A patchwork of community organizations has lovingly stitched together donations to save a time-honored program to help fifth-graders get ready for middle school.
After the deficit-plagued district cut funding, community groups raised $3,500 and a nationally renowned quilter donated an award-winning creation valued at $10,000.
Together, the donations have saved a treasured institution, credited with easing the woes of struggling students.
CHAMPS (Champions Have and Model Positive Skills) camp prepares all fifth-graders in Payson schools to transition from elementary school to middle school. High school students enrolled in the peer counseling program partner with fifth-graders to teach lessons about stress management, handling peer pressure, self-esteem, consideration of others, and making healthy decisions. The camp starts on a Thursday and ends Friday afternoon. Students complete the camp prepared to tackle the trauma of middle school.
In the past, the elementary schools held the CHAMPS camp at Camp Tontozona (now Camp Tonto Creek). Due to budget cuts, last year the CHAMPS camp hosted students at each school overnight. This year, the camp looked like it would not happen at all.
But then high school student Austin Shannon took it upon himself, with help from other members of the peer counseling class, to make a plea to organizations throughout Payson to save the CHAMPS camp.
Gina Perkes was one of many who joined in to save the camp. She sat in a Fan Club meeting when Shannon made his plea.
“I was really touched by Austin’s effort to raise money for the camp. It really tugged at my heart,” said Perkes.
She decided to donate one of her quilts.
Perkes has won international awards for her work. The particular quilt she donated has received numerous awards. She completed the quilt six years ago naming it “House Warming.” Perkes has three children in the Payson school system. All have participated in the CHAMPS camp over the years.
“I think it’s a really great program ... a lot of teens (in this town) are getting involved with drugs and alcohol and anything I can do to help I want to support,” said Perkes.
Numerous other organizations and individuals responded to Shannon and the peer counseling group’s plea to save the CHAMPS camp. The Mazatzal Hotel & Casino will feed the camp participants breakfast.
Camp Tonto Creek offered matching funds of $4,300 to cover half of the $8,600 cost.
The Mogollon Sporting Association, Kiwanis, both Rotary clubs, Masonic Lodge, Payson Regional Medical Center, the Sandy Keene organization, Dr. Troy Ford, Rory Huff, Joy Richard, Tim Walsh, Tom Fox and L.E Schrader donated checks and cash. The Fan Club donated $3,500.
Perkes’ quilt will be raffled off by the Fan Club, said Yvette Harpe a parent from The Fan Club.
It was the club’s check that tipped the scales making the camp fully funded prior to the event.
The Fan Club helps numerous school activities from cheerleading to sports to events such as CHAMP camp. Usually, the club helps organizations with fund-raising ideas and up-front costs to make moneymaking events possible.
However, with Perkes’ donation, The Fan Club donated the money first and will refill their donation tanks from the proceeds of the quilt raffle to help another school organization in the future, said Harpe.
“We’re sponsors of The Fan Club. It’s a great organization. I’m just hoping to help,” said Perkes.
CHAMPS Camp had its first session on Thursday, Oct. 20 and will have its second on Oct. 27.
Tickets for the quilt are $5 individually or five for $20. Tickets may be purchased at The Quilting Sisters, Anderson Dental, Roadrunner Rubbish, Rim Country Middle School, Payson Elementary School, Julia Randall Elementary and the high school.