May 22, 2008
Vol. 87 - No. 21
NAMES celebrates 12 years
Written by Lynda Nuttal and Joshua Cole
On April 15, the Native American Multi-Cultural Education School turned 12. To celebrate, NAMES had a barbecue lunch on April 19 with past graduates and friends to NAMES.
Twelve years ago, on April 15, 1996, NAMES GED School opened its doors in a church five blocks from the current location at 3600 Morrison Road (one block south of Alameda). Since that eventful week, the school has helped more than 1,200 students improve their academic skills.
Founder Lynda Nuttal appealed for help with letters to the editor of both the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News. Both dailies printed her letter, and she received $1,9000, three months’ rent for the new building.
When NAMES first opened, it had two small classrooms: one had no windows and the other had no heat. Yet, those students had the vision and the heat from their determined passion to pass the GED. Throughout the years, many students have received their GEDs. All who tried improved their education. There have been 249 graduates from NAMES and each has been special because nobody gave up on his or her dream.
Although students pay a small facility fee to participate ($35 initiation, plus $15 per month), NAMES is funded by grants and other donations.
NAMES planted its garden on May 17, and its next graduation is scheduled for June 25.
section of the Denver Rocky Mountain News
Thursday September 21, 2000
A Multi-Cultural Education
Makes A Stand For American Indians
Making a NAMES for
By Mark Wolf
News Staff Writer
Lynda Nuttall says she would have been nowhere
without her education. Now her life is about making a somewhere
for her students.
Nuttall is the director of NAMES (Native
American Multi-Cultural Education School), located in a small
building that still bears some of the signs of its previous
incarnation as a print shop. It sits along Morrison Road,
an angular bisection of Denverís tidy grid system.
The school emphasizes adult education: test
preparation for the General Equivalency Diploma test, basic
education in reading, writing and mathematics, and computer
"Weíre the only adult-education program
in Denver that targets Native Americans," Nuttall said.
"Native Americans have the highest drop-out rate of any
ethnic group. Last year we served 144 students, 38 percent
of them Native American. Thatís a high figure when weíre just
1 percent of the population,"
NAMES is a few blocks from the Denver Indian
Center, where Nuttall ran the Adult Education program until
government funding dried up in 1996. Many of NAMESí students
are referred by the Denver Indian Center.
"When we closed, the students were
crying, the staff was crying," Nuttall said. "Two
weeks before the lay-off, I went in and wanted to be by myself
and started packing. Thatís when I stopped crying and got
mad. I could get another job, my staff could get other jobs,
but my students couldnít. There was no other place that had
a combination of daytime and nighttime classes."
Letters from Nuttall published in both of
Denverís daily newspapers spurred $1980 in donations, and
she opened NAMES at a small church five blocks from its current
location, which they acquired in 1997.
"It was important for me to stay in
this community," she said.
Fund-raising was slow. "I didnít know
if we could make it to that first September," she said.
Today, NAMESí $104,000 budget is bolstered by an annual $75,000
grant from the Colorado Department of Education.
"Thatís my Betty Crocker seal of approval,"
Nuttall joked. "Itís important for funders to see."
Explaining how she stretches that modest
budget, she said: "I never buy anything until I see if
I can get it for free. Lucent Technologies and U S WEST (now
Qwest) have been very generous. They gave us most of our equipment
and have matched volunteer time (making donations to match
the amount of time employees volunteer)."
Nuttall is the only full-time staffer; three
teachers work part time, and 32 volunteers fill out the schedule.
Students pay a $10 entry fee and $10 a month for classes.
Nuttall grew up on the Cheyenne River Sioux
reservation in South Dakota but left to attend high school,
dropping out when she was sixteen.
"I had a lot of social problems adjusting
to life off the reservation," she said. " I had
a very strong mother, and she said I had to pay rent. I got
a job as a live-in nanny for six months. My mother said, ĎLynda,
you know they have summer school,í and I went and never thought
of quitting again."
After graduating from college, she taught
English, speech, physical education and drama in Montana and
Wyoming before moving to Colorado in 1986 with her husband,
Byron, who died three years ago.
"I applied to work at the Indian Center
because I wanted to take a shot at adult education,"
Jim Rodgers, operations manager in the training
department for Lucent Technologies spinoff Avaya, came to
see the school at the urging of his friend Carl Sing, who
was on NAMESí board.
"While I was there, a knock came at
the door and Carl went to answer it. He went over to Lynda
and the next thing I knew she was getting money out of her
purse. Later on, Carl told me the guy at the door was a young
Native American on the street whoíd heard about Lynda. He
thought he had lice and needed a shower, and she gave him
"I saw a selfless woman who helps other
people. Thatís what got to me. I saw her heart open to this
young man. Itís a labor of love."
Rodgers joined NAMESí board of directors,
and he and Sing, who works for Qwest, are working on a project
to upgrade NAMESí teaching computers.
Formerly, the demographics of NAMESí students
listed heavily toward women from 20-45 years old.
"In the past year and a half, 68 percent
of our students have been between 14 and 23," Nuttall
said. "Women have gone back into the workforce, and the
youth are being kicked out or are dropping out of the school
"Itís not a good sign of the times
to see those youths in here. They come at the ninth-grade
level but test at the sixth grade level. The young people
we get arenít troublemakers. Theyíre respectful of adults
and excited about being here.
"Our goal is not just a GED. Itís about
getting them into college or into a training program."
Besides basic education and computer classes,
NAMES offers workshops designed to help people in everyday
activities such as obtaining a driverís license, registering
to vote, reading to their children, and visiting their childrenís
teachers at school.
In a courtyard behind the building, Denver
Urban Resources Partnership has funded a garden, and Carlotta
Espinoza will paint a mural next month.
The garden was designed in the shape of
the Indian symbol known as the Morning Star Medicine Wheel.
Each tip represents a value: respect, truth, humility, wisdom,
compassion, honor, honesty and love. Nuttall wants these values
to enhance the skills being taught.
"We are moving to a values-based program,"
she said. "I always tell people we do something different
here, but I wasnít getting the point across. One of our students
brought in a Morning Star Medicine Wheel quilt and said: "This
is what weíre about. Weíre all in this together.í"
school fosters literacy, values
also open to non-Native Americans
Special to The Denver Post
May 17, 1998
Charles Townsend wants to shed his gang life.
After countless fights, four broken noses, and getting
kicked out of four high schools, he knows it's not the life
"It's no fun going out getting drunk and getting beat
up," said Townsend, 16. "I'm getting older. I don't want
to be like one of those dudes 50 years old still gang-bangin'
who can't even get a job at McDonald's."
He has dreams of an office job and spending time speaking
to youths about the dangers of gangs.
To do that, Townsend turned to the Native American Multicultural
Education School, an adult-based learning program geared
toward helping students obtain a general equivalency diploma
and gain computer experience. Though it targets American
Indians, the program is open to anyone.
"NAMES is there for me whenever I need them," Townsend
In 1995, Chuntay Her Many Horses was in a car accident
that left him with a brain injury.
"I had to learn to walk, read and eat again," he said.
The teachers at NAMES patiently helped him despite the
fact he could only read about a page and a half of text
before he'd start to feel dizzy. But last month, Her Many
Horses, 25, obtained his GED and is now learning computer
skills at NAMES to help him prepare for college.
"I don't want anyone to feel sorry for me," he said. "I
want to get an education, get a job and take care of my
Founder and Executive Director Lynda Nuttall said her
program strives to provide more than just a certificate.
"The staff and volunteers try to incorporate honesty,
respect, truth, laughter, integrity and compassion into
teh program," she said. "These values are often over-looked.
They are the ones people usually think should be taught
Two years ago, the NAMES program was the part of the Denver
Indian Center, but then lost its federal funding.
Nuttall realized the 58 students in the program had nowhere
to go, so she decided to try things on her own.
With $1,900 in donations and a few volunteers, she reopened
the program in April 1996.
"When we first opened our doors, 25 people came. We wondered
if we could make it until September. We did, and that was
good, but even better is that we just celebrated our second
birthday," Nuttall said.
Last year, the program served 91 students; this year,
it has 120.
"Ours is an untraditional program," she explained. "We
deal with the whole person. Education cannot be a priority
if you're being evicted from your house or have nothing
The program is "open entry, open exit," allowing students
to set their own schedule.
"Some students work part time, some have child-care issues,"
Nuttall said. "The ones who have been in school recently
go through faster. Some have been out of school for 25 years
- it takes them longer."
To accommodate as many schedules as possible, the program
is offered from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday,
and Monday and Wednesday nights from 6 to 8:30 p.m.
Besides a $10 entry fee, all services are provided to
students for free.
Another benefit of the program is the range of students'
"We have students from 16 to 60," Nuttall said. "It's
fun to watch the older students teach the younger ones respect
and other values. And if the older students have problems
with their teens, the teens in the program will tell them
what to do."
rebounds to serve GED hopefuls
Denver Post Staff Writer
May 20, 1997
In donated space behind an unmarked door in a Denver west-side
church, a spiritual revival is under way. This one isn't religious.
Several students work quietly on computer terminals, others
pore over workbooks full of math word problems.
At the Native American Multi-Cultural Education School, spirits
broken by past academic failures are being resurrected each
Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the Native American
Multi-Cultural Education School has overcome obstacles of money,
space and staff to remain committed to its mission of providing
adult basic education for Native Americans and other minorities.
The fact that the school exists at all is a testament to the
faith and perseverance of its director of nine years, Lynda
Nuttall. The Native American adult education program was in
its 20th year at the Denver Indian Center when federal Title
9 funds for adult-education programs evaporated in March 1996.
Without the $286,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education,
58 students saw their hopes for attaining a GED (general equivalency
"I cried. We were all very upset," said Evelyn Gutierrez,
a 35-year-old mother of five who was halfway through the five-part
GED program when Nuttall was forced to close the school.
"I'd started once before to get my GED at the Denver Indian
Center, got discouraged and quit. I had finally told myself,
'Evelyn, you're going to do it this time and you're not going
to stop.' Then - kaboom! - it was like a weight slammed down
on me. No one knew where we'd end up."
For NAMES Executive Director Nuttall, resurrecting the school
was never in question. Finding the money and a place to enable
these students to continue their education was the obstacle.
Nuttail managed to reopen the school one month after its closure
with just $1,980 in donations, gathered by word-of-mouth and
several well-placed letters to newspapers describing the program's
funding woes, including one letter published in The Denver Post.
"Most of these students didn't drop out because they didn't
want an education. They dropped out because they fell behind
moving to and from the reservation or because they wanted independence
from their families," said Nuttall, a Cheyenne River Sioux/Cree
who dropped out of high school herself as a teenager in Billings,
After a year of working for meager pay as a nanny, Nuttall
returned to summer school and eventually graduated from high
school and Eastern Montana State College.
"I just knew that we'd have to find a place for these students,"
Nuttall said. "I couldn't just tell 58 people that 'your school
went away.' "
Located in a west-side Pentecostal church - Eternal Life Temple
- NAMES is in close quarters compared to its former offices
at the Denver Indian Center.
Instead of 4,600 square feet on two floors, 25 computers and
58 students, the not-for-profit school opened April 15, 1996,
in a two-room, converted storage area with donated books, furniture
and just two computers.
Finding the money to keep the school doors open looked like
a slim probability. Twenty-five students - many of them Native
American but others are Hispanic, Black and Anglo - enrolled
at the new location to continue their studies. Each paid $10
to enroll. In the past 12 months, 80 students have begun or
continued their GED studies at NAMES. Today, as many as 17 are
expected to graduate with their GEDs during a ceremony at Colorado
"This place is like a one-room schoolhouse," said Bill Richey,
the school's lone instructor who, like 'Nuttall, is part teacher,
part coach and a full time mentor to the diverse group of students.
On one bright white wall, a constellation of construction-paper
stars decorated with glitter trumpet the names of the school's
successful GED graduates.
"Make a Name for yourself at NAMES" reads the slogan just
Richey is paid 10 hours per week by the Community College
of Denver's GED Institute, and the rest of his pay comes from
grant money Nuttall has gathered from sources like the Anschutz
Foundation, the Graham Foundation, Colorado Department of Education,
Denver Neighborhood Partnership and private donations. Tight
finances mean that Nuttall can not yet afford to pay herself.
"I'm volunteering," she said with a modest smile.
"At first, funders wanted us to have nonprofit status and
be sound financially before they would fund us. They also want
you to have a history, too. The initial funders who came through
for us are what I call the 'risk takers,' " Nuttall said. "But
now we've had our first birthday party, we'll soon have our
graduation. Now we have some history."
That history is comforting for students, too, many of whom
found NAMES through recommendations of family and friends who've
studied for their GEDs there.
Eighteen-year-old Tonetta Martell, whose heritage is Sioux/Assiniboin,
dropped out of Lincoln High School in February. "I got way behind
over the past few years because my little brother had leukemia
and we were traveling all around, from the Fort Peck Reservation
in Montana to the city. I should have been graduating as a senior
this month, but I'm only at the sophomore level, and no one
would give me the help I needed."
Until her mother brought her to NAMES just over a month ago.
Tonetta's mom had come to NAMES for tutoring and has attained
"I never wanted to leave school. I wanted to finish," Tolletta
said. "I kept telling myself that a GED was not as good as a
high-school diploma. But if I'd stayed at Lincoln, I would have
been 21 years old by the time I graduated."
Tonetta is exactly the kind of student that NAMES must continue
to serve, Nuttall said. Other GED programs exist in the community,
but few operate during daytime hours - which is the only time
some students can find child care or cram a few hours of study
in between variable work hours.
"Without NAMES, so many of these students would lose heart
and give up on their education," Nuttall said. "These students
have a fear of failure, but they also have a fear of success.
Many of them are afraid that if they succeed, others will expect
more of them and they'll also have to expect more of themselves."
There can be a lot of discouragement when returning to the
structured environment of reading comprehension and basic math
word problems after years out of the classroom.
Gutierrez, who is part Oglala Sioux, left school at age 16,
moved out of her family home and set out to support herself.
Now a mother of three children, she says she passes on the lessons
she learned to her kids.
"I thought I was going to be independent, but I discovered
that I ended up being dependent on other people - I couldn't
get a job that would pay enough to support myself. Now I tell
my kids that your education is your success in life. Don't be
like your mama - it took me 16 years to graduate.
"Our motto here is 'Don't look back. Keep going forward. There
ain't no stopping.' "
The learn-at-your-own-pace structure works, since many NAMES
students are women with children at home. The majority also
live nearby in the Westwood neighborhood - which is why Nuttall
searched for a new location not too far from the former site
at the Denver Indian Center.
Near the door, a baby bassinet with yellow ruffles is a testament
to the school's family-friendly atmosphere. Fellow students
brought in the crib to help encourage an 18-year-old student
who had a child just one month ago to continue her studies.
"We help each other out. It would be easy for some of the
students to quit, but we all pitch in," said single-mother Jackie
Pina, who is of Apache descent. Jackie has a 4-year-old son
and recently graduated with her GED after two years in the program.
"When I dropped out of school, I wasn't pregnant or on drugs,"
said 30-year-old Jackie. "I completed the eighth grade, I was
doing well. I was a good student. But my father was disabled
and diabetic and needed around-the-clock care. My mother was
working and someone had to be home with him. So I dropped out."
Now, both Evelyn and Jackie are learning computer skills at
NAMES that will give them an edge over other GED recipients
in the job market.
"Lynda never gave up on us. She told us she'd find a place
for us, no matter what it took," said Evelyn, who now works
30 hours per week at the school, tutoring and encouraging students.
"There's a closeness here. It's almost like family to me,"
Evelyn said. "I come here and can talk about what's happening
in my life and they take the time to listen here. It's meant
the world to me. And best of all, I can hold my head up now.
I'm proud of me."
She can be proud of her sister Louise, too. Evelyn's example
encouraged her sister to enroll at NAMES and work for her GED.
Today, that sister has found employment and will be given
a handmade beaded Indian tassel at NAMES' graduation - and two
sisters will celebrate a shared sense of accomplishment and
| CONTACTS: Director, Lynda Nuttall 303-934-8086,
or call 303-934-0028.
Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org