Payson Amnesty Group’S Passion Garners Acclaim

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The power of passion might explain why the very young Payson Amnesty International chapter is so highly regarded.

Founded just 18 months ago and with only 12 active members on its rolls at present, the group has won regional and national honors. It was named the 2010 New Local Group of the Year in the Western Region; presented the 2011 Sister Laola Hirnaka Award in recognition of “inspiring commitment to the promotion of human rights in your community and the protection of individuals around the world.”

The chapter’s organizer, Penny Navis-Schmidt, was just named Best Local Group Leader of 2011 in the Western Region.

It is the belief of the chapter members that the spark for these accolades was the 2010 proclamation by Payson Mayor Kenny Evans and the Payson Town Council declaring December as Human Rights Awareness Month.

Evans and the council reiterated that declaration Nov. 17, making December Human Rights Awareness Month in Payson.

The group has two special events planned for Human Rights Awareness Month. The first is a special screening of the documentary “Education Under Fire” at 5 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 4 at Payson United Methodist Church, 414 N. Easy St. No admission will be charged, but donations will be accepted.

“Education Under Fire” focuses on the Islamic Republic of Iran’s 30 years of denying the members of its Baha’i community the right to attend any institution of higher education.

The Dec. 4 screening of the film is only the fourth time it has been shown in the U.S. It premiered in November in Los Angeles, was then shown in New York City and at Harvard University. Following the screening Sunday night there will be a discussion. Navis-Schmidt hopes to have at least 50 Rim Country residents attend.

The chapter will take part in the Amnesty International Global Write-A-Thon from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 10 at the Rim Country Literacy Building, 1003 S. Beeline Highway (behind the Knotty Pine Café).

The goal is to write 500 letters, with help from members of the congregations of the Church of the Nazarene, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Mount Cross Lutheran Church and Payson United Methodist Church.

The chapter needs $500 for the 500 letters it plans to write to cover postage and supplies. It is hoped donations made at the screening of “Education Under Fire” will get the group closer to that goal.

In addition to making a donation, either at the screening, or by dropping funds by the day of the Write-A-Thon, those interested can participate in the project by stopping by and just signing their name on form letters; taking the time to sit down and hand write letters; or become a member.

“Hand-written letters are much more effective than form letters,” Navis-Schmidt said.

The efforts of the group have also sparked some local action. It just saw the first formal meeting of a student Amnesty International group at Payson High School. The seven young women participating in it will have their own Write-A-Thon in January, Navis-Schmidt said.

For more information about the chapter and its activities, contact Navis-Schmidt at (928) 978-1268 or send an e-mail to paysonamnesty@gmail.com.

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