Stephanie Turlukis is one of a growing number of Rim country residents that share a special passion. That passion is to make a difference in the lives of children, who through no fault of their own, have become wards of the state.
Her passion is so great for these children, she said, "I don't want this article to be about me, it needs to be about Rim Country Arizonans for Children."
Turlukis and these other caring people first organized about three years ago to form the Arizona Council for CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) Inc., Northern Gila County Chapter. But when red tape bound their hands from reaching out to help children outside the CASA program, they took a bold step, along with like-minded people in Maricopa County, and created a new organization. In this part of the state the group is called Rim Country Arizonans for Children, Inc., in Maricopa County it is simply Arizonans for Children, Inc.
The mission of Rim Country Arizonans for Children is to raise funds in Northern Gila County to serve the unmet needs of abused, abandoned and neglected children who are wards of the state through no fault of their own. With the money the volunteers raise for the organization they are able to provide:
- Toys, clothing and personal care items upon request from a care provider;
- Recreational activities at the zoo, museums, parks, "Birthdays in a Box," sports and other activities;
- Backpacks and suitcases for children moving or going to school;
- Reimbursement for expenses incurred by foster parents on behalf of the children;
- Funding for ongoing dependency training for foster parents and care providers; and
- Public awareness programs for recruitment and retention of foster parents.
"For the business showcase we paid to have a booth with information about foster parenting. CPS staffed it, but with community contributions we were able to pay for it," Turlukis said.
Illustrating the commitment Rim Country Arizonans for Children has to strengthening the foster care program, she said they also paid for a building permit for a woman that wanted to become a foster parent. The woman had gone through all the training and had even made arrangements to have materials and labor donated to add an extra bedroom to her home for a foster child.
"But she couldn't afford the fee for the building permit, so we paid for it," Turlukis said.
Another of the group's regular projects is buying winter coats for the children with whom they work. "We have done it at Christmas before, but this year we are doing it at the end of October, because that's when it starts getting cold and the kids need the coats."
Turlukis said Rim Country Arizonans for Children has absolutely no administrative costs, "If someone needs something we can help. The community has been so responsive."
Working with other organizations in the community, Rim Country Arizonans for Children is able to direct people to where they can best be served. The work with similar groups has sometimes been a challenge though, "When we come to them, you know some of them are thinking we are trying to get something from them. We're not. We just want to be able to know what they have for the kids," Turlukis said.
With that knowledge, the group can also help the other organizations. For instance, recently the Rim Country Arizonans was made aware of a grant. Because of the generosity of the community, they are in the enviable spot of having more money than requests, so they went to Marcy Rogers and Payson Community Kids to see if the grant would work there.
In addition to working with the Payson Community Kids organization, Turlukis and her fellow volunteers work with the Time Out Shelter, provide scholarships to the newly organized parenting classes offered through Gila Community College and wherever and with whomever else they can to benefit children in need.
The proceeds from entry fees for the Rodeo Parade benefited Rim Country Arizonans for Children.
"We also did numerous exchanges," Turlukis said. Among these were scholarships for an afterschool archaeology program with the Rim Country Archaeological Society and scholarships for outings with the Payson Rimstones Rock Club.
The need for people to step up and help children is monumental, she said.
"I stopped wearing under-eye makeup three years ago because the stories I would hear about these kids would always have me in tears. There are so many of them out there. Do you have any idea how many kids are on the street up here because their parents are in a back room someplace doing drugs?"
The Rim Country Arizonans for Children brochure spells out the need:
- There are abused and neglected children in Northern Gila County.
- We do not have enough foster parents in our area. If we had enough foster parents for the children they might spend less time in the Juvenile Court System than those with temporary placement.
- Additional foster parents are desperately needed.
"We have a whole generation out there being raised with no conscience and no self-respect," Turlukis said, talking about the abusive, drug-infested environment so many children must live in because they are still with their parents, but the parents have no child-rearing skills.
Turlukis is the vice president of the Rim Country Arizonans for Children, Inc., she shares the administrative responsibilities of the organization with President Marguerite Turlukis, Secretary Patricia Tynes-Johnson, Treasurer Julie Murphy and Directors Blaine Kimball, Mary Logan, Linda Schreur and Gordon Hansen. For more information, call 474-2640, or write to Rim Country Arizonans for Children, Inc., P.O. Box 1636, Payson, AZ 85547.
Name: Stephanie Turlukis
Occupation: Administrative Assistant
Employers: Marguerite Turlukis C.P.A.
Birthplace: Bloomington, Ind.
Family: fiance, Scott Keeney; daughter, Taylor Keeney; parents, Meg and Peter Turlukis; and six brothers and sisters who reside in Florida.
Personal motto: It's the same as Rotary's, service above self, help with the community.
Inspiration: My mother, Meg, because of all her unconditional love and her caring for her community.
Greatest feat: Being able to put on the Rodeo Parade.
My favorite hobby or leisure activity is ... helping fund-raise to benefit the community.
The three words that describe me best are ... persevering, caring, helpful.
I don't want to brag, but ... I'm coordinator of the Rodeo Parade, secretary of the Rotary Club of Payson, a volunteer with the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce, and vice president of Rim Country Arizonans for Children.
The person in history I'd most like to meet: Eleanor Roosevelt.
Luxury defined: Relaxing and spending time playing with my daughter.
Dream vacation spot: Everywhere and anywhere in Europe.
Why Payson? It's a small community. Several people involved in the community wear many different hats and it shows me that as a community we can work together for the betterment of our community.