With Payson Community Kids coming up on its 10 year anniversary, it seemed an appropriate time to retell a story that can't be told enough.
It's a story that will make you appreciate your own station in life, whatever it is. And it's a story that will make you appreciate the non-profit program's founder and director, Marcy Rogers.
After operating a similar program in Mesa, Rogers moved to Payson in August, 1996 to join the Payson town staff as a planner. It wasn't long before she met Stephanie, a little three-year-old girl who would come to be known as the original Payson Community Kid.
"I rented a two-bedroom apartment on West Bonita," Rogers recalled. "Within a week I met Stephanie, and I soon met other kids.
"I would pull up from work and they would just be walking on the street. Some of them were young enough that you would say, ‘Where's your parents?,' and you realize they're just going to be on the street playing without supervision.
"Since I didn't know anyone and I liked going to the park and I liked painting, I was letting them paint and color and taking them to the park. Within three or four months I had 20 kids."
It wasn't long before she was feeding and clothing the kids. With the assistance of a few friends, Rogers continued caring for her extended family for four years. But the cost was becoming prohibitive.
"We knew we needed to be under a non-profit because I wouldn't take any cash, and it was more than I could afford," she said.
To alleviate the problem, the program operated the next two years under Rim Country Volunteers. During that time Terry Nelson signed on, and she has been helping Rogers run the program for the last five years.
"She was working at the chamber as a volunteer and read your back-to-school article (about the group's annual school supply drive) and she sent her husband down to give us $500.
Rogers and Nelson began holding classes and other events for the kids in the town planning and zoning department's conference room.
"We had drama, we had kung fu, and (local artist) Donn Morris would do art," Rogers said. "We even fed them in there."
But the group was getting larger, and when 40 kids attended one event, Rogers realized it was time to move on. That's when she bought the split level house at 300 West Wade Lane, current home of the Payson Community Kids.
"I live upstairs and we started the program downstairs," she said. "They have over 1,000 square feet, and I do too."
But just as important, the house was in the neighborhood where most of Marcy's Kids lived.
"We have a few kids who lived in Gisela and Mesa del (Caballo), and we still have a family in Star Valley," she said. "But 90 percent of the kids live in this neighborhood, so they can just walk over after school."
Now its own non-profit, Payson Community Kids continues to grow.
"We always service 50 kids," Rogers said. "We have three two-year-olds and then it goes up to age 15."
They come every day after school, where they are fed dinner and enjoy planned activities and classes -- including a weekly drug prevention class.
"They learn to serve each other, to clean up," Rogers said. "We have four churches serving us food once a month, the Methodist church and the three Lutheran churches. The Soroptimists feed us once a month.
"We have six ladies from the garden club who actually work with the kids. They trimmed the roses and the apple trees last week.
"We've got six new water barrels to recycle water from the roof. We've got one of the roofing companies to help with some gutters.
"We do waterwise constantly. We don't water our grapes. We don't grow watermelons.
"We have six apple trees, but we only water one because we can't afford to waste the water."
And of course Rogers still provides clothes and shoes for the kids.
"We keep tons of socks and underwear and church clothes for Sunday," she said.
In fact, Sunday is a special day that Payson Community Kids spend together. In the morning they gather to get ready for church. Then after attending church, they enjoy a special meal together -- sometimes in a restaurant.
While they receive support from many Rim Country churches, Payson United Methodist has become home to Marcy's Kids.
"Going to church gives the children something to lean on during the difficult times," Rogers said.
"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."
What Rogers, Nelson and a staff of volunteers provide is really a second home to the kids.
"A lot of times they leave their clothes here to wash if their washing machine is broken," Rogers said. "If their hot water heater is broken, they shower here.
"A lot of the kids just want me to wash their clothes. They see it as something that shows I love them."
And these are kids who need all the love they can get.
"Our biggest tragedy right now is that one of the moms went to prison for three years and the dad passed away," Rogers said. "Can you imagine being 10 years old, your dad died, and your mom went to prison?"
And there have been countless stories of a similar nature during the past decade. But through it all, Rogers, her team, and her kids have persevered.
"You just try and do normal, everyday things -- no matter what. You just keep it up -- good meals, polite conversation, reading to the kids."
Why does Rogers do it?
"I was raised that way," she said. "Our whole family's like that.
"I'm the middle of five kids and we were always taking something to a neighbor -- whether they were sick or we had something extra. I really thought I could make a difference for these kids."
How you can help
Marcy Rogers recently left the town's employ to devote all of her considerable energy to Payson Community Kids. But she and Terry Nelson and the rest of the staff need your help.
Specifically they can use:
- Picnic tables ("We only have one.")
- A full-size, commercial-grade swing set, and a heavy-duty volleyball net and tetherball pole.
- Food and clothes
- Money to fund the program
- Volunteers, especially men, even if it's just one hour a week.
("We have a lot of 80 and 90-year-old volunteers, and they're sharp. A lot of seniors don't have family here and this is like family. The children are very respectful to everyone.")
- A person who can repair bicycles ("We always have a bike program going where we'll fix theirs and they take another one home. Rim Country Allied Signal people give us $350 a year to repair bikes.")
- Attendance at these upcoming fund-raisers: A dance at Mazatzal Casino on March 24 co-sponsored by Habitat for Humanity, and a spaghetti dinner at Payson Senior Center on April 18.
Donations can be dropped off at the home of Payson Community Kids, 300 West Wade Lane. Checks can also be dropped off or mailed to the above address. For more information, Rogers can be reached at (928) 472-7163.