong communities.

According to the NLC’s recent calendar of events, the department had scheduled 16 webinars, available through Kerretv Online to Tribal members from April through June. In April, the webinars ranged from “Introduction to Home Buying for Native Americans” to “Identity Theft and Fraud Protection.”

“It’s home buying 101, but it goes past the home purchase to what happens next,” Dufour Bonville said.

The programs are videotaped and available online after the original live broadcasts.

In May, the scheduled Kerretv Online broadcast curriculum moved past the basics of home buying and into the realm of strengthening business, both personal and tribal, toward financial sustainability for individual families and the community.

With topics that included “How to Improve Your Financial Picture: Budgeting, Saving and Credit” and “Motivating Employees in Today’s Tribal Workforce,” the classes picked up where lending institutions, like mortgage banks, leave off.

“Most buyers get help from the lending institutions about how to purchase a home, but they get no guidance with how to keep the home,” Dufour Bonville said.

The classes fall within categories that include financial wellness, grant writing, tribal government and technical assistance.

June’s online class schedule promises a focus on economic development opportunities, leadership for tribal professionals and financing affordable and sustainable communities. Three webinars will explore aspects of Indian Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and two will uncover substance abuse issues in Native communities.

Meanwhile, the NLC will offer simplified financial training for teenagers this summer at the Florida Indian Youth Program conference in Tallahassee and Camp Kulaqua in High Springs.

Some classes are held out of state, in compliance with the HUD cooperative agreement, to serve Indian Country at large. From July 7-9, the NLC will host the HUD Grants Management and OMB (Office of Management and Budget) Super Circular training at Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The course will explain the document and indirectly help Tribes nationwide learn how to leverage grant money into greater value – in other words, how to get more bang for the buck.

In preparation, NLC’s grants compliance director Vincent Franco has reviewed, line by line, HUD’s new 103-page “super circular” requirement for federal award programs called the Uniform Administrative Requirements, Cost Principles, and Audit Requirements for Federal Awards. He will present how changes can be implemented for the best advantage.

Franco is also leading the NLC through a $2.1 million physical transition. The Hollywood building is undergoing a massive renovation, primarily HUD funded, that when completed in February 2016 will serve as a training hub for Tribal members and visitors.

“No longer will we have to use convention space to train. We’ll have it all right here,” Franco said.

Renovations include drop-down ceilings, fold-out television screens, retractable walls and touch screen smart boards.

Additionally, NLC’s curriculum design and development specialist Nathan Harris is reshaping the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Boots to Business program for veterans returning to civilian life.

Harris, a former Marine, said some transitioning vets yearning to start their own businesses have fallen victim to franchise schemes.

“Veterans come home thinking they will create their own jobs but instead they can be taken advantage of. We’re going to offer levels of protection. We’ll show them the red flags,” Harris said.

Dufour Bonville said all educational offerings provided by the NLC incorporate the bigger picture whether the learner is a Tribal member purchasing his or her first home or a Housing Department director seeking millions in funding for a multi-home community.

Text plucked from a May 21 seminar stated: “Healthy communities depend on small businesses and sustainable organizations for job creation and economic stability.”