Grin And Bear It

Kids' program gives children something to smile about

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Most children equate a visit to the dentist with unspeakable horrors.

Eleven-year-old Clayton, however, was so excited about visiting the dentist that he could scarcely contain himself.

"He came over the other night and asked, 'Did you make my appointment yet?'" said Marcy Rogers, who runs the Payson Community Kids program through the town's Community Development Department.

Clayton is so enthusiastic because he's never been to the dentist, and rather than a potentially painful and frightening experience, the cleaning and checkup represent an opportunity to be like other children his age.

Payson Community Kids was created by Rogers when she moved here four years ago to help children from disadvantaged families. It's what Rogers had been doing for many years in places such as Mesa and Tucson.

But when she moved to Payson, she thought this tidy little town wouldn't need her services.

"When I first drove into Payson, I thought I had come to a town where all the kids had the love and support they needed," she said. "I soon found out there are lots of kids here who can use some more caring adults in their lives."

Rogers is officially the town's redevelopment/housing coordinator. She operates Payson Community Kids on her own with the town's support and blessing.

Through the organization, some 30 children ranging from newborns to teenagers help each other rise above their circumstances. Some are poor, some are being raised by grandparents, but all have special needs.

Clayton's mother lives in Yuma, where he has two sisters.

He moved here with his father three years ago, and they just recently got a place of their own.

"He's a very special kid who has an anger problem that he is working very hard at overcoming," Rogers said. Through counseling, he is learning how to rate his anger on a thermometer and how to count before he reacts.

Clayton and the other children in the program attend a Wednesday evening class that was started to provide reading tutoring, but has grown into much more.

"We have people like local artist Donn Morris who has introduced an art element into the class," Rogers said.

Other projects and activities the children are involved with include improving their neighborhoods through clean-ups and similar activities. And a big part of what they get out of the program is the knowledge that they are not alone, that they can learn from and support one another.

Rogers does all she can to give the children the things that are such an important part of growing up things such as birthday parties and slumber parties and fishing trips and bicycles and gifts at Christmas.

Not long ago, she took a group of children to Flagstaff to celebrate a little girl's birthday. They saw a movie, went to dinner and did some shopping.

Then on the way home, Rogers stopped so they could all fish for a while.

"I even let them go a little wild in the car, with singing and everything," she said.

And then there are the little things that are part of a normal family life things that are so often taken for granted. Things like going along with Marcy as she runs errands.

While Rogers is clearly the glue that holds the program together, Payson Community Kids has some other key supporters, including local businesses, service organizations and a cadre of volunteers who fix toys, repair donated clothing and do whatever else they can to help.

But like most programs of this nature, Payson Community Kids can always use more help. "We just became a 501c3 organization last year, and we've kind of been adopted by Rim Country Volunteers," Rogers said.

Clayton's dental appointment was made possible through a $1,000 dental fund established with a $500 matching grant from Wal-Mart. It's a start, but Rogers knows it won't go far enough.

As he sits in the dental chair waiting for Dr. Harold Rush to come in, Clayton talks about one of his favorite subjects fishing at Green Valley Lake. After lamenting the fact that the bluegills are taking over the lake and squeezing out the other fish, he brightens and says, "I've caught about five bass, two trout and four bluegills."

Those totals would no doubt be more impressive if he didn't have to spend a lot of his time helping the girls in the program bait their hooks. "He is a very good sport," said Rogers. "He is very patient."

The dental exam over, Marcy and Clayton head for her truck. "We've got about five errands to run," she tells him.

Clayton gives her a look of resignation that doesn't quite cover the hint of a smile.

How to help

Payson Community Kids can always use more help. Donations of clothing, toys and food can be dropped off at the Community Development Building at Town Hall. Checks made payable to Rim Country Volunteers also can be dropped off or mailed to Marcy Rogers, Payson Town Hall, 303 N. Beeline Highway, Payson 85541. And, of course, volunteers are always needed. For more information on how you can help, call Rogers at 474-5242, ext. 2269.

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