Parks give and give and give.
But here's a little-known fact: Parks need friends too.
Fortunately, the Friends of Parks and Recreation are on the job.
And not only has this all-volunteer organization raised thousands of dollars annually to make sure low-income residents can enjoy the town's recreation programs -- it also played the lead role in sparking a dialogue between Payson and the YMCA that could result in construction of a major recreation facility in town.
The group, established in 2000, includes about 25 volunteers that support town recreation programs. Mostly the group raises money each year to offset program fees for Payson residents, including a recent golf tournament at Chaparral Pines that raised $7,000.
"The most active folks in the group are on the board working on fund raising, then we just work with the town as far as their needs are concerned," said President Bill Ensign.
The group's most high-profile activity has been the attempt to promote a deal between the town and the YMCA, to build a gym and year-round swimming facility.
The Friends organization started nearly eight years ago when a group of people got into a brainstorming session about how to increase recreational opportunities in town for kids -- and perhaps adults as well. Someone hit on the idea of trying to lure the YMCA to town. Friends then contacted the YMCA in the Phoenix area to try to interest the organization in opening a facility in Payson.
"We realized quickly that there was just no way in the world that the town could fund those facilities, so we brainstormed and figured, ‘why don't we see if we can get the Y to come to Payson,'" said Ensign.
Negotiations have continued between the town and the YMCA in recent years. Currently, the town staff is negotiating a proposed agreement that would enable the YMCA to construct a gym with various activity and exercise facilities, next door to a refurbished town swimming pool that could remain in operation year-round.
The version of the deal that has been most discussed publicly would rely on having Friends head up a fund raising drive to provide millions of dollars in seed money to help construct the new facilities. The town would contribute to the operating budget an annual amount a little greater than what it now spends on operating a town swimming pool about nine months a year.
In return, the town would control about 40 percent of the operating hours of pool, gym and related facilities.
If that deal ever goes through, then the Friends of Parks and Recreation will find itself in urgent need of citizen volunteers to help raise money to build the proposed facilities.
Friends has already lined up a commitment for $1 million from the Kemper Marley Foundation in Scottsdale. That commitment came through a connection with Young and Company, a fund raising consulting firm Friends contacted to make plans for the eventual fund raising campaign.
"The YMCA proposal will obviously come before the Town Council in the near future. And Friends will be involved in the fund raising when that gets started. It all depends on whether the Town of Payson wants to see that happen."
In the meantime, Friends continues to raise money to make sure all Payson kids can afford to swim and participate in other town-sponsored recreation programs.
Friends of Payson Parks and Recreation
Contact: President Bill Ensign (928 472 2293) or Payson Recreation Department (928-474-5241)
Mission: To provide financial and community support for parks and recreation programs
Projects: Provide funds to enhance programs and service; Provide matching funds for park improvements; Provide scholarships for children who need assistance to participate in recreation programs; Provide leadership to raise funds to build a YMCA community center in Payson; and Provide volunteers to assist with recreation programs