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Gila River Indian Community Utility Authority Contributes More Than Just Power To Their Community

“How can Gila River Indian Community Utility Authority (GRICUA) provide more and better services to our customers within the Gila River Indian Community Reservation (Community), as well as contribute more than just power to our Community?”

That has been the ongoing question for past and current members of the GRICUA Board of Directors, which initiated a decades long journey to fulfill the vision of the Gila River Indian Community Council (GRIC Council), to provide reliable, competitively priced power to all areas of, and contiguous to, the Community, which is located just south of Phoenix Arizona. GRICUA started out small in 1998, initially only serving the Community’s first casino and hotel, but thanks to pragmatic planning, it has grown to serve over 3,400 residential and commercial customers within the GRICUA service area covering approximately 399 square miles (255,360 acres). The fact that this relatively small operation provides electricity for over 3400 homes and businesses is highly commendable on its own, but to reduce GRICUA’s success to just their functions as a utility would be a great disservice.

As a Native American reservation, the Community faces unique obstacles to its prosperity in addition to the more common problems found in most rural communities. Even still, GRICUA shines as an example of the sort of foundation a utility can provide for community growth as both a business and cultural touchpoint. For GRICUA, it was not enough to simply have a stable utility providing crucial infrastructure; they have and continue to go above and beyond to leave a lasting impression on future generations of the Community.

“The GRICUA Board wanted to be able to expose the youth of the Community to more experiences and opportunities than they might normally have access to within the Community.” Says Arnold Mejia, Finance Director of GRICUA. Collaboration between the GRICUA Board and senior management resulted in the successful development and implementation of such programs.  Further, the GRICUA Board also supports other programs in the Community, including youth programs, through donations.

“We wanted to have a real initiative that would include youth and get people interested in what we’re doing. We’re very customer-centric and have a lot of low-income members and extended multigenerational households so it’s important to engage with people both as customers and members of the same Community.” Explains John Lewis, GRICUA Board Chairman. “Our ultimate goal has always been to provide a path for members of the Community, especially the youth, to broader opportunities for development and success within the Community. All of this started out very informally, as just a natural extension of that desire which was later formalized as a series of programs.

That desire eventually evolved into offering the following programs to all Community Members:

  • NRECA Washington Youth Tour
  • Summer High School Student Internships
  • Summer College Student Internships
  • Science, Technology, Engineering, Architecture, Agriculture, Arts & Mathematics (STEAAAM) Program
  • Board Youth Internships
  • Technical Training Program

First came the partnership with NRECA for their annual Washington Youth Tour (WYT), which led to GRICUA providing several more opportunities and programs designed to give Community youth additional relationships and support systems. The WYT program allows GRICUA to send up to five Community Members on the National Youth Rural Utility tour where they get to tour Washington, D.C. and meet the congressional representatives of Arizona. After returning from the trip, each youth gives a presentation in each of seven Districts in the Community, with the goal of broadening their interpersonal and presentational skills.

The STEAAAM program offers the opportunity for all Community Members to participate in GRICUA’s learning development program that adds the arts, architecture, and agriculture to the standard science, technology, engineering, and mathematics offerings for 5th-8th graders. STEAAAM participants are able to interact with facilities and representatives from groups like Intel, Boeing, Adobe, Arizona State University, Arizona Science Center, Gila River Farms, and Huhugam Heritage Center over two weeks.

In addition, each summer, up to 6 high school and college-aged interns at GRICUA get to learn the ins and outs of the utility business from the office to the field, with a focus on how current employees gained the knowledge and skills that allow them to be successful in their positions. This grants each intern real experience with each position within the utility while earning a steady income and developing a resume. The program also focuses on the development of soft skills like how to handle interviews and filling out applications.

Also furthering their goal of strengthening relationships with the Community, GRICUA supports an alumni group made up of former students of their programs and takes an active part in the local festivals and parades. GRICUA has become well known within the Community by making these resources available and tackling issues where they see them. Most recently, GRICUA created a technical training program for Community Members, with a focus on young adults. GRICUA’s Technical Training Program (TTP) is a 12-month training classification used to prepare incumbents for possible acceptance into the GRICUA Line Worker, Solar Technician or Meter Technician Apprentice Programs. TTP candidates complete a structured, self-study, online academic program with tuition, fees, and books paid for by GRICUA, with optional tutoring provided. This grassroots approach to developing specific technical skills is an amazing example of the types of support a civically-minded utility can offer members of their community.

“Overall, we will feel that we need to be actively engaged with the Community.”, says Lewis. “We want the Community to be proud of their utility and we really believe that if we engage and invest in the youth it will go a long way to make the Community a better place and improve the quality of life of the Community Members. Sure, we are primarily here to provide electricity to the Community, but we are also happy to provide a metaphorical light in the darkness. We hope that what we’ve started contributes to great positive change for GRICUA and the Community.”

To learn more about GRICUA and the Gila River Community visit their website here.