Children run up and down a wide, bright hallway, clamoring for their macaroni and cheese dinner. Others paint paper kites in a craft room while some work on homework in the quiet room. In the lounge, teens rest coolly in beanbags and outside youngsters sprint across artificial turf to a playground, yelling merrily.
The happy chaos these days at the new digs of Payson Community Kids, which two weeks ago left its tiny facility on Tonto Street — once jammed with 60 kids in need of someplace safe and nurturing after school.
In the past year, attendance at PCK reached an all-time high, with as many as 70 needy children, ages 6 to 18 years old showing up for the after school program, which features tutoring, activities, a hot meal and general merriment for a few hours.
Marcy Rogers started PCK 15 years ago to give “at risk” children a place to go after school. Rogers initially housed the program in her home, but when she passed, the program moved to a small, nearby building. The building could hold only a few at a time, so mostly the kids played outside.
Then last year, after many hours of struggle, crews built a one-room garage of sorts next to the building, getting the kids out of the weather.
That proved a huge success, but only prompted the program to once again expand until that little garage could not handle the demand.
Not wanting to turn anyone away, the board sought a solution.
“It certainly proves true that when the universe aligns, great things can happen,” said Suzy Tubbs, PCK board president. “Within a matter of weeks, a bigger space with lots of parking became available for lease and three very generous benefactors paved the way to make expansion a reality.”
That great thing took the shape of a 5,000-square-foot space behind First Southern Baptist Church, formerly home to Payson Christian School — which bought Frontier Elementary School from the Payson School District.
But PCK couldn’t afford the rent and had a mortgage to pay on its existing space.
Then a few miraculous things happened. An anonymous local donor offered to pay off the mortgage on the Tonto building, retiring a significant obligation. Then the church lowered the rent after receiving PCK’s letter of intent.
“We were nervous still,” said Perla Guereque, PCK’s executive assistant. “We still had no idea how to pay the rent at all.”
Then a couple, who had only learned about PCK after buying a chair at PCKs Chair-ish fundraiser last year, heard that the group needed to move. Bill and Carole Kushmaul offered to pay the rent on the new space for one year and donate $25,000 for relocation and operation expenses.
“This generosity stabilized PCK and provides the means to help so many more underserved children,” Tubbs said.
“They are awesome,” Guereque said of the donors.
With a lease agreement signed, volunteers packed everything up at PCK in two days and during a one-day extravaganza moved everything.
PCK hasn’t decided what to do with the old building, but they are holding on to it for now.
Looking around the new much bigger space, Guereque said it feels good to be in a better facility. Still, the move made her nervous.
“The old place had such a homey feel,” she said. “This is more like a school and I didn’t know if the kids would like it. But they love it, especially the playground,” Tubbs wrote in a newsletter. PCK will hold a celebration May 3. For information, call (928) 478-7160.