The lingering economic downturn has left hundreds of Rim Country families scrambling for work, money and a place to stay. The sad spike of homeless students in Payson serves as a stark reminder that no matter what the Dow Jones says, people still hurt.
People eking out a precarious existence have struggled as long as they can, and now the population of homeless students in Payson has increased 12 percent this year over last. What’s more, 62 percent of students qualify for the free and reduced lunch program — the highest percentage in the district’s history. Legions of parents are now holding on, hoping they too don’t lose their homes.
School officials say that the free lunch is sometimes the only meal a kid will eat all day.
Thank goodness for the tenacious staff at the Payson Unified School District, where despite more work and fewer people, dedicated workers have banded together and provided a welcoming and stable atmosphere for these kids — whose worlds whir with chaos.
District secretary Susan Campbell wrote a killer grant that scored the district $80,000 of federal funds in a tight field filled with professionally written applications.
At school, if no place else, these kids can find basic necessities like shoes and a winter coat, a notebook so they can take notes in class and pencils so they can take tests. Although many in Payson aren’t financially wealthy, this mountain town’s residents are rich in spirit. They give their time, energy and talents — whether by offering a free haircut to a kid who can’t afford one, or networking with neighbors to help solve this overwhelming problem.
These children face incredible burdens — arriving to school hungry, sometimes with toothaches and in clothes tattered and dirty. School employees have said a student’s body odor is often their first indication he has no home.
When a child can’t even find a place to shower, how is he supposed to complete homework or even pretend as if he cares? When unsure of his next meal, next week’s test seems a meaningless hassle.
But if we just take it one meal at a time, one coat at a time, maybe we can keep these kids in school and give them the best thing to impact their future — a good education.
Love those Harleys
We here at the Roundup debated amongst ourselves what sort of crowd Saturday’s Thunder Mountain Ride bike rally would draw.
Would mid-life crises flatlanders roar up the mountain on their Harleys, or would scary bikers fearsome enough to spur an exodus among residents invade our quiet mountain town?
Turns out hardly any of the bikers nice enough to join Payson for its first-ever bike rally for charity were barely bad enough to get arrested. Police Chief Don Engler was more than pleasantly surprised and praised the conduct of the crowds — just another quiet weekend in Rim Country.
Packed motel rooms and crowded restaurants turned a would-be season-ending October weekend into a busy couple of days for local merchants. That alone marks a worthy accomplishment.
All and all, the event came off pretty well. Of course, any first-time event will have unexpected “why didn’t we think of that” issues. Some said the event lacked organization and suffered from a shortage of vendors.
Maybe the event did lack pristine organization. Perhaps the influx of bikers fell below expectations. But hey, for an inaugural year, the rally was successful and we’ll give the Mogollon Health Alliance a pass on whatever minor organizational problems occurred.
Enough people came to town and actually stayed here, filling some 700 motel rooms, instead of gassing up and moving on. Those people who came and enjoyed a beautiful, friendly atmosphere will tell their friends, and next year more people will return to the rally, coerced through the most powerful advertising of all — word-of-mouth.
As the event grows more successful, the event’s roots as a charity fund-raiser will hopefully keep those mid-lifers coming.
Of course, if that’s the set you want to attract, maybe next year’s event should include red sports cars and discounts for wearing toupees.