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August 29, 2013

Host: José Cárdenas

Assistance League of Phoenix

  |   Video
  • Assistance League of Phoenix Executive Director Aimee Runyon talks about Operation School Bell, a program helping children get adequate school clothing and other programs assisting families in the valley.
  • Aimee Runyon - Executive Director, Assistance League of Phoenix
Category: Community   |   Keywords: phoenix, program,

View Transcript
José Cárdenas: The Assistance League of Phoenix has helped thousands of children in Phoenix who don't have adequate school clothing dress for success for school. This year the Arizona Diamondbacks awarded $100,000 to the Assistance League of Phoenix to create a new project called Operation: School Bell Delivering Dreams. We'll talk about Operation: School Bell in a moment. First here's what the project is all about.

Aimee Runyon: Assistance League of Phoenix has been helping children and families for just over 50 years.

Brianna Mitchell: I saw them one morning walking to school without shoes on. No uniforms. No shoes, barefoot. I took them all to Operation: School Bell. They have shoes. They love their shoes. They love their clothes. It's so great to see or to know that Operation: School Bell is doing it for the kids and only the kids.

Nancy Clark: When the child stands in front of the mirror after putting on new top, new bottoms, new shoes, they almost don't recognize themselves. But what you see is a giant smile.

José Cárdenas: Joining me to talk about the operation is Aimee Runyon, executive director for the Assistance League of Phoenix. Thank you for joining me this evening. What we saw in the video is what the Assistance League has been doing for the last 27 years in terms of Operation: School Bus -- School Bell, rather. Let's talk about that and the new wrinkle this year.

Aimee Runyon: Yes. Actually, Assistance League of Phoenix has been in the Valley helping children and families for over 50 years as an all-volunteer organization, but Operation: School Bell, our signature program, has been going on for over 27 years where we have provided new school clothing for children in need throughout the greater Phoenix area, all through the help of volunteers.

José Cárdenas: What makes it so unique, it's like an individualized fitting. The kids get clothes especially for them.

Aimee Runyon: It's like having a personal shopper. So the kids come to our center, and they are taken one by one with a volunteer, they go through the center picking out clothes. Everywhere we can give children a choice we do. Whether or not that's choosing between pants or shorts or one of each or navy bottoms or khaki bottoms, it's really interesting that even small choices like that are so significant to children that have never had a choice to make.

José Cárdenas: Every child there's a kind of a set list of things they get. Let’s talk about that.

Aimee Runyon: There is. Every child gets a full wardrobe. That consists of three polo tops, two bottoms, either can be two pairs of pants, two pairs of shorts, one of each, or a skort for the girls. They get six pairs of underwear, six pairs of socks. A belt, a sweatshirt, a brand new pair of athletic shoes, a hygiene kit that has a full size shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrush, soap. And a backpack. I'll tell you one of the biggest comments we get other than they are excited about having a brand new pair of shoes or their own pair of shoes is they are excited that they get to have their own toothbrush.

José Cárdenas: How many kids do you service?

Aimee Runyon: We serve over 4,000 children. This year we're actually going to be able to to serve over 6,000 children, and that is in large part due to this grant from the Arizona Diamondbacks.

José Cárdenas: This is the new wrinkle; this is the Delivering Dreams part we talked about in the introduction. Tell us about that.

Aimee Runyon: So for 27 years schools have been coming to our center. What we found is there are so many schools in south Phoenix, on the west side of town, it just takes so long to get to us, it takes the kids out of class for too long. Now we have devised a plan to take our program to the schools. So we have a 40-foot city bus, and we retrofitted that into a mobile dressing center. So inside you'll find a waiting area for dressing rooms, racks of clothing, a shoe fitting area. It's really spectacular. Great thing about this bus is the outside looks like a huge Diamondbacks ad. So when the kids are selected to come out and receive new clothing, they come out of class, it now takes away that stigmatism of being poor, being low-income and having to go out to the Assistance League bus. Instead we get to go out to the Diamondbacks bus. What child doesn't like to go out and see all things Diamondbacks? So they also get a Diamondbacks backpack. It makes it really exciting for these kids. That's what we try to do is create that environment. At our center we have a partnership with the Phoenix Suns, so back when we had our center built we received the large grant award from the Phoenix Suns so when the kids come into our center on 5th Street and Dunlap they see the Phoenix Suns Reading and Learning Center. It's exciting for them. They are not walking into a cold bench. They are getting to play on I-Pads, games, crafts while they wait for their personal dressing.

José Cárdenas: You mentioned reading and learning. One of the things they get is a book.

Aimee Runyon: They do, and they get to choose the book. Anywhere we can give a child a choice we do. We collect thousands of books. We have over 40,000 books that come through our center. Donated, most of them donated. Every book a volunteer goes through and puts a name plate in the book so the child can write their name on their book. It is our hope we can create home libraries for these children.

José Cárdenas: The volunteers make sure the books are age and grade appropriate.

Aimee Runyon: They do. A lot of our volunteers are former educators, so they go through all the books making sure that everything we give out is appropriate, it's in good condition and they separate it based on different grade levels.

José Cárdenas: Your volunteers are principally from Assistance League. But other groups can get involved. How can they do that?

Aimee Runyon: They can. We have different corporate groups that help out. We have PayPal, the Diamondbacks come out, Intel has come out. We have different corporate groups that get their employees involved and send out their employees to volunteer for either a day or several different days. We also have people that call up and want to volunteer. So we'll have people that come out, bring their family, their friends, their church groups. We really have so many volunteer activities. Our organization is run primarily by volunteers.

José Cárdenas: With one exception.

Aimee Runyon: Two: Myself and the bus driver.

José Cárdenas: That's something new, right? You're the first executive director.

Aimee Runyon: Yes.

José Cárdenas: not just here but in the country.

Aimee Runyon: Nationally. For over 50 years Assistance League of Phoenix has operated all with volunteers. It is amazing. In that time they did two capital campaigns and owned two buildings outright, all volunteers, which is really amazing. We own and operate a thrift shop on 7th street between Glendale and Northern. We get a third of our revenue from that source. As you said, nationally, we're the first chapter in all the U.S., out of 122 chapters, for an organization -- Assistance League has been around for over 100 years -- to have an executive director. My position was paid for through a three-year grant. Again, anywhere that we can make sure that every penny raised in Phoenix stays in Phoenix and goes to help children and families.

José Cárdenas: Among those children you help, that includes charter schools, right?

Aimee Runyon: Yes.

José Cárdenas: You provide uniforms for kids who go to schools that require uniforms?

Aimee Runyon: We do.

José Cárdenas: How does that work? I imagine it changes from school to school, the kind of uniform.

Aimee Runyon: It does. Pretty much most of the schools are really changing to uniforms. We serve 15 school districts and about 77 schools, all uniform schools throughout the greater Phoenix area. So we have a wide variety of colored tops, navy blue and khaki bottoms. Generally any of the colors we have --

José Cárdenas: That takes care of it?

Aimee Runyon: That covers it. The schools will pick out a couple of the different colors they want the students to be able to choose from.

José Cárdenas: Sounds like a great program. You have been able to expand it through the generosity of the Diamondbacks and I assume more to come in the future.

Aimee Runyon: Yes.

José Cárdenas: Thank you for joining us on Horizonte to talk about it.

Aimee Runyon: Thank you so much.

Raise the River-Reconnect the Colorado River

  |   Video
  • A discussion about Raise the River, an effort among non-profit organizations, government agencies, and community groups to raise money to reconnect the Colorado river to its delta in Mexico. Executive Director for the Instituto del Desierto Sonorense and Consultant for The Redford Center, Monica Michelle Grijalva, talks about this effort.
  • Monica Michelle Grijalva - Executive Director, Instituto del Desierto Sonorense & Consultant, The Redford Center
Category: Environment   |   Keywords: colorado river,

View Transcript
José Cárdenas: Thank you for joining us. The U.S. and Mexico signed a historic five-year agreement in November that improves management of the Colorado River giving both countries flexibility to responds to the challenges of drought and need for water. The Raise the River campaign is an effort to raise money to reconnect the Colorado River to its Delta in Mexico. We'll talk about the efforts in a moment. First here's a short clip from the film “Watershed”. It tells the story of threats to the Colorado River and solutions for the future of the American west.

Robert Redford: It is said that nothing defines a region more than a body of water. This is particularly true in the American west. The Colorado River and the tributaries that make up her basin shape the spirit of her settlers. El Rio Colorado, the river colored red from the land she flows through, made this dry land not only livable but irresistible to settlement. Even still her famed early explorer John Wesley Powell warned that combining arid land and civilization would eventually lead to a crisis. As the Wild West was tamed, so were the waters of the Colorado River basin. The relentless march toward progress led to the 1922 Colorado River Compact and other agreements among 7 American and 2 Mexican states to divvy up the water. It transformed one of the world’s wildest rivers, capable of creating grand canyons and inland seas, into the most dammed, dibbed and diverted river basin in the world: a machine supporting the needs of 30 million people. Agriculture, industry, urban growth, mining, energy production claw for their share, so much so that the mighty Colorado River of today rarely if ever reaches her Delta in the gulf of California. With populations in the region expected to reach 50 million by 2050, temperatures rising and precipitation patterns becoming more erratic, demand will outpace supply unless we embrace a new water ethic. One that questions not only how we use water but how it affects the world around us, across the Colorado River basin from a fly-fishing guide in Rocky Mountain National Park to the river's Delta, a rancher in Colorado to a bike messenger in Los Angeles, a mayor in mining country to a Navajo County commissioner. There are those not only asking the questions but acting on them daily.

José Cárdenas: Joining me now to talk about this effort is Monica Michelle Grijalva: , executive director for the Instituto Del Desierto Sonorense. She's also a consultant and the for the Redford center. Welcome to Horizonte.

Monica Michelle Grijalva: Thank you.

José Cárdenas: A familiar voice that we heard there, Robert Redford's voice, and we just mentioned the Redford center is involved. In what way? Why is he doing this?

Monica Michelle Grijalva: Well in 2012 they started producing this film called watershed and I think they fell in love with the possibility --

José Cárdenas: They meaning Robert Redford and his son?

Monica Michelle Grijalva: Jamie Redford, yes. He views film as to be used for social change. That's why they fell in love with “Watershed” and the issues of the Colorado River. And, of course, Mr. Redford has always been a conservationist and environmentalist. This is very close to his heart.

José Cárdenas: Let's talk about the issues. They were touched upon briefly in the video, but how does this come about? I understand there was an agreement between the U.S. and Mexico. What did that lead to?

Monica Michelle Grijalva: I think different things are perfectly aligned to make this possibility of one of the most ambitious restoration efforts of our time to be possible. There's this treaty, which is a historic agreement because it actually awards water rights to the river, which has never been done in the U.S. or Mexico before. Then we have these nonprofit organizations like Sonoran Institute from Tucson and Pro Natura in Mexico that have, for the last two decades, actually been doing restoration work in this Delta area of the Colorado River. Then we have these test sites that have been done where we can see the resiliency. We have science behind it making this very, very possible. Now we're looking to align the other piece of the community. How can the rest of us come together to make this restoration effort possible?

José Cárdenas: How are you going to do that? First it's money. Let's talk about the amount of money you're trying to raise.

Monica Michelle Grijalva: We're trying to raise $10 million. It’s going to be used for a combination of two things: The actual restoration work that needs to be done in that area, which includes reforestation, people on the ground need machines, they need trees, they need all this stuff to do the reforestation and the preparation for the water rights take that will be purchased and to be flowing to restore that base flow to restore the Colorado River.

José Cárdenas: As I understand you're trying to do this all in a very compressed amount of time.

Monica Michelle Grijalva: We're trying to do this over the course of the next three to five years to take advantage of the possibility that when a new treaty is signed we can renegotiate and have further water rights assigned to the Colorado River.

José Cárdenas: Let's talk about what's going on with the river. We saw some pictures showing it doesn't get to the Delta. But the fact is some water gets to Mexico, it just doesn't get there as part of the river. Is that right?

Monica Michelle Grijalva: Exactly. Mexico has a certain amount of water per the treaty exactly. It all reaches the Morelos – “la presa Morelos”

José Cárdenas: The dam.

Monica Michelle Grijalva: The dam. Thank you very much, I’m thinking in Spanish. Every drop gets to the dam and then it's distributed to agriculture, to industry, to the cities. It goes all the way to Tijuana. The water we are allotted for the agreement does reach Mexico, but it doesn't go into the Colorado River. It is once it reaches Mexico the river is completely dry. So it no longer reaches the sea of Cortez. It no long has that natural flow to the sea.

José Cárdenas: So is it just a Mexican problem then? If that's where it stops going into the river, why is the U.S. involved?

Monica Michelle Grijalva: Just for you to get an idea of what this bioregion means, Jacques Cousteau used to call this Delta “the world's aquarium.” It was that perfect combination of water from the river and water from the sea that created this very unique biodiversity that can be found nowhere else in the world. That affects every citizen of the world. Also there are certain environmental effects to the fact that the water no longer flows. Just like if a glacier is melting too fast it affects us down here, the water has a natural flow to the river so there are issues that are going to affect us eventually in Arizona to the seven states that drink water from the Colorado River.

José Cárdenas: Does it mean we have to cut back on the amount of wear we use from the Colorado River? Phoenix use about two fifths of the water.

Monica Michelle Grijalva: Yes.

José Cárdenas: To make this work are we going to have to go on water rationing?

Monica Michelle Grijalva: That's one of the risks. If we don't start using it efficiently it's the risk. I know there's different projects such as CAP that have been able to create --

José Cárdenas: Central Arizona project.

Monica Michelle Grijalva: They have been very smart about having reserves but eventually the whole Colorado River can be dry.

José Cárdenas: So tell us about the efforts that are under way to raise the funds. I know there's a very special event coming up in September.

Monica Michelle Grijalva: On September 7, we're doing a fund-raiser. We’re doing a combination of ticket sales, we're having a lovely auction with art pieces from all over the world, and we also have different sponsorship opportunities for the event. The event is designed in a way not only is Mr. Redford going to be present along with dignitaries from the U.S. and Mexico but even the menu is designed to be a low water usage menu.

José Cárdenas: We have a website address on the board. People can go there to get more information.

Monica Michelle Grijalva: They can go on there and get more information. Our number will be on there so you can learn how to purchase tickets, or maybe you can't purchase a ticket but want to text to donate $10. It all builds up.

José Cárdenas: There are a number of nonprofits involved in this effort. One is the Terra foundation?

Monica Michelle Grijalva: Yes. This is a very, very unique opportunity where every single dollar raised on September 7 will be matched by the Terra foundation.

José Cárdenas: What other things are you doing? There's a lot of education that goes with this. You're very involved in that. How are you doing that?

Monica Michelle Grijalva: Well, I think part of it is the decisions that we make daily regarding water. We're building different pieces. From the water songs that can be used when you take a shower that are three minutes long so you automatically are tuned into a shorter shower. Anywhere from that to every single decision that we make -- for example in recycling our jeans. How many gallons of water does it take to produce a pair of jeans? Can we go to a local Goodwill or somewhere and buy them versus buying new ones?

José Cárdenas: A lot of use of social media.

Monica Michelle Grijalva: We're very big on social media. The response and the interest we have had over the course of two days over 700 people signed up for our Facebook page.

José Cárdenas: Good luck on your efforts. Thank you for joining us on Horizonte to discuss this very important issue.

Monica Michelle Grijalva: Thank you for having me.