Mario was 12 years old when he and his six siblings were abandoned by their drug-addicted mother, the only parent they had left after their father left the family in 2004. His aunt and uncle, Victoria and Jeff, stepped forward and took physical custody of Mario and his younger sister, while the rest of his siblings were placed in the care of various other extended family members.
Victoria and Jeff came to Arizona’s Children Association to receive help in obtaining legal guardianship of the two children. The KARE Center walked them through the process and paperwork for guardianship as well as the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, or AHCCCS, Arizona’s Medicaid program. In addition, Mario and his sister were provided with much needed counseling services to help them cope with their issues of loss, pain and abandonment. With the support of Arizona’s Children Association and the loving care of his aunt and uncle, Mario got through the difficult adolescent years.
Today, he is 17 and recently graduated from Yuma’s Kofa High School with As and Bs. He is proud to be joining the United States Army. When asked what he is most proud of, Mario says with a smile and sparkle in his eyes, “Although I have not made it, I’m still going. I have a family, a lot of friends and I’m proud that soon I’ll be serving my country.”
“I’m a foster kid, for several years now, moving from place to place in Yuma. The trip to Universal Studios Los Angeles was not only a fun vacation, but an opportunity to see something and be someplace that I want to be as I’m older. All of that couldn’t have happened without your generous act of kindness.”
This young man is among 13,000 children in foster care in Arizona. He lives with his two brothers and another group of three siblings in a foster home in Yuma. Funds from the Yuma Community Foundation to the Arizona Friends of Foster Children Foundation provide the “something extras” like athletic activities, music lessons, prom dresses, and family vacations, for children in foster care.
“For us, as a family of 10, taking a trip like this would be very difficult,” said his foster mom. “I wanted the children to have a memorable experience they might not otherwise ever have.”
Maria’s dreams were about love–a job she loved, an energetic 9-year-old, a good home in a nice neighborhood and a man who swept her off her feet. Maria seemed to be living her dream life.
What went on behind closed doors was a very different story.
She taught her 9-year-old to call 911 from the next-door neighbor’s house if things ever got out of control. One evening, Maria sought safety in the bathroom. After an hour of attempts to break down the door, her abuser finally tired and drove off. Maria promised to make a new future for herself and her family.
Leaving her abuser meant giving up her home and losing her job. She took a minimum-wage job to pay for her motel before finding Sharon Manor. Today, Maria is finishing her social work degree at Northern Arizona University, so she can support other women’s dreams of surviving domestic violence.
Riding his favorite horse, Mariah, at CANTER has helped Mike find purpose and worthiness in his life again. Diagnosed with diabetes at age 13 and multiple sclerosis as an adult, Mike lost the ability to work as his disabilities progressed, leading to depression and a loss of purpose. A home health nurse introduced him to CANTER’s therapeutic riding program.
Mike needed a horse handler and side walkers initially, but now he rides independently, gaining physical and emotional benefits with each ride. He also serves as a volunteer for CANTER, making coffee, putting out helmets and running errands for staff. His quick wit and upbeat attitude make him a favorite to be around.
“The riding has strengthened my legs and massaged my body,” said Mike. “The organization has given me a sense of ‘being somebody.’ It is like a family here. I would like to live right here. I won’t stop riding until I am dead. In fact, I want my ashes spread out here. This is my life.”
At nearly 3 years old, Lisa* is still too young to diagnose with suspected conditions that include dwarfism, immune system problems and intestinal dysfunction. Her mother Jackie* provides constant care on monthly Social Security benefits of just $685.
When Lisa’s father, with a history of documented domestic violence and child neglect, wanted back into her life, Jackie turned to Defenders of Children. Caseworkers counseled Jackie on how to respond, and championed her working with the father to understand Lisa’s developmental delays and medical requirements. A volunteer lawyer, obtained through the Defenders of Children’s legal services program, kept court involvement to a minimum. Their CareKids Services Program helped with special-needs baby goods, since Lisa isn’t old enough to qualify for AHCCCS healthcare.
Lisa’s father decided against full custody, but he is working to change his lifestyle and share in the all-too-short life of the darling, diminutive livewire who is his daughter.
As the economy declined, so did Todd Dunning’s sales. Todd, his wife, Crystal, and their two young daughters were soon homeless, living with a friend, and deeply in debt. The stress led the couple to separate and contemplate divorce. But they wanted so much to work through their situation and provide a caring, stable home for their girls.
Todd and Crystal came to Catholic Charities for help and enrolled in the Empower U program. They learned to repair their credit, began to arrange payment plans with their debtors, and implemented financial literacy tools that will serve them for the rest of their lives.
In less than a year, the couple repaid most of their debt and started a savings account. Todd secured a job with a higher salary and Crystal returned to school to study nursing. They have recommitted themselves to making their marriage work and continue to work toward long-term financial independence.
“Growing our family through adoption had always been the plan,” Monica* said. “Having our daughter on a feeding tube was NOT in the plan.”
Doctors encouraged her to contact Feeding Matters, but Monica wanted action, not what she perceived as a support group. Finally, at the end of her rope, she picked up a Feeding Matters flyer and visited the Web site. When she and her husband returned home from a TR-eat™ for Success workshop, progress was immediate and monumental. Within three days, their daughter took a dozen bites voluntarily.
“I shudder to think that if we had not come to that Feeding Matters meeting last fall, we would still be on a tube with no plan for coming off of it,” said Monica.
Today, their daughter is tube free and the family has a model for continued treatment and a logical plan. Monica feels armed with “loads of research, resources, support…and hope!”
NAU Foster Grandparent volunteer Juventino Valencia is an inspiration to students and staff at San Luis Head Start. Having retired three years ago after more than 60 years working as an agricultural laborer, Juventino’s educational background is limited but his passion for children has led to an exceptional way to provide support to the classroom. Juventino sings and plays guitar for the children as a way to provide instructions, with the “clean-up!” song being just one example. The classroom teacher indicates that his musical approach has proven successful.
Working with the children has given Juventino the opportunity to feel a sense of accomplishment and purpose for life. “The children helped me overcome the death of my adult son with their joy and love for life,” he said.
With support from the Yuma Community Foundation, the Foster Grandparents program can reimburse volunteers like Juventino for mileage so they may volunteer at no cost while helping children with special needs to succeed.
“I came into this house weighing 310 lbs. and wearing a helmet to protect my head, a brace on both legs, and using a walker. I moved slowly and could not stand for very long. I remember telling Trisha (who operates the adult foster care home) and her son, Nathan, that I was finally home! Now with time and patience from the foster family, I no longer wear the braces or helmet, and the walker sits in the garage. I like my vegetables because Nathan is a good cook and he can cover up the taste with spices. I ate my first bowl of split-pea soup. Nathan and his grandmother made it homemade and it was very good! Today, I walk every morning in the cul de sac where we live and I can do several laps in circles without help. I eat food that is good for me and get to have cake and ice cream, and even root beer once in a while, too! I have lost 141 lbs. since September 2008, and I feel good every day. My life has truly been changed and blessed. My life will never be the same!”
–Jacqueline, 48 (a client of Foundation for Senior Living)
Noah, a Rhodesian Ridgeback and Gabriel’s Angels therapy dog, makes regular visits to a group home for teenage boys. One afternoon a particular boy, David, quietly approached and asked, “Can I tell you something?” Curious, the volunteer took Noah and David aside to hear what he needed to say.
David simply stated, “I get it!” Unsure of this statement, the volunteer asked what he meant. David then revealed that he had abused animals in the past due to frustration with his home environment. He proclaimed his love for Noah and said he finally understood that animals have feelings, too.
The Gabriel’s Angels volunteer had tears in her eyes as she replied, “This is exactly why I volunteer with Noah—for you to see animals are to be respected and loved.” David’s ‘I get it’ meant that Noah’s unconditional love impacted him in a way that no human could accomplish.
When Katie’s father was shot in a hunting accident, she acted quickly. The 14-year-old used shoelaces to create a tourniquet and positioned her father on a slope with his feet up. When she couldn’t locate her father’s truck, she ran at top speed back to camp, covering 13 miles in two hours.
It was her Girl Scout experience in Flagstaff that literally saved her father’s life. “Without Girl Scouts, I wouldn’t have known what to do,” said Katie.
Katie is a peer model for Girl Scouts in the community. Unassuming and accomplished, she is an example of someone who has used her Girl Scout experience to overcome adversity and better her community. Katie was recently honored with the Young Woman of Distinction Award (Courage) at Girl Scout’s Annual World Awards, recognizing her ability to overcome her own learning and motor-skill disabilities and to lead and encourage other young women in her community.
For 10-year-old Anthony, life is chaotic. Dad is jailed and the family is homeless. They’ve moved four times in the past 14 months. Furniture comes and goes. Mom secludes herself in her bedroom. Anthony and his siblings receive little attention, stability or security. They rarely make it to school on time. Anthony was so far behind, he was being recommended for special-education placement.
Then, Anthony was matched with a mentor, Jason, through the Youth at Risk PALS Program. Jason offers the stability and consistency Anthony needs, while being a positive male role model. Jason developed a strategy to help Anthony with his reading and motivate him and his siblings to get to school on time. Anthony is happier, has had new experiences with Jason, believes school is important and has improved academically since being matched with his PAL. The school is no longer considering special-education placement for Anthony.
Mary* was in tears when Helping Hands for Graham County called her back. Five people were living in her home, all unemployed and living on one disability check and a small child-support payment. During an electrical cooperative dig, a line bringing gas to the home had been severed and because the line was no longer up to code, it was the homeowner’s responsibility to replace it. The repair estimate was more than $1,000.
Helping Hands stepped in with solutions, beginning with Mary’s grandson digging the trench himself in order to save money. Then, the plumbing company finished with a back hoe, pressure checked the lines and certified the new connections. It was a great collaboration! Money? It came from grants from collaborative partners.
The home also received critical safety repairs to the front step, the bathroom floor and the back door that had been damaged during a break-in attempt. Paint-A-Thon volunteers painted the
home exterior and donated paint was provided to the family for the interior walls.
Tiffany was angry and depressed when she first arrived at Hacienda HealthCare. Having a bright mind but paralyzed from the neck down, she refused to cooperate and lashed out at her caregivers. At 18, Tiffany suffered an orthopedic decapitation as a result of being hit by a drunk driver. With a tracheotomy and ventilator to breathe and a g-tube for nutrition, her care eventually exceeded what her family could provide.
With Hacienda’s caring staff, patience, love, and encouraging words, Tiffany began to soften. Simple goals of getting dressed and into her wheel chair to have sushi at a restaurant with her favorite staff member and sister began to motivate her. She now socializes, goes shopping at the mall, and uses a laser eye-sensor to communicate on her computer.
Now, at 23, Tiffany plans to take online college courses and become an attorney to help others like herself.
Sarah is a kind, 16-year-old who was referred to Meet Me Where I Am, a program of Arizona’s Children Association, because she was at high risk of being taken advantage of by others. She struggled with making friends and was teased. She was so shy she would only speak to her own family.
MMWIA began to support Sarah in developing social and coping skills, and acquiring the proficiency to become assertive in challenging situations through her participation in skill-building projects, role playing and family outings. Sarah and the MMWIA team collaborated with her parents and her school. The school noted Sarah made incredible strides in her ability to share emotions, communicate feelings, feel relaxed in social situations, and even excelled in academics and sports at school. Sarah received awards for Student of the Month, Volleyball, Track, Cheerleading, Honor Roll, Hall of Fame for grades (As and Bs) and achievement for grades.
Mission of Mercy (M.O.M.) met Anna in 2006, when she was a 37-year-old mother of four children ranging from 17 years to 18 months. After doctors at M.O.M. confirmed a lump in her breast, she was referred for further diagnosis to St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, M.O.M.’s breast cancer hospital partner.
Anna’s biopsy came back positive, and SJHMC coordinated a team of charity care doctors who performed a mastectomy. Anna completed cancer therapy and her prognosis was good. She and her family returned to M.O.M. for their ongoing medical care.
Over the next three years, Anna celebrated her eldest son’s graduation from high school, prepared her youngest son to start kindergarten, and enjoyed the daily routines of life. Sadly, in 2009, Anna’s cancer returned, and in January 2010 she passed away at home surrounded by
her loved ones.
While Anna’s passing is heartbreaking, it is heartwarming to know that through the collaboration of M.O.M., Susan G. Komen For the Cure, and SJHMC, life-extending care was given to a young mother who desperately needed a safety net to see her through.
This summer, a group of eight middle- and high-school artists were chosen to work on a mural to beautify public restrooms in Patagonia. Two of the young artists, Kelsey and Duke, are home-schooled and have limited access to art experiences. These two young people showed up daily for a month in the hot June sun, ready to work. Their mother said they came home everyday excited to share stories about what they had learned and what was to come the following day.
Kelsey and Duke recounted that what felt like a monumental task at the start gradually transformed into a doable, sequential process under the careful instruction of Therese Fontes, the teaching artist.
The experience not only strengthened their confidence as artists, it made them feel proud to be part of a process that beautified and benefited the whole community.
With several friends having passed away in nursing homes, Josephine was determined to remain living in her home, where she was familiar with her belongings and her surroundings. The only question was how she would get her food and medical care if necessary. Josephine turned to People Who Care.
Josephine’s age and medical condition made it impossible for her to drive or carry grocery bags. Through People Who Care, Josephine was matched with Meghan, a 22-year-old volunteer. Meghan now regularly assists Josephine in getting groceries and picking up her prescriptions, and calls her occasionally just to visit.
Not only does Josephine receive the benefits of this match, so, too, does Meghan. “It’s not just about volunteering; I’m getting more out of it than I’m giving,” said Meghan. “It started as just trying to give a little back, and you end up getting so much more.” Meghan calls her conversations with Josephine a “breath of fresh air that I can always count on” and she values what she does for Josephine—both in meeting her critical needs as well as helping to fulfill her social needs. Each time Meghan leaves Josephine’s home, Josephine says, “Thanks for being my friend,” to which Meghan replies, “No. Thank you!”
Anne and a friend were traveling from Indiana to California when Anne awoke one morning at a rest stop near Flagstaff to discover her partner had died while sleeping. Police took Anne to a hotel and her partner to a hospital.
Anne’s friends back in Indiana called the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Flagstaff. When a couple of volunteers arrived, they found Anne sitting on the hotel bed, clutching her Chihuahua and shaking uncontrollably. She declined to drive her van or even visit it to collect her personal belongings. She also revealed that she suffered from mental illness and had been without medication for several days.
The volunteers stretched their budget to buy a plane ticket for Anne and her dog. They also took Anne to the hospital and a pharmacy for new prescriptions. Volunteer Steve Verkamp called it the most “exhausting, exhilarating, enriching and grateful day” of his life. Late that night, Anne arrived back in Indiana to her waiting friends.
Jenny* and her two children, Silvia* and Jarod*, first came to Sojourner Center after enduring years of unfathomable abuse in their home. They needed a place to escape to for what they thought would only be a few weeks. After several months, Jenny realized that now, more than ever before, she needed the services of Sojourner Center. The classes and the Family Enrichment Program completely changed Jenny’s perspective on life. Jenny and her children had a renewed sense of hope for their future and looked forward to staying in Sojourner Center’s program until the end.
“Sojourner Center saved my life,” said Jenny. “I’m able to enjoy my life and watch my children grow up into amazing people. This wouldn’t have happened without the support of Sojourner Center, their Family Enrichment Program and their compassionate advocates. We are breathing today and alive today because of this place.”
Richard learned his love for cooking during a three-year prison sentence, during which he was promoted from dishwasher to head cook. After his release, he learned through probation services about Community Kitchen, a 16-week program that provides training and job placement in the food service industry to low-income adults, while preparing meals to feed the hungry.
Having benefited from the life skills portion of the Community Kitchen curriculum, Richard later became a mentor to other students within the program. Today, he is a proud example of what can be accomplished by turning your life around. “The day I went inside (prison) was the day I decided I needed to change,” Richard said. “It was time to close that chapter and set some goals.”
Richard now has two culinary medals to his credit. After just one year of work at an upscale Phoenix restaurant, he graduated to kitchen supervisor and has taken on the role of primary caregiver for his mother. His goals now include earning acceptance into the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu® culinary academy and taking his cooking skills to the highest level.
In January 2011, Darnell Joseph opened Nelly’s Soul Food in Flagstaff and he attributes his success to the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association’s GENISIS-X re-entry program.
Joseph grew up with grandparents who owned a soul food restaurant in Flagstaff. He attended the Culinary Institute of America in New York, earning chef positions in Georgia and Arizona. But after having spent two years in prison on drug-related charges, he struggled to find work. In 2010, Joseph enrolled in GENISIS-X, which helps ex-offenders obtain jobs, housing, education and other services.
GENISIS-X partnered with Coconino County Basic Business Empowerment Program and County Community Services to help Joseph secure a cash register and purchase inventory. GENISIS-X employees designed and printed menus, and staffed the restaurant’s opening.
“I’m opening up a restaurant as a former felon while everyone else seems to be closing down,” Joseph said. “How could that happen? That’s only a blessing.”
Reagan* called Teen Lifeline crying, saying she was considering suicide. Her mom had lost her job and wasn’t able to support them anymore. Reagan had to move in with her dad, whom she felt didn’t really understand her. Reagan told the peer counselor “everyone would be better off without me.” She had talked to her mom and, though her mother was concerned, Reagan felt she just wasn’t important to her family anymore.
The counselor asked Reagan about talking to her mom just once more, and she did while the counselor remained on the phone. Her mother had no idea how bad things were because she was so focused on how to keep everything going.
Reagan promised not to hurt herself and her mom promised to get her help. Reagan told the peer counselor, “thank you for getting me to try one more time” and that she didn’t know what would have happened if she hadn’t called.
How to stop a suicide? That’s what TIP volunteer Doreen had to figure out—and fast. Called by police who were powerless in the face of an event that hadn’t yet happened, Doreen found a young woman huddled under a blanket in a house suffocatingly hot and dark as a tomb.
Abandoned by her partner, on the verge of foreclosure and lacking caring family members, the potential victim was without hope. Killing herself was the only way out— a solution she vowed to carry out shortly. “I took baby steps,” Doreen said. “That was the only way to discover reasons for her to wake up alive.”
The first step was asking the woman’s favorite color. That led to a chat about clothing and what she might wear the next day and that led to a calendar and a plan for the following week. With every step, Doreen also suggested community resources.
The turning point came when the woman asked why she should bother to stay alive. “Because you have joy to give to others,” Doreen answered. Today, the woman volunteers at a senior center, surrounded by appreciative friends. What began as certain death, ended in life reborn to service, thanks to a TIP volunteer.
Mkeyo was a physics teacher in Congo before he and his family of 13 fled to Tanzania when civil war broke out in 1996. For 14 years, the family subsisted in a Tanzanian refugee camp. With little security in the camp, Mkeyo was kidnapped by camp rebels in 2009. His wife, Angelique, searched with United Nations authorities and finally found Mkeyo; the family was granted refugee status and relocated to Phoenix.
The large family had been in town for just six days when volunteers from the Welcome to America Project carried donated furniture to their empty Phoenix apartment. The family was overwhelmed by the outpouring of generosity, and thankful to receive such a beautiful welcome from new neighbors. Angelique cried as she said, “I want to thank you for the help you have provided all my children.”
Nine-month old Benny, who has cerebral palsy, was born to a mother who abused drugs during her pregnancy. As a result, he has multiple physical problems that require treatment five times monthly by various specialists in Phoenix. Unfortunately, Child Protective Services reimburses Benny’s foster parents, who live in Yavapai County, only after they’ve traveled more than 50 miles per visit.
For the past six months, Yavapai CASA for Kids has provided Benny’s foster family with money for gas to help with the 250-plus miles they must travel each month, which are not reimbursed. Beyond the life-changing impact that specialty care is achieving in Benny’s long-term health, his foster family has become very attached to him. Knowing that CASA for Kids is available to support this family makes Benny’s adoption a very real possibility. Little can be more life-changing for a young child than finding a permanent, loving home.
An unusual opportunity came to Yuma Ballet Theatre in the form of Carolyn Collins and her adult son, Nathan, who has Down Syndrome—and a love for the Nutcracker ballet. It culminated in a heart-warming performance last December, as Nathan Collins took to the stage in a role created for him and brought to life by his joy of a dream come true.
Current Artistic Director Zabie Nields performed in last year’s stirring production where Nathan shined in his role. “My favorite moment onstage with him was during the final bow when he was in the front line,” Zabie said. “There, I was blessed with my Christmas wish. I had the best seat in the house to view his elated face when he received a giant Nutcracker balloon as the Sugar Plum Fairy received her bouquet. There was nothing but pride and joy in his precious smile as he looked up in amazement at the gift he had just been given, having no idea that the priceless gift he was giving me caused my heart to soar higher than any helium balloon could ever fly.”
As a result of our work with Nathan, Y.B.T. is looking into starting a program with more special needs students called ‘Anyone Can Dance.’