Easter is a special time for Payson Community Kids -- so special that director Marcy Rogers held a dress rehearsal last Sunday.
Decked out in their finest Sunday clothes, selected from the wardrobe that Rogers has slowly acquired during the six years the program has been in existence, about 20 young people posed for pictures before attending services at Payson United Methodist Church.
"We must have 40 pairs of church shoes now," Rogers said. "But it's hard to fit every kid no matter how many you have. You always have one pair that's a little too small. "
Easter Sunday is extra special, but a spiritual component has long been an important part of the program Rogers founded when she moved here from Tucson to become the town's housing and redevelopment coordinator.
"It's the way I grew up," she said. "All of us have met adults who couldn't care less about others, and this helps kids think about other people."
It also gives the children something to lean on during the difficult times.
"We want them to know about God, because it gives them a safe place to go when they're in trouble," she said. "It's a safe feeling to be able to talk to God and know that he will take care of you."
While they attend several Rim country churches, Payson United Methodist has become home to Payson Community Kids.
"We sit in the big church during the Lord's Prayer and some of the traditional things, at least until the offering, and then they go to their own room," Rogers said. "They started a children's church service just for them."
The Methodist church has, in fact, pretty much adopted the children. They appear regularly in the church bulletin, and the church is paying to send many of them to camp this summer.
In fact, when Rogers takes the children to a different church she usually hears about it from members of the Methodist congregation.
During the early part of the service, Pastor Mel Munchinsky invites the congregation to get up and say hello to others in the congregation. Rogers' children are enthusiastic participants.
"We drop some of the little kids in the laps of some of the older people who can't get up so they can hug them," she said. "You can tell when someone needs a hug."
While they enjoy going to church, enthusiasm has been building among the children as Easter approaches.
"Easter's really special because of the renewed spirit and Christ rising and all that, and also especially this year because everyone is real happy to see the war coming to an end," she said. "And then the children are just terribly excited because after church we have a big Easter dinner with two turkeys and a ham."
Several people in the community who don't have family in town have been invited to share Easter dinner with the children.
Five dozen eggs have already been colored, hidden and found, and then hidden and found again, and again. Donated Easter baskets have also been a big hit.
"One man put together 20 baskets with plastic eggs filled with candy, little dolls, bear angels, bracelets, necklaces, and even kits to color eggs," Rogers said. "Another lady dropped off a lot of Easter candy and goodies."
It's support like this that allows Rogers and her loyal cadre of volunteers to keep Payson Community Kids going.
Rogers recently purchased a split level home on W. Wade Street, specifically to provide a permanent home for Payson Community Kids. The lower level serves as the group's home base, but it's not unusual for activities and children to spill into the living area of her home -- and into all aspects of her life.
But because of her efforts, and the contributions of many other generous Rim country residents, some very special children are getting the love and attention they need to grow and thrive -- attention that isn't always available at home. And don't think for a moment that Rogers and her volunteers don't get as much from the kids as they give.
A recent church service is typical of the intangible rewards that come with involvement in the program:
"During the first 10 or 15 minutes of the Sunday service, the congregation can call out the numbers of hymns they want to sing, and the children really participate," she said. "I had mentioned to them my mom's favorite hymns, and they began calling them out during this time so I could hear them. Then about a month ago they all got up -- all 20 of them -- walked to the front of the church and sang ‘In the Garden,' my mom's favorite hymn. They had practiced and rehearsed it, and they did it as a total surprise to me."
Payson Community Kids is a nonprofit organization that depends entirely on volunteers and donations.
Money, which is always in short supply, is used for food and clothing, utility bills and insurance premiums, emergency dental care, school supplies, and a host of other needs. Checks can be sent to Payson Community Kids, Payson Town Hall, 303 N. Beeline, Payson, AZ 85541.
Donations of food, clothing and other items can be dropped off at the Community Development building at town hall.
To volunteer, or for more information, call Rogers at 474-5242, extension 2269.