By Eric Burk
THATCHER – The Gila Institute for Technology (GIFT) finally has its own home – a $788,000 facility constructed by Hughes Custom Performance.
Located at Reay Lane and Ball Park Drive, GIFT hosted an open house and ribbon-cutting ceremony to reveal the building Tuesday evening.
GIFT facilitates technical, career-oriented training for students in partnership with local high schools and organizations like Eastern Arizona College (EAC). Superintendent Troy Thygerson said GIFT was founded in 2001, and in 2002 the organization started saving money in order to build a dedicated office. Thygerson said the 4,000-square-foot building represents careful financial management instead of raised taxes.
Student advisor Marianne Taylor said in its early days, GIFT rented half a house on the EAC campus. It eventually expanded to the whole house and now has a dedicated building of its own. Project manager Tim O’Malley was pleased with the finished product.
“I wish I had Brian (Hughes) on every project,” O’Malley said.
Hughes said the structure is notable for the architecture and materials. The building combines stucco, wood and stone for a modern, natural look.
GIFT is a middle man, according to Taylor, providing resources and support for students, high schools and technical institutions like EAC. Participation in GIFT is available to charter school and home school students as well as public school students.
GIFT allows high school students in Graham and Greenlee counties to explore career options and boost their credentials. Students can get certificates or even associates degrees in 21 fields, ranging from fire science to cosmetology, for free. Funding comes largely from the Arizona Department of Education, with only about five percent of the GIFT budget coming from local taxes. GIFT is one of 13 Joint Technical Education Districts in Arizona, all of which perform similar roles. There are about 1,000 students in Graham and Greenlee counties in GIFT programs.
Janice Lawhorn, the dean at EAC responsible for working with GIFT, said the program gives students a head start for college or the workplace by allowing them to experiment with different fields.
“There’s always another opportunity,” Lawhorn said. “It can be a stepping stone.”
Lawhorn said the college likes having GIFT students because they help make the classes more cost effective.
Taylor thinks that since high school students have more structure and support coming from parents, high school teachers and professors at EAC prefer GIFT students.
“The teachers at the college always say the GIFT students are their favorite,” Taylor said.
Thygerson and Taylor cited numerous cases of students who were graduating high school with a career to help pay for college. One student is receiving both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree this month. Taylor said skills gained at GIFT can lead to a permanent vocation, or just a bridge to college or another career. In that fashion, the program can be essential to those who perhaps don’t have a secondary education on the horizon and instead are preparing to move into one of the well-paid vocational positions.
“You can leave high school with a career,” Taylor said. “Come try it out, and let us pay for it.”