Volunteers Protect Kids

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Gotta love this town.

Consider, for the moment, a telling statistic buried in today’s front-page story about the effort to protect children from abuse and neglect.

On the face of it: The numbers are dispiriting.

Some 10,000 children languish in the state’s foster care system, removed from their homes as a result of abuse and neglect. That includes 80 children in Gila County.

Every day, the underfunded, overwhelmed Child Protective Services workers field another 100 calls on the hotline alleging abuse or neglect. The backlog in cases has reached record levels. In 2010, 70 children in this state died from abuse or neglect, including 13 with prior reports of abuse and five with open CPS case files, according to the state’s Child Fatality Review Program.

All right: Admitted — that’s all terrible news.

But here’s the encouraging part.

The Court Appointed Special Advocate Program gives ordinary citizens a chance to make a difference. CASA trains volunteers to become the advocates for children removed from their homes by the courts. These volunteers meet with the children, parents, police, caseworkers and lawyers with the sole purpose of operating as the advocate for that vulnerable child and helping the judge make the best decision for that child.

So here’s why we love Payson.

Gila County has 25 children who need an advocate: One lives in northern Gila County and the rest live in the Globe area. The CASA program in Gila County also has 36 volunteers who have all completed 32 hours of training. Of those 36 volunteers, no fewer than 29 live in Rim Country.

See what we mean? What a great place to live. What a great community to serve.

Every time the call for help goes out, our neighbors rally round — whether it’s the food drive, setting up a community garden — or advocating for abused and neglected children.

Of course, we second CASA Coordinator Katrisha Stuler’s hope that even more people will volunteer for the program — and everyone will memorize the letter keypad number for the CPS abuse hotline: 888-SOS-Child (we know it looks like it has an extra letter — but don’t worry — it’ll ring through.)

We also hope that the Legislature will relent on its effort to cut money for an additional 45 CPS workers from Gov. Jan Brewer’s budget. Lawmakers could do it in honor of April’s designation as Child Abuse Awareness Month. Or they could do it because it’s shameful that callers trying to protect children must sometimes spend 45 minutes on hold — and the system loses about 17 percent of the 144,000 calls before workers can come on the line.

But in the meantime, we salute the citizens who have volunteered to protect our children.

Gotta love this town.

Future got shook up?

Everything’s a mess: The politicians are impossible, the deficit’s exploding, the Chinese are encroaching, the drought’s returning, the Legislature’s gone bonkers.

Sometimes — we can’t even fall asleep at night, thinking everyone’s gone mad-dog crazy.

But not this weekend. No, sir — slept just fine, thanks.

Our secret? Went to see “All Shook Up,” the musical set to Elvis Presley songs staged at the high school.

That band of joyful, exuberant, courageous kids started working on the show back in January and put in hundreds of hours of rehearsal for just three shows.

Some of them who had never sung before, strapped on a mic and gave it their all.

Some of them who had never danced before, stepped into the chorus line and high-kicked with elan.

They built sets, memorized lines, choreographed mass dance scenes, learned to work the lights, rushed whole sets on and off stage, kept their poise and filled that whole auditorium with their infectious happiness.

Sometimes the microphones went out. Sometimes, so did the lights. Some valiant singers strangled the high notes. Some nervous actors missed their cues. But the show went on, with flare and wit and energy.

So don’t try to convince us it’s hopeless.

We have seen the future: They work hard, they laugh easily, they tackle challenges, they help one another — and they triumph over their blunders and inexperience.

We have seen the future, voice cracking on the high

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