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Executive honored for commitment to Native American nonprofit

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PHOENIX – Diana (Dede) Yazzie-Devine has achieved a personal and professional milestone with the celebration of the 30th anniversary of her commitment and service as the chief professional officer of Native American Connections, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the mission of improving the lives of Native American individuals and families through culturally appropriate behavioral health, affordable housing and community development services.

Previously known as Indian Rehabilitation, NAC has been in existence since 1972, and Devine has been employed as the executive director (now president/CEO) since June 4, 1979. Under Devine’s direction, what was once a small grassroots organization and safe haven operating one program for Native American men in recovery has evolved into a nationally recognized provider of affordable housing and behavioral health services for men, women, children and families. Native traditional healing, ceremonies and practices are integrated into all of its services.

When Devine first started working for the agency, she was one of three employees. Today, she oversees an organization of more than 100 employees, with an annual operating budget of $8 million, which owns and operates 15 sites throughout central Phoenix offering a continuum of affordable housing and behavioral health services which touch the lives of more than 5,000 individuals and families each year.

Dede Yazzie-Devine has effectively managed agency changes as NAC has added and moved into new lines of business – such as when NAC expanded its behavioral health programs beyond residential treatment for men to include residential programs for women (Guiding Star Treatment Center) and an outpatient clinic – and when NAC started to become a nonprofit housing developer, with initial housing communities providing transitional homeless supportive housing, and subsequent expansion into affordable permanent multi-family housing for working families and single-family homes for first-time homebuyers.

“Under the leadership of Dede Yazzie-Devine and her committed staff, Native American Connections has transformed into one of the oldest and most respected Native nonprofit organizations in Phoenix with the ability to reach and aid a more expanded population with each passing year,” said Nicolle Siele, NAC’s board chair. “Dede has often commented that she does not consider her work to be a job, but her life calling. It is clearly evident by her dedication to NAC at all levels that she still has the passion and energy to devote herself everyday to her work. It’s inspiring to see.”

Michele Honanie, a member of the Hopi Tribe, and a property manager with NAC, is one of the agency’s many success stories. Only a few years ago, she was addicted to alcohol and homeless, finding shelter only at the homes of friends and family. Fortunately, she found her way to NAC, where she received treatment for her addiction and access to other critical community supports. She also took advantage of the co-located health programs and social services offered at the one-stop Native American Community Service Center which NAC jointly owns and manages with two other urban-based Native organizations.

“I have been given a second chance at life because of all that Dede and Native American Connections have allowed me to become. I’m sober, I have a great job and am no longer homeless, and I’ve been reunited with all my children. What more could I ask for?”

A significant organizational endeavor which Devine led was the collaborative effort to co-locate NAC, the Phoenix Indian Center and Native Health. Collectively, the organizations have provided almost 120 years of service to the urban Native American community in the Greater Phoenix region through a set of non-competing core programs: behavioral health, affordable and supportive housing for homeless and low-moderate income populations; education, workforce development, Navajo and other language/cultural preservation; medical/dental, youth and elder services. All of these vital community services are now being provided under one roof at the Native American Community Service Center, a six-story 85,000-square-foot office building on Central Avenue, across the street from Steele Indian School Park, which the three agencies jointly purchased in December 2005.

“It took several years of collaboratively planned community summits involving the urban Native American community in the Valley to birth the idea of a one-stop shop for services now called the Native American Community Service Center,” said Patricia Hibbeler, CEO of the Phoenix Indian Center. “Dede played a key role by not only giving light to the summit process but ultimately the formation of the partnership and purchase for the building. We are grateful for a permanent home which allows our customers to have the ease of delivery of services from all three organizations in one location, and for Dede’s 30-year dedication to service.”

Devine is crucial to the strategic direction of a capital campaign for the Native American Community Service Center, currently underway to raise more than $4.2 million. The building requires major renovations and improvements in order to best serve the tenants and clientele of the agencies operating in the space. Devine’s resources and expertise in property development is instrumental for the campaign, as is her wide range of professional and personal contacts who have been strategic in successful efforts of the campaign.

Devine has an M.B.A. from Arizona State University and is a state licensed and internationally certified counselor. She has extensive knowledge about all aspects of the agency’s work. As part of her community leadership, Devine has dedicated her time to numerous boards and committees operating at the local, state and national levels where she has been able to share and contribute her expertise.

In recognition of her community leadership, Devine has been awarded the Valley Leadership Woman of the Year 2003; the Diane Levan Memorial Community Development Block Grant Award from the U.S Housing and Urban Development’s Phoenix office in 2004 for leadership and dedication in providing quality affordable housing and supportive services; Nonprofit Director of the Year (large organization) by the Organization of Nonprofit Executives in 2006; and 2008 YWCA Tribute to Women Award (Business Leader).