Our favorite feel-good stories of 2017
By Jon Johnson
GILA VALLEY – In part two of our year in review, we are featuring the feel-good stories we love to post about. They may not always draw as much attention as the harder stories, but these stand out to us as showing how locals can have a positive impact on the community.
Traveling abroad to help those less fortunate
We start this review with a couple of stories of people in the Gila Valley traveling abroad to help those less fortunate.
Roatan is one of Honduras’ Carribean Bay Islands. Nestled in the huge Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, Roatan has a wide reputation of beautiful beaches, amazing marine life, and perfect coral reefs. This unbelievable location is where Pima High School Spanish teacher, Stephanie Hoopes, took her Spanish Two class for three weeks. Working with a local family who also owns a house in Roatan, Hoopes took her students away to a place where they could immerse themselves in the language and culture, all the while gaining a wider perspective.
During the time they spent in Roatan, the teens refurbished a school, passed out roughly 2,000 pairs of Toms shoes, sponsored 16 local children, and rebuilt a needy family’s deck. Before leaving for Roatan, the teenagers, teachers, and chaperones collected 19 suitcases full of school supplies, clothes, and backpacks for the Roatan children. Stuffing each backpack to its full limit, the group brought 950 pounds of supplies to Roatan. The group also visited an island named Saint Helene, where there was no electricity. While at Saint Helene, the group passed out many baseball caps.
Hoopes already has her next trip to the island planned out and has been collecting adult diapers to pass out, (there is a large need as they don’t sell them there) which has filled her basement.
As we write this year-end review, local illusionist Samuel Siminoe is currently in Ukraine, performing in orphanages as part of Dennis Sawyer’s Foreign Angels Charity team’s humanitarian effort.
“We do feeding programs, medical programs, and programs for single moms,” Sawyer said. “Our main goal is to get people to go overseas and to a third world country, and see how other people live. To appreciate more the life you have.”
Siminoe will also be leaving for Honduras next year with the Foreign Angels Charity group. While in Honduras, he will be working with multiple building and service projects to aid the individuals in the area.
Coffee on The Straight
It was a tragedy that brought Atisha Russom to begin giving out free coffee and other caffeinated drinks on the long straightway linking the Clifton/Morenci area with the Safford area, and some think it was a different type of tragedy that she was forced to move.
After a vehicular crash possibly due to drowsiness claimed the life of 21-year-old Angelica Monique Aranda on Sept. 23, Russom started her program to try to avoid it from happening again.
On the morning of the tragic accident, Russom’s friends had thought that it had been Russom who had died in the horrendous wreck. Because Russom’s vehicle is so similar to that of Aranda’s, Russom’s friends were worried sick. Through frantic calls and messages, Russom was able to reassure her friends that she was not hurt in the accident that could have happened to anyone. But the emotional turmoil of her friends and horrible story of the accident moved Russom.
The Bureau of Land Management and Arizona Department of Transportation eventually forced Russom to vacate her outcropping on U.S. Highway 191 North at the Black Hills Country Byway, but she has vowed to continue her efforts.
Helping those during the holidays
Every year during the winter holidays, the Gila Valley shows how compassionate its people are.
Starting during the Thanksgiving holiday, school children gathered nearly 8,000 pounds of food that was then donated to Our Neighbor’s Farm & Pantry Food Bank.
Recently, local resident Cheryl Post decided to put on a Christmas dinner for the homeless and a number of people jumped onboard, opening it up to others, including those staying at the Mt. Graham Safe House. The Safford Dance Academy also pitched in and raised $1,000 for backpacks full of goods. Leftover food from the event was donated to Meals on Wheels to help the elderly.
The Southeastern Arizona Community Action Program turned the tables and provided bicycles to 57 pre-schoolers at Pima Head Start. Each student also received a helmet and accessories.
Graham County Adult Detention Facility
The long-awaited opening of the new state-of-the-art Graham County Sheriff’s Office and Adult Detention Center opened after more than 16 years in the making.
The new $25 million 68,000-square-foot-facility (50,000-square-feet of usable building space) replaces the old 8,500-square-foot-facility and is being paid by a jail district sales tax that began July 1, 2015, and is expected to be in effect until July 1, 2040. That half-cent sales tax passed by just 63 votes out of nearly 7,000 cast in the November 2014 election.
The new facility is a vast improvement over the old jail and allows for a much safer space for officers and inmates as well.
Special Olympics and the police
Staying on the police theme, one of law enforcement’s fundraising activities is to earn money for the Special Olympics. Officers achieve that goal through a variety of methods, including a Tip-A-Cop event at a local restaurant, a police barbecue, and the annual Torch Run.
This year, the Special Olympics presented the Safford and Thatcher Police departments with plaques in recognition of the money raised during the Law Enforcement Torch Run Barbecue.
Safford Fire Chief saves boy from killer bees
We could go on and on with all the great, positive stories we have run this year, but nothing tugs at the heartstrings like a person risking his own life to save that of a little boy.
Gila Valley Central broke the story of 11-year-old Andrew Kunz’s brush with death after being stung more than 400 times. Safford Fire Chief Clark Bingham, at great peril to his own self, as he is allergic to bees as well, managed to guide Andrew out of harm’s way and to awaiting paramedics. Andrew was eventually taken to Phoenix Children’s Hospital and made a miraculous full recovery.
Two members of the Graham County Sheriff’s Office, Sgt. Jacob Carpenter and deputy Justin Baughman, along with Bingham were taken to Mt. Graham Regional Medical Center for multiple bee stings they suffered while rescuing Andrew. The first responders were treated and released. Carpenter was reportedly stung approximately 20 times, Bingham was hit 25-30 times, and deputy Baughman was stung about 100 times.
Bingham was awarded by the Safford City Council and also received the Pride of Safford award. The members of the GCSO, as well as the County Dispatch officers who directed the scene, were also honored by the Sheriff’s Office.
Gila Valley Central’s story about Andrew and his subsequent recovery went international and had Phoenix television news stations traveling to the Gila Valley to get interviews with Andrew and his heroes as well as video game magnates sending in care packages.
While there were plenty more great stories from this year, a piece like this must come to an end. Here’s looking for what great stories GVC will uncover and bring to the community to see in 2018.