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Precious Treasures strives to make a difference
Every Monday for the next several months, the Yuma Sun will spotlight a different organization striving to help Yuma's community during the lean summer months. This week's story in the series, titled Meeting the Need, looks at Precious Treasures.
Visitors to the Precious Treasures Youth Center are greeted by the sounds of kids laughing and playing. Right now the center is in the middle of its summer program, which means about 150 kids are enjoying cheerleading, knitting, tap dancing, math and science, chess and checkers and even Bible study.
But last week, visitors might have been met with silence as the kids were treated to several field trips. They caught a movie and had a good time at the city pool.
Kids get to enjoy these fun activities thanks to the faith-based nonprofit organization headquartered in Somerton. When Jim and Debbie Ward founded Precious Treasures Mission in 1989, they wanted to help families in need. The mission still helps families, providing emergency food boxes and furniture assistance, but the main focus has now shifted toward helping youths throughout Yuma and south county.
Nevertheless, “our main goal is to make a difference in people's life,” said Director Karina Garay.
The mission strives to make a difference with several programs, including an annual back-to-school clothing drive, scholarships awards and a Christmas basket distribution.
“Through our programs we have seen many lives changed for the better. Some of our youth participants have become first-generation college graduates, setting an example for our youth. Many of them give back to the community by returning as volunteers and mentoring younger participants,” Garay said in a letter to donors.
The clothing drive for students is held before the start of each academic year. The organization buys school uniforms and other clothing essentials.
Through “bargain buying” at local stores, Precious Treasures provides two or three outfits for students. This program is based on income eligibility and students are either referred by schools and accepted through applications.
The organization provided more than 600 uniforms to students in need at the start of the 2011-2012 school year.
The mission provides furniture, such as beds and home appliances, to needy families. They are usually referred by the Arizona Department of Economic Security or Goodwill.
DES also refers people for emergency food boxes, which are filled with nonperishables. However, families are also welcome to pick up a food box when in need.
The food bank gets a lot of support from winter visitors. “When they are leaving, they bring us their groceries,” Garay noted.
During the holiday season, Precious Treasures distributes baskets full of age-appropriate toys and clothing to families in need.
The youth program is one of the mission's main projects. Students in the after-school program get a snack and help with homework from 3-5 p.m. They also have access to computers for school projects. They can participate in arts and crafts and play board games to learn fair play.
The after-school program draws about 90-100 kids. It's free and open to all youths between the ages of 5-15. It's run on a first-come, first-served basis and is not based on income eligibility.
The summer program draws even more kids, with 150 enrolled in the first session which ended Friday. The second session runs July 2-18. The youth center is open 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.
At the end of the session, the center will host Family Fun Night where kids “get to show off everything they've learned,” Garay said.
Due to the program's popularity, the youth center is quickly outgrowing its facilities on Somerton's Main Street. Not surprisingly, a new facility is on the long-term wish list.
“We have so many kids we can't accommodate any more,” she noted.
When the time comes, she's sure the community will be there for them. “We get a lot of support from the community.”
A lot of that support comes through the Precious Treasures Thrift Store, which serves as the mission's main source of funding.
Many donations of gently used clothing and items come in through the seven boxes located around Yuma.
“We're always working hard to keep the thrift store stocked,” Garay said.
The organization also has an annual barbecue dinner and collectibles sale to raise money for scholarships.
“We keep the antiques for that day,” Garay noted.
Volunteers are very important to the organization, with six or seven regularly volunteering and others coming when they can. The store has 10 paid staffers, while the youth center is run by six paid employees, most of them high school students.
“Most kids who work here were raised here,” Garay said. “During school they work 2-3 hours a day, and in the summer, they work longer hours. It helps them pay for school supplies.”
Precious Treasures always needs volunteers and monetary donations. On the short-term wish list is a playground and paint; the organization hopes to paint the store inside and out this year.
With donations at an all-time low, the organization needs help keeping the thrift store stocked. To donate gently used items, drop them off at the store, located at 492 E. Main St., or call 627-3640 to schedule a pick-up. All donations are tax deductible.
The food bank also accepts donations of nonperishable food, gift sets and new toys for Christmas baskets (all ages).
With three months on the job, Garay is enjoying her role as director.
“I really enjoy every day. It's so rewarding. We have a lot of things going on. My son comes here and loves it,” she said.
She gets a sense of accomplishment by witnessing the difference Precious Treasures makes in people's lives.
“We're making a difference in the lives of kids. When they come here, they are always smiling,” Garay said.
“We're also making a difference by helping people who are struggling. And people are very thankful.”
For more information on Precious Treasures Mission, call 627-3640.
Mara Knaub can be reached at email@example.com or (928) 539-6856. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSMaraKnaub or on Twitter at @YSMaraKnaub
In 2011, Precious Treasures had:
• 459 youth participants in 2011 summer and after school programs
• 675 students clothed during the summer
• 9 scholarship recipients (10 in 2012)
• 4 university graduates, bringing total to 6 first-generation college graduates
• 16 youth volunteers during the back-to-school clothing program
• 150 families assisted with furniture and food boxes
• 1,747 youth volunteer hours
• 1,123 community service hours
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