The number of homeless and displaced students in Payson has plunged by 47 percent from a high of 589 in 2012-13 to 313 this year — a 47 percent drop.
This week, Payson Assisting Displaced Students (PADS) took a moment to celebrate all those it has helped, but reported to supporters it still has many students in need at an awards ceremony on Tuesday, Nov. 5.
The recession caused a shocking rise in the number of students considered homeless or displaced, which includes both homeless children and students staying with neighbors, friends or relatives other than their parents.
“You have students coming to school cold and hungry,” said Lisa Evans, Payson Unified School District psychologist. “It’s hard for them to focus.”
She said audience members could probably understand since they might have come to the 5 p.m. PADS program after a long day at work and need food.
“You might be sitting here tonight, hungry because it was a long day and you need dinner, that’s often how our kids feel,” she said.
The organization has shifted its focus from solely helping students who turn 18 before they graduate and have completed foster care, to all students who struggle because of poverty.
PADS tries to help students struggling with such huge challenges at home to stay in school and complete their education.
Treasurer Roger Kreimeyer said he knows firsthand how important a stable house is to the success of a student.
He told the assembled audience that he struggled in school after his parents divorced.
“In my freshman and sophomore years, I was lucky if I got a B. Mostly I was a C student,” he said.
But his mother remarried and his situation settled by the time he was a junior in school. Once his home life improved, Kreimeyer said he got straight As, went on to college, and then had a career in aerospace testing rockets.
“Anything we can do to increase stability in the home will make a difference to these students’ education,” he said.
But Payson Unified School District (PUSD) Superintendent Ron Hitchcock said Arizona children face an uphill battle.
Hitchcock reported that studies show Arizona is 47th in both child welfare and education spending.
“There is a high correlation between poverty and poor performance in education,” said Hitchcock.
He quoted from a recent Washington Post article that reported the findings of the Southern Education Foundation — poor children are the majority of students in the South and West.
He said Payson has a huge number of displaced families — one of the highest rates in the state. But he also praised the community for its outpouring of support to the schools and homeless students.
He said last year, Rim Country residents donated $800,000 to the district to help.
“The good news is, this is the most generous community I have ever seen,” he said.
Rich Richey, PADS director and pastor of the Church of the Nazarene, said this year the organization almost had to close its doors, but a surprise, last-minute donation from the county through Tommie Martin and the school district saved the program.
PADS has hired Allic Bales to coordinate with students, families and the organizations that help the disadvantaged in town.
Bales said she will do anything from driving kids to doctors’ appointments and home from after-school tutor sessions to working with food banks to put food on the table.
At the event, PADS had tables with sundries, school supplies, clothing and weekend food packs displayed to show attendees all the various types of support PADS offers.
To help homeless kids, call:
Rich Richey, PADS director, 474-5890
Allic Bales, 951-3908
Susan Campbell, PUSD: 474-2070