Two Payson High School juniors, Holly Lane and Melanie McLaws, were among nine Gila County high school students selected to spend last week at AnyTown USA. This is a nationally-recognized youth camp in Prescott that develops skills related to communication, interpersonal relations, leadership and self-motivation. It is offered through the Sheriff's Youth Assistance Foundation.
The students returned Saturday for a ceremony at the Payson sheriff's office. At the ceremony Gila County Sheriff John Armer appointed them to one-year terms on his department's advisory board, according to program coordinator Tom Gimple.
Lane and McLaws were selected when foundation officials approached Payson High School administrators and asked for the leaders out of their junior class.
"They picked Holly and Melanie; we didn't have anything to do with it," Gimple said. "But these are among the most outstanding kids you've ever seen in your life. They're lifelong friends. They share the same brain. They're just dynamic."
And both 17-year-old girls are very impressed with Anytown USA.
"It was really cool," Lane said, after her return. "But when we got there, we were so surprised. There is so much love there. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. It really changed the way I look at the world. And I was asked to go back as a counselor next year, so I'll continue to be involved in it."
"It was the most amazing experience I ever had," McLaws said. "We all participated in activities to get to know and understand each other better ... In one, we could only communicate with our eyes and hands, and both Holly and I couldn't believe how much we could learn about others without conversation. I will never forget it."
The Sheriff's Youth Assistance Foundation is funded through private donations and is intended to be proactive in generating community youth-development programs.
That money which helped fund the $450 tuition for each student selected for the AnyTown program was collected by the Arizona County Attorney and Sheriff's Association through an annual statewide fund-raising campaign. The campaign's goal is to improve training within the two agencies and to foster community programs designed to reduce criminal activity.