Rick Preston knows what it is like to have someone lend a helping hand. As a young man trying to figure out his path, his father offered him free housing in Flagstaff so that he could pursue a degree at Northern Arizona University. Preston, who is half Hopi and half Yavapai-Apache, also received assistance from the Yavapai-Apache nation, whose members helped finance his education. And, when it came time to put his degree in construction management to use, Preston received his first job offer from the Yavapai-Apache Nation. When he accepted that offer, Preston decided it was time to help those who had helped him.
"I was always mindful of the fact that the Yavapai-Apache Nation put me through college all these years, so I wanted to go back and work for them," he says. "I've been there nine years now—I started as a building inspector, moved up to operations manager, and now I'm the Executive Director for the housing program there."
As the executive director of the Yavapai-Apache Tribal Housing program in Camp Verde, AZ, Preston has had important impacts both on the program and on the community it serves. When he first arrived, for instance, Preston introduced drafting software to an office that was still using pencils and triangles as primary drafting tools. Now, Preston diligently works to build quality houses for low-income tribal families within the boundaries of the Yavapai and Apache Nation. According to Preston, the house-building effort has been a hit with a variety of people.
"The people who move into the homes love them," he says. "In fact, due to the quality of homes, the waiting list has actually doubled. We've also given tours to various organizations and people from the other tribes —everyone likes the quality of the homes."
In an effort to meet the rising demand for affordable homes among citizens of the Yavapai-Apache nation, Preston and his team have turned to the Low Income Tax Credit which is a program offered through the IRS in which tax credits are sold to private investors in order to, among other things, help finance housing development costs. According to Preston, this program allows the Yavapai-Apache Tribal Housing program to further help those whom they seek to serve. And, he says, their work hasn't gone unnoticed.
"We've actually received multiple awards from the Arizona Department of Housing for our participation in the Low Income Tax Credit Program," says Preston. "Participating in the program helps keep costs down for individuals who don't have a lot of money to spend on utilities. Resources aren't getting any cheaper, so what we're trying to do is help out the tenants in that way."
In his position as executive director, Preston is also thankful for the help he has received by being a member of the NAU community. He credits his construction management professors for helping him earn his degree, and feels that his time on campus prepared him well for what was to come.
"In terms of helping me interact with architects or bigger construction firms, I had a strong knowledge of the industry so I was able to be prepared, instead of going in blind," he says. "Afterward, I was also able to use my professors as resources on various things. It was great having (professors) remember (me). If you go to a bigger university, unless you really stand out or make yourself known, you might not be remembered."
Preston is determined to continue his personal and professional growth with the help of NAU; he is currently pursuing a Master's degree in construction management. He is also pushing forward with an effort to bring solar homes to the Yavapai-Apache community—if he can continue to get utility costs lower, he says, it will be a benefit to tribal members.
"Overall, we're providing quality, safe, and sanitary housing for our tribal members at very low cost," he says. "At the same time, we're also giving them the benefit of lower utility bills. I think it's a good thing."