Arizona Giving Circle pays it forward

Photo by Michelle Borgwardt
Adorned in vintage aprons and hats, a dozen members of the Arizona Giving Circle from the Verde Valley joined cast members of the musical Church Basement Ladies in celebration of church basement kitchens everywhere. Back row from left: Pat Eudy, Betty Hanf, Karen Colby, Barbara Osher, actor William Christopher, Cynthia Strom, actresses Katherine Proctor and Jean Liuzzi, Stephanie Stackhouse, and Shari and Bill Witt. Front row from left: Billie Winkle, Joan Bourque, actresses Jessica Taige and Karen Pappas, and Claudia Alarcon.

Photo by Michelle Borgwardt Adorned in vintage aprons and hats, a dozen members of the Arizona Giving Circle from the Verde Valley joined cast members of the musical Church Basement Ladies in celebration of church basement kitchens everywhere. Back row from left: Pat Eudy, Betty Hanf, Karen Colby, Barbara Osher, actor William Christopher, Cynthia Strom, actresses Katherine Proctor and Jean Liuzzi, Stephanie Stackhouse, and Shari and Bill Witt. Front row from left: Billie Winkle, Joan Bourque, actresses Jessica Taige and Karen Pappas, and Claudia Alarcon.

Churches provide the ideal environment for food and fellowship. Just ask the Lutheran ladies who spend countless hours in the comfort of their rural Minnesota church preparing meals for every occasion, from birthdays and weddings to fund-raisers and funerals. These “Church Basement Ladies” are the pillars of every church and they finally get the recognition they so rightly deserve in the musical comedy of the same name now on stage at Mesa Arts Center through Sunday, Nov. 22.

A little known group in the Verde Valley called the Arizona Giving Circle also gathers for fellowship and to promote a shared interest of giving. Last year the group raised more than $3,100 to support Women’s Empowerment International (WE) in its mission of providing microloans to impoverished women in Sonora, Mexico, to jump-start their businesses. Thanks to such donations, hundreds of women have taken $50 loans and built new lives. With profits from their businesses they’ve put waterproof roofs on houses, sent children to school, and were able to purchase medicine for ailing children.

This informal group, spearheaded mostly by ladies of Verde Valley Presbyterian Church, recently celebrated their lifestyle of giving and their common ties to the Midwest by convoying to Mesa to see the opening production of Church Basement Ladies on Nov. 4. During this social event they raised nearly $500 for WE, one of four nonprofits they contribute to.

Karen Colby of Camp Verde, a core member of the Arizona Giving Circle, heard rave reviews of the musical from friends in Chicago so when the production was bound for Arizona, she planned to attend with like-minded friends.

“We wanted to go see a play that would celebrate our backgrounds and give back to Women’s Empowerment International,” said Colby. “I believe there is a need to give back. We may not always agree, but there is that underlying need to be helpful. That is what I saw in the play.”

Another core member of the Arizona Giving Circle, Cynthia Strom of Clarkdale, arranged for group members to don vintage aprons and hats in support of “Church Basement Ladies” everywhere.

“We have a goal of raising another $2,700 throughout the Verde Valley by the end of May 2010,” said Strom. “We plan various fund-raising efforts by individuals and/or groups such as attending this fun theater event and at the same time making a difference with individual contributions to WE.”

Church Basement Ladies offers a blend of Nunsense and A Prairie Home Companion with a taste of Fargo thrown in for good measure. In celebration of church basement kitchens everywhere and the often overlooked women who toil in them, Church Basement Ladies weaves the escapades and relationships of four women who volunteer in a rural Minnesota church. Set in 1964, this “basement sanctuary” is overseen by Pastor Gunderson played by William Christopher, who last donned black robes as Father Mulcahy in the hit TV sitcom M*A*S*H. Christopher anchors the cast who serves up laughs in Midwestern fashion complete with a cornucopia of lutefisk and kransakaka. Uff da!

But the real stars of this comedy are the four women who comprise Church Basement Ladies: Jean Liuzzi as Vivian, Karen Pappas as Mavis, Katherine Proctor as Karin, and Jessica Taige as Signe, Karin’s college-age daughter. Together they play true “steel magnolias,” attempting to solve problems as the church year unfolds.

Inspired by the books of Janet Martin and Suzann Nelson, including the best-seller “Growing Up Lutheran,” Church Basement Ladies provides the perfect wholesome outing for friends, family and church groups.

For tickets, call Mesa Arts Center Box Office at (480) 644-6500 or visit www.mesaaratscenter.com. For more information about WE, visit www.womenempowerment.org.

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