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NLC moves into future with facility upgrades

Native Learning Center training and development specialist Patti Kay Mitchell (Cherokee Nation) tidies a shelf filled with books at the facility’s new library and media center.
Native Learning Center training and development specialist Patti Kay Mitchell (Cherokee Nation) tidies a shelf filled with books at the facility’s new library and media center.

HOLLYWOOD — When Tribal citizens attend the first homeownership training classes of the New Year on Feb. 24-25 at Native Learning Center (NLC) in Hollywood, they might believe that the center has a new home of its own.

The two-level facility, supported by the Tribe and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Office of Native American Programs, recently wrapped up a $2.1 million HUD-funded makeover.

“It might sound like a lot of money, but it is not for everything we’ve done. We’ve been good stewards. We’ve crunched every single dollar,” said Vince Franco, compliance and resource development director.

According to public records, the three-story building at 6363 Taft St. was constructed in 1983. Prior to the Tribe’s purchase of the structure in 2009, it was primarily used by small businesses that included medical, law and financial service practices.

“There were many, many small office spaces in the building. Now, we have the same square footage but the walls have come down. A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into the renovation, but it’s been a wonderful experience,” said Executive Director Georgette Palmer Smith.

NLC, charged since 2008 to teach and promote the development of Native housing and housing-related activities in cooperation with HUD and the agency’s Eastern Woodlands Office of Native American Programs (EWONAP), takes up the first two floors.

At first glance, the changes seem mostly cosmetic. The exterior is repainted from chalky white and coral to a much brighter and professional almond and gray.

The reception area, refurnished and decorated in fine art pieces, is cheerful and welcoming.

Vintage Seminole photographs and artwork that were donated to NLC by Tribes throughout Indian Country decorate walls that lead to a suite of offices for staff members, including Smith, of the Kiowa Tribe in Oklahoma, and Deputy Executive Director Kyle Doney (Seminole/Gros Ventre).

Also on the first floor, a large multi-purpose room with accordion foldout walls shoulders the building’s corner. New furniture and plenty of light set the scene for informal meetings and dining during long training days.

But not in sight, in the ceilings and walls, is a labyrinth of wires that enhances the center’s ability to deliver training via state-of-the-art technology. For example, Internet video conferencing and web-based lectures can be integrated with in-person training at the touch of a finger.

The “big ticket” items are in the maze of second floor rooms that make up classrooms, conference rooms, a recording space for webinars and a library, said Marie Dufour Bonville, director of training and technical assistance.

There, floor-to-ceiling erasable white boards fold into and out of walls to divide rooms into classrooms and smaller breakout spaces; drop-down projection screens are stored in ceiling recesses; and rolling smart boards with touch screens can be transported from space to space as needed.

Televisions are strategically placed in various locations in all rooms. In one lecture room, long conference tables are equipped with more than a dozen individual computer hook-ups. In the library, comfy chairs invite guests to relax while reading books that range from biographies to resource manuals. Computer stations allow guests to catch up with work back home, send and answer emails, print documents and complete other personal and business tasks.

Smith called the renovation project a “birthing process” that began in 2010 with plans to create the first LEAD-certified Native Learning facility in the United States, but that did not happen due to exorbitant cost.

The center is “tribal centric,” Bonville said.

Classrooms are tagged with clan names such as Panther and Big Town. The floors are covered in tribal graphic designs.

“The room names pay respect to the Tribe,” Bonville said.

NLC staff stayed on schedule throughout the nearly two-month renovation.

For example, during the first week of December alone, the team, which through HUD holds dozens of trainings at home and throughout the nation annually, held Section 184 housing training in Portland, Oregon; a seminar on grant writing for the Seneca Nation in Buffalo, New York; and a policies and procedures technical assistance training for Mashpee Wampanoag in Mashpee, Massachusetts.

During the same week, the department staged two webinars from Hollywood: Indigenous Evaluation 101: Designing Program Evaluations that are Tribally Responsive and Roadmap to Healthy Native Homes – Developing Recommendations for Your New Housing Project.

The Home Expansion Loan Program session in February will be the first Seminole Tribe training held since renovations were completed in late January. In March, NLC will host the first multi-Tribe event when it opens doors for the annual EWONAP Regional Meeting. EWONAP serves 66 Tribes in six states.

Smith said housing training via NLC is available to all Tribes in the United States, as requested and logistically available. So far, about 10,000 trainings have been provided.

Out-of-state trainings will still be provided by NLC, but the at-home renovations make it easier and more affordable to host trainings in Hollywood, Smith said. Previously, ballrooms at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood were utilized. Now, 80 to 100 trainees can be accommodated in NLC’s remodeled space.

“Everyone loves to come to Florida, and Tribes everywhere are appreciative that we are here to provide the housing training they need,” Smith said.