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Bringing the community together during COVID

From left, Damian Bruno, Bev Copen, Omar Kenney, Danielle Giann, Ken Rouse, Don Groves, Shara Coughlin, Rob Schaefer, David Gill. Courtesy photo

From left, Damian Bruno, Bev Copen, Omar Kenney, Danielle Giann, Ken Rouse, Don Groves, Shara Coughlin, Rob Schaefer, David Gill. Courtesy photo

Making a difference begins with “I’ve got an idea.” In the last several months when there has been little to celebrate, the Village gained an essential boost in spirit and connection from the idea of celebrating.

The local non-profit, Sedona Village Partnership, hosted two events in October that have brought a brilliant, bright spot of warmth, celebration and togetherness to the Village of Oak Creek. First, an “Elegant Country Paella Dinner,” and second a Halloween Pet Parade.

The dinner event had been postponed seven months during COVID. As a sponsor of the new preschool, Sedona Village Learning Center, SVP leaders offered to host the dinner to raise money for the non-profit school. They and their partners created and re-imagined what could be safely done following COVID protocols for their events.

SVP Board Member Beverly Copen commented, “In tough times, it is vital to think ‘way outside of the box.’ ‘Why not’ inspired everyone to pitch in and make magic happen.”

SVP President, Don Groves said the organization’s vision is "Connecting the Community. I believe our community is stronger if we define it by what unites us rather than by what divides us. It is time to work together to support initiatives that sustain a vibrant community.

"We chose to support Sedona Village Learning Center because it is a unifying effort which will encourage restoration of the heart and vibrancy of The Village.”

The dinner was a fundraiser for the preschool’s scholarship program. Currently, half of the students in the preschool are on financial aid. During this time of coronavirus, the school has worked hard to stay open and serve families despite financial challenges. The funds raised at the dinner will help keep the flame alive in the coming year.

SVP Treasurer, David Gill commented on how the Partnership began working with the preschool. It sprang from SVP’s "support of and commitment to education in the Village and most especially our preschool. From the very beginning we thought our event would be a celebratory one … celebratory for so many reasons. Celebratory because a very imaginative, creative and committed young lady had a vision of restoring education to our village. A dream consistent with our Partnership’s vision, since losing our beloved Big Park Community School. And so we began working together.”

Their view on this partnership is that “the preschool has exceeded all expectations in not only providing a high caliber academic program for our children, but has intrepidly done so in light of all the obstacles COVID-19 has thrown in its pathway. We are very proud of Founder Joanna Horton McPherson and Director/Lead Teacher Shara Coughlin. This dinner is also a way to celebrate their unparalleled professionalism and perseverance in establishing an exceptional preschool for the children in our community.”

The evening raised thousands of dollars, between ticket fees, a silent auction and donations for the preschool families. It was a joyful and warm event with excellent food, outdoor ambiance and good wine - a success all around according to the 40 or so attendees.

Appetizers and traditional and vegetarian paella were served by Master Chef John Ramagli. An esteemed and entertaining sommelier, Steve Bailey, served three different Spanish wines. Popular local guitarist, Eric Miller, provided musical ambience throughout the event with flamenco guitar music.

Indeed, SVP soon offered another event later in the month, on Halloween. They put on a “Halloween Pet Parade” for children and pets alike. The first annual Halloween Pet Parade was held at the Big Park Community School campus as “a huge community event, everyone welcome.”

Attendees were invited to come in costume, with or without a pet. There were costume prizes and tricks-or-treats handed out. Free ice cream was passed out by Rocky Road and sponsored by SVP board members Damian Bruno and Danielle Giann. About 120 people came, from all over the Verde Valley.

One person commented on how great it was that things like this parade were happening in the Village. She said, “It's been many years since there was anything fun for kids in our community.”

Another commented that a lady with a young child in costume stopped her in the parking lot as they left the event. She asked, “are you one of the organizers?” to which she replied, “no but I am a partner of Sedona Village Partnership, who are responsible.” With eyes brimming with tears, the lady said, “I can’t thank them enough for making this event possible. The kids have been robbed of so much this year, and this was so important to my son, and we had the best time.”

Camille Cox, president of the Big Park Regional Coordinating Committee, said of the event, “Don’t for a second underestimate the impact of the contribution this organization is making to this community. Some other groups are doing important work as well, and if we can keep moving in this direction there is no doubt that young people might once again find this community a welcoming and viable place to call home.”

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