By Anne Gibson

There is no question that the Covid19 pandemic has disrupted life as we once knew it. As a nation and a part of the global world, humanity struggled with how to survive and find a new “normal.” The struggle took form in large attempts as well as small.

The Vail Religious Leaders (VRL) was formed twenty-two years ago by then Vail School District Superintendent Calvin Baker. Bringing the religious leaders together quarterly to connect and share was a perfect fit for the school district’s motto of “Education is a Community Effort.” Cole and Carol Thies moved into the Rocking K area in January of 1994. Cole joined the VRL in 2006 when serving as Bishop of his congregation in the Church of Latter-Day Saints. Upon retirement when serving as Stake President he became more involved in various VRL activities.

Adella “Della” Ruiz aids students and families in need in the Vail School District.

The Vail Religious Leaders continued to grow in size and purpose developing two subcommittees. The first, the Vail Family University (VFU), has this motto: “Educate-Equip-Empower.” The VFU sponsored an annual conference with a nationally known speaker and breakout sessions drawing 250-300 participants. Then came the pandemic and the focus changed to a virtual four-week series featuring such courses as “Navigating the Teen Age Years,” “Foster Parent Orientation,” and “Gen Z Trends and Technology.”

The second subcommittee was Vail Serves Vail (VSV) whose mission is: “Inspiring community through service by identifying and connecting needs with resources.” Eight years ago, Cole Thies joined Vail Serves Vail to help connect resources from religious organizations with community needs. The mission remains the same today. VSV is embarking on a new project designed to assist those student’s at Pantano High School who are struggling financial for their basic needs through a gift card program overseen by Principal Monica Wright.

Pantano High School is a credit recovery alternative school with an A+ ranking, committed to serving the specialized needs of today’s youth. The school provides options for students entering their fourth year of high school who have earned 15 or fewer credits, students entering their third year of high school who have earned eight or fewer credits, students who are able to earn the credits necessary for graduation prior to their 21st birthday, or students who fall outside these guidelines are addressed individually at the discretion of the principal.

Cole Thies, Chairman of Vail Serves Vail, leads Vail Serves Vail to show appreciate for those in who give so much.

Vail School District Special Project Coordinator Della M. Ruiz and VSV member volunteered to help with the project. “I assist our Vail schools with students/families that are in need or are homeless,” said Della Ruiz who has lived in Vail for 30 years, has been married to Robert Ruiz for 31 years, reared three children, has two grandchildren, and has worked for the Vail School District for 14 years.

Pantano High School currently has ten students who lack the basics (food, toiletries, shoes, gasoline to get to school, etc.). VSV encouraged their membership and others to donate gift cards to help these students graduate. The distribution of the gift cards is overseen by Pantano’s administration. Fry’s offered their support by allowing Pantano students to use donated gift cards for gasoline as well as other basic needs. “Some students, because of hardship, may feel that all hope is gone. I believe that all of our students need to dream big and reach for ‘their’ star,” Della Ruiz said as she commented that the school district and community should assist with their educational adventure. Gift cards may be sent to Principal Monica Wright at 13010 S. Houghton, Tucson, AZ 85747 or for further information contact Ms. Wright at 879-1200.

With Covid19, VSV recognized the stress being felt everywhere. It began its focus with the Vail School District where the morale of staff was under tremendous pressure. Twenty-eight posters were prepared with scissors, paste, and loving care with the words, sentences, and a letter of support and appreciation. The posters were hand delivered by VSV members to each of the schools and district departments.

A second project involved the making of a video by VSV members for the Vail Religious Leaders. This video was shown at the April 20th VRL meeting to let them know their messages of strength and compassion were not forgotten. “We hoped that it would have a significant impact in spreading appreciation for those who have sacrificed much for others during this stressful time,” said Cole Thies, Chairman of VSV.

No school tax money is expended for the Vail Religious Leaders and its two subcommittees.

Whittley “Anne” Gibson is a third generation Tucsonan and alumni of the University of Arizona. She has been an active community member in the greater Vail area since the late 1970s.

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Anne Gibson