Furthering education for at-risk youth

It was a night that changed Jack Fleming's life.

After a weekend of several violent crimes involving teenagers near his Southern California home, Fleming began to write a mission statement.

He was deeply concerned about at-risk youth in the area and he saw his background as a general contractor as a way to help them out.

His idea was to strengthen the work force by teaching at-risk youth the construction trade.

"I had two and a half years of education in a trade school, because of that I have been in the business for 53 years," Fleming said. "If a guy with a basic two-and-a-half-year education can end up developing projects and helping people to help themselves, that is a way to pay back the community."

It took 35 years and a move to Northern Nevada, but he finally found a way.

"A friend of mine from Carson City called me about eight years ago to tell me he had met the neatest lady who had a special dream," Fleming said.

The woman was Ellie O'Toole, who had a nonprofit foundation, Sierra Assisted Living, with no money. Her dream was to build a cooperative self-assisted living facility for high-functioning, mentally and physically challenged adults.

"My friend said, 'You're the only guy I know who is nuts enough to come up and help this lady,'" Fleming said.

Six weeks later, Fleming and his wife were living in the Carson Valley.

Fleming had an extensive background building the "un-buildable" and the "undevelopable" projects.

"I was thinking how in the world we were going to build this project with no money," he said. "It was then that I remembered the mission statement.

"We had worked for so long in Southern California to build a program and were never able to get it accomplished."

He pitched his ideas to the China Spring Youth Camp and officials there welcomed Fleming's program right away.

Fleming's idea was to teach youths at the camp the construction trade while having them build modules for the assisted-care facility.

In return, the students gained dual high school and college credit plus the opportunity to obtain their diploma.

Fleming worked for two years to get the necessary approvals for the project, after which it ran for roughly five years.

In the meantime, Fleming was developing the Sierra Assisted Living project on a site on Kimmerling Road now known as Ellington Manor.

Ellie O'Toole died in February of 2000, at the age of 55. Several months later, Fleming's mission statement was adopted by Nevada Center Vocational Education Research.

Fleming continued to work with various government and commercial agencies to get funding for Ellington Manor, but was unsuccessful.

He also started a building program for inmates in the Nevada State Prison so that construction on Ellington Manor would continue.

"Basically, it was our goal to take these guys and make taxpayers out of them," he said. "When they get out of prison, they will have a marketable trade."

He has since helped start programs for Douglas and Carson High schools through WNCC to continue the building effort and to continue to strengthen the work force.

"There are over 60,000 new products in our field every year," he said. "We like to use the best products available, so teaching these younger kids to use them now will be very beneficial to both them and the industry later on."

Ground broke on Ellington Manor several weeks ago and the Sierra Assisted Living board gathered at the Kimmerling property on O'Toole's birthday to watch as the concrete was poured.

"Ellie's dream is becoming a reality," Fleming said.

"I just love this place, man," he said. "What we couldn't get done in 35 years in California, we got done in just a few years here."


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