Group Seeks To Help High School Students Without Parents

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A new group has formed to help the roughly 10 students in Payson with neither homes nor parents to fulfill basic needs so they can finish high school.

Classified as so-called unaccompanied youth, the Payson Assisting Displaced Students (PADS) group seeks to find families for these high school students to live with until they finish school, helping them avoid sleeping in the forest or surfing from couch to couch.

The group targets students not receiving help from a government agency, and who want to finish school.

“The kids that fell through the cracks,” explained group member Roger Kreimeyer. The group will fund-raise to pay for these students’ food and toiletries while they live with willing host families.

The families will meet the same strict standards set through traditional, government-funded foster programs. The approval process includes a background check, among other measures to assure the child’s safety.

Similarly, a student must adhere to a behavior contract to protect the host families.

PADS, whose members include about 12 clergymen and laypeople, is working to gain non-profit status, and will hold fund-raisers and other events in the coming months.

“We had wanted this in place by the time school started,” said Pastor Richard Richey of the Payson First Church of the Nazarene. However, various challenges have pushed back the official start.

Nevertheless, the group decisively pooled money to start a bank account, volunteered Kreimeyer’s post office box for group use and chose officers at a swift emergency meeting Monday morning.

Volunteer accountant Meg Turlukis ran down the steps necessary before applying for non-profit status.

With more than 13 percent of the Payson school district’s population classified as homeless, school officials last year organized a summit to brainstorm ways to meet these students’ needs.

Following the summit, the district held another meeting with just clergy. PADS developed in January, out of that meeting. Eight or nine local churches are active members of PADS.

Through the past year, the number of homeless students in Payson continued to rise. Last October, the Payson school district counted about 320 homeless students, and by the end of the year, the number increased by about 40.

The majority of those students live “doubled up,” which means more than one family crammed under one roof.

But some older students have neither shelter nor family.

The average age of those students is 17, said Payson schools homeless advocate Allic Bales, another PADS member.

Bales works in the district through a grant-funded position to help ensure the growing numbers of homeless students receive available services.

Bales said she thinks more unaccompanied youth live in the area, and suspects that they’ll surface as help becomes available.

Contact Rodney Ross for more information at rockyrd87@mac.com.

Those wishing to make donations can send them to PADS at P.O. Box 3476, Payson, AZ 85547.

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