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Pediatric MultiCare West one of the first to administer vaccine

PINETOP-LAKESIDE —- During the last week of December 2020, Pediatric MultiCare West and MultiCare West Family Practice in Lakeside received a supply of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. The clinic is owned and managed by Dr. Vera Bennett, and was chosen with a few other sites in Navajo County to give the vaccine.

Bennett is an M.D. with a Master’s degree in Public Health who added a family practice to her existing pediatric clinic in June 2020. As a pediatric clinic, Dr. Bennett and her staff give a lot of vaccines.

“We were happy to jump into giving the COVID-19 vaccine because we wanted to help the community fight the pandemic,” said Dr. Bennett. “So far, there has been a very limited supply and it was spread out across several sites,” said Bennett.

MultiCare West administered almost 200 vaccines through the first allotment. Since then, they received 60 second doses and another 100 initial doses.

The COVID-19 vaccine is for adults 18 and over but they have given the vaccines according to the phases set up by the state of Arizona. The current Phase 1B has multiple criteria, one of those being age 75 or over.

Navajo County received the Moderna brand of the vaccine, possibly because the cold storage requirements were less stringent than others, requiring the multiple-dose vial to be stored frozen at -13 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit. They cannot be stored on dry ice and the carton must be protected from the light.

“We were shipped multi-dose vials each containing 10 doses of the vaccine,” said Bennett. “Once a vial is defrosted, we only have 30 days to use the doses,” said Bennett. “The kicker is that once the vial has been punctured, we only have six hours to use all the doses in that vial. Essentially, we need to have 10 people lined up with paperwork completed and ready to be vaccinated.”

The COVID-19 vaccine is a two-dose vaccine with the second injection given 28 days after the first and is supposed to provide a 50-90% immunity. Depending on the source, immunity begins approximately two to four weeks after the first dose.

In administering vaccines, the practice of allottment worked out well until someone posted a notice on Craig’s List to sign up for the vaccine at MultiCare West. This created a wave of people descending on the practice trying to get the vaccine.

“As a small private practice, we could not handle the volume and had to limit the number of people we could handle in one day,” said Bennett. “The paperwork is labor intensive and staff was sometimes overwhelmed but proper documentation is critical for any vaccine because it helps track results and it helps justify the need.”

During her interview with the Independent, Bennett emphasized that giving the vaccines was not a money-making event for them. In fact, the practice will probably lose money as a result of the additional paperwork resources and overall staff time required for distributing the COVID-19 vaccine. Her practices are able to charge insurance companies or the state an “administration fee” of just over $16 per dose but that doesn’t come close to covering the supplies, staff time and the resources used to vaccinate..

While most people have been very patient, some get angry and belligerent (about wanting the vaccine) said Bennet. They have no control over when they receive the vaccine or how many doses are sent. It is released by the state and counties and then to the providers.

Bennett asks the community to please be patient with the process. They have a list of people who requested the vaccine during the clinic’s first allotment and will work through that list first.

When asked about side effects seen by her staff, Bennett said that some patients have reported a sore arm or mild body aches similar to receiving the flu vaccine. They are aware that some people have reported more severe allergic reactions and they are prepared to deal with those if they occur.

“I, myself, had a more severe reaction to the vaccine that included fever, chills, nausea and headache for about 24 hours,” said Bennett. “I am told this is unusual and may be related to the fact that I had the illness two months prior to my vaccination.”

In most cases, providers don’t recommend that someone who already had the virus to get the vaccine until 90 days after infection. If a person is unsure whether they should get the vaccine, Bennett recommends speaking to your primary care physician.


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WMAT consults with BIA on drought concerns

WHITERIVER — Reading the signs of drought, White Mountain Apache Tribal Chairwoman Gwendena Lee-Gatewood reached out to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Forestry and Wildland Fire Management’s Public Information Officer Candy Lupe for a bit of insight on what’s ahead for the 2021 fire season.

It is no surprise that Lupe’s message coincides with those of recent years, meaning strategy and mitigation will likely begin earlier than usual this year.

Relating two scenarios from her own backyard, which simply signify we are in a drought, Lee-Gatewood said birds have been regularly coming to her bird bath and drinking water excessively this winter. Just last week she also witnessed a lone cow venture into her yard seeking water.

“There is no water with this current lack of moisture,” said Lee-Gatewood.

Lupe referred to the U.S. Drought Monitor Center’s Jan. 12 graph for Arizona which was released on Jan. 14. It shows a lot of red for Arizona which denotes drought. The darker red areas on the graph (D4) which encompass the White Mountain area, denotes exceptional drought which translates to fire restrictions increasing; large fires occurring year-round; poor green-up of vegetation; dying of native plants, and the lakes, ponds, and streams, dry.

Lupe acknowledged the extreme dryness and concurred that this is something BIA has seen over the last several years. There has been some precipitation, but she said we need a lot more.

Jerry Gloshay, chief of staff for Lee-Gatewood, said Sunrise Park Resort is having to make snow at night and he said even Mt. Baldy does not have much snow right now.

Though some snow graced the White Mountain area this week, it quickly dissipated with very little accumulation.

The National Weather Service in Flagstaff predicted late Wednesday that two winter storms are likely to impact the area over the next several days. “The first would be Saturday into early Sunday with moderate snow impacts mainly over the higher terrain. The second and likely more impactful storm would be Monday into Tuesday with much lower snow levels and potentially more snow accumulation.”

As for the BIA’s look ahead to this year’s fire season, Lupe said “Our fire managers are looking at meeting in the next couple of weeks and having a meeting with Tribal managers to talk about strategy and mitigation measures we can work on for fire season. Most all of our fire fighters are on furlough right now but will be coming back on board working on training operations that they need to be doing.”

Lupe said for preparation BIA will work on their weight capacity tests, the weather, the fuel and moisture. The active field specialists and fuel managers will accompany the active training officers and look at different grasses, dead and downs on the forest floor, measure them and look at how dry they are. She said last year’s look at big logs were in the single digits, denoting we were in drought conditions then.

“In May we usually begin our seven day coverage when we have individuals working every day in case of fire,” said Lupe. “If it continues, we may have to move that up to April.”

Lupe said every year fires start in April which is the beginning of the antler hunting season. She said people build fires at this time and often fail to completely extinguish them, and the sparks from the campfire are a real concern. The BIA is looking at how to mitigate this problem and enlist the help of the community to avoid these fires.

Lupe said that on Jan. 12 they had two fires started by two individuals who improperly disposed of their wood stove ashes. She said they need to get the word out to the community to make everyone aware that it takes everyone to be involved to stop these human caused fires.

Lupe reported that many fires occur on SR 77 and some also on U.S. Highway 260 which are caused by faulty catalytic converters and the dry vegetation that is present. She said people can help with this issue by properly maintaining their vehicles. Just one spark can cause a fire and it will spread.

Lupe also reminded people that any car that has to park along side the road for any reason should search out an area with green grass so the hot exhaust from the car does not cause a fire.

Lee-Gatewood suggested an upcoming show for the community on how to properly extinguish camp fires. She said she has found a number of kids watch the Facebook show and will pay attention and share the information with their family members.

Gloshay suggested that Lupe, who is also a White Mountain Unified School District board member, might be able to reach kids and get the message out through social media by using Smokey the Bear, to which she agreed.

The U.S. Drought Monitor’s Jan. 14 Facebook post stated, “Drought coverage across the U.S. and Puerto Rico decreased by less than a percentage point, to 37.5% of the area. In the West, nearly 46.9% of the area is experiencing extreme or exceptional drought.”

Lee-Gatewood’s final words was a request for people to be careful driving on the highways and in the forests.

Gloshay cautioned that dry conditions exist now, not just in Whiteriver, but around the entire State of Arizona.

BIA and Tribal wildfire management programs provide leadership, training and guidance to develop strategies to reduce the number of human caused wildfires.


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Richardsons gets 12 years for murder

Joshua Richardson

ST. JOHNS — The highly emotional sentencing hearing for now-17 year old Joshua Cade Richardson went long on Tuesday afternoon and was rife with high emotion.

For the Oct. 3, 2017 murder of Terrilynne Collins at her family’s retreat in Concho and two counts of aggravated assault on a Collins daughter and the daughter’s female roommate, Richardson will serve 12 years in prison and will get credit for 1,203 days that he has already served. The plea agreement called for a minimum of 10 years, a maximum of 20.

In the hallway after the hearing the victim’s widowed husband, Ernest Collins, Jr. told the Independent that the sentence is “An abomination, no justice.” He also demanded that Presiding Judge Michael Latham and Deputy County Attorney Garrett Whiting resign, and defense counsel Cindy Castillo and the defense psychologist (who testified, see below) should be “scorned.”

Background

The case started on October 3, 2017 when then 14-year-old Richardson showed up at a property on Apache County Road 8110 in Concho. There were two structures on the property, a mobile home in which a Collins daughter and her roommate were living, and another home occupied by Mrs. Collins and her own 14-year-old son Connor. Richardson was wearing a ski mask duct taped to his neck and was armed with three knives in his belt and he carried a hockey stick. He demanded the keys to a vehicle parked outside.

He also demanded that the roommate place her phone on the floor and tried to hit the daughter in the head with the hockey stick, but only managed to hit her on the shoulder. During the encounter, the roommate was able to retrieve her phone and texted her father who got ahold of Mrs. Collins who was in the other residence. She called her husband Earnest in Mesa and went to the trailer with a four-shot silver handgun. By that time, the two young women had tried to talk some sense into Richardson and it looked at first as if they had succeeded.

When Mrs. Collins appeared in her bathrobe, with the gun, Richardson eventually dropped the weapons, said he was sorry and asked to leave, according to a video from roommate’s phone which the Independent reviewed after the hearing. In fact, at the time the roommate was on the phone to 911, the recording of which the Independent listened to. The operator asked the caller “Can you get away from him? Can you get him to leave?” Dispatcher said that deputies were on their way.

According to the video, Collins told Richardson “You picked the wrong (expletive deleted) home, buddy boy,” as she stood on the inside of the closed front door and pointed the gun at him. “Let me get out,” Richardson is heard to say, “just don’t shoot me.” Mrs. Collins then ordered her daughter and roommate to go to the neighbors’ home and they left the building, with the phone which had been video recording. They heard a gunshot while outside and roommate said that it seemed at one point that Richardson and Mrs. Collins were wrestling on the floor.

Richardson gained control of the gun and Ernest, awakened from a sound sleep, listened from hundreds of miles away as his wife tried to reason with the intruder. He said that she was compassionate to Richarson and begged Richardson “not to shoot.” Judge Latham called Terrilynne’s actions “heroic.”

Then the women outside heard a single gun shot. Collins was pronounced dead at the scene with a single gunshot described as being “between her eyes.” Ernest Collins told the court that the coroner told him that there was no way the coroner could make her look like the 54-year-old wife, mother and grandmother that she had been, and that Collins had to make the very hard decision to not allow the family to see her remains. She was cremated, Ernest said, and her cremains occupy an urn in his room.

The victims

About a dozen or so family members, friends and victims either spoke in open court or through Zoom. The victim’s daughter had her sister read the daughter’s statement. Son Connor told the court how he was sleeping in the other residence and was awakened by a deputy. He asked if his mom was okay and said that the “deputy wouldn’t make eye contact,” with him and that’s how he learned that his mother had been murdered. Other speakers told of grievous loss, of birthday and wedding celebrations without Terrilynne, and the long-term horrible affects of her murder on their once-promising lives. Some spoke of lingering mental health struggles.

For Mr. Collins’ part, he point blank told the judge that the plea agreement was way too lenient. That Richardson executed Mrs. Collins in cold blood. That Collins didn’t care if Richardson had been “diddled with,” (explained below) or had to sleep outside, that there is something deranged about Richardson, he is “irredeemably broken,” that Richardson “relished” killing Terrilynne, and that “there is nothing of value in his soul.” He also observed that the defense asks for mercy and compassion, but that Richardson showed none to his victims.

Prosecutor Whiting quipped hauntingly that “There is no perfect justice in the criminal courts in Arizona,” that there are no winners here, but that he believes the plea agreement is appropriate. He did not argue for a particular number of years in prison for Richardson in his oral presentation.

The defense

Richardson himself did not make a statement, but there was plenty of information about his really awful life. Throughout his childhood, he was tortured. He was sexually and physically abused by the male figure in the home. The man stuck pins underneath Richardson’s fingernails, chained him to a trailer for trying to run away and had been knocked out cold by his ex-marine father. Latham noted that the physical scars of the abuse were verified by examining doctors.

A forensic psychologist evaluated Richardson. Dr. John Toma appeared by video and testified that his patient may have been exposed to toxic drugs in utero (possibly meth, according to a second doctor) which damaged the child’s brain. He had lived with his parents and sister “off the grid,” and kept out of school. Toma opined that Richardson has impaired functioning in the brain’s “frontal lobe,” which causes him to make “inappropriate decisions.” He predicted based on his decades long experience, that Richardson’s first few years in prison will be an adjustment, and without elaborating, Richardson would “learn undesirable behaviors to survive,” in prison. He concluded by saying that Richardson’s progress thus far shows a capacity for rehabilitation but that the shortest sentence available would be “optimal.” The judge noted later that Dr. Toma’s testimony was not refuted.

Defense lawyer Cindy Castillo said that the defense evidence would show that Richardson desperately needed to get away from his parents, not to be returned there to be beaten or chained for running away again. That he planned to drive to the airport in Phoenix to get a flight to his grandparents’ place in Florida and that he would leave the stolen or “borrowed” car in a parking lot in Phoenix to be returned.

Regarding rehabilitation, Castillo told the court that when Richardson was arrested and housed in a juvenile facility in Flagstaff, that he went through preschool, kindergarten and learned to read. That now that he’s being housed with adults, many of the benefits of the juvenile facility would not be available anymore. She remarked that she will not plead for leniency because in her view, a ten to 20 year sentence is not lenient. Castillo claimed that her client’s reading ability is now on the college level.

Richardson’s grandparents, both 73 years old from Florida, told the court that they had no communication with their daughter, Richardson’s mother, because of her husband, and were not aware of the conditions that Joshua had been raised in. The grandfather, a Vietnam veteran who had “agent orange cancer twice” and a retired cop of 22 years, reviewed the investigation and in his opinion, the gun “accidentally discharged during a wrestling match” with Mrs. Collins.

The risk of a trial by jury

At long last there is an answer to the lingering question about why the county attorney’s office seemed reluctant to try this case to a jury. In fact, Judge Latham told the attendees that the jury would make the decision about Richardson’s guilt, and that juries “can be emotional.” While commenting how difficult this case is for Latham as a father and husband, he said that his take on Richardson from the phone video was one of Richardson not being aggressive, that he apologized for entering the Collins’ home and asked numerous times to leave after he disarmed himself. Latham also mused that, technically speaking, the evidence for the aggravated assault charges was pretty clear; not so much for the murder charge. In the murder charge, a jury would have to unanimously agree, beyond a reasonable doubt that Richardson knowingly or intentionally caused the death of another person, and that could be problematic for the state under the circumstances.

Richardson will serve about nine years. He will not be eligible for a fifteen percent reduction in his sentence for good behavior. Richardson will leave prison at the expected age of 26 years old. TerriLynne Collins is gone forever.


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Forecast: Dry, warm winter will produce dangerous fire season

Despite a welcome dusting of snow this week, Arizona’s heading into an epically dry winter and a terrifying spring fire season.

The watersheds of the Salt, Gila and Verde Rivers in January had between 13% and 44% of the normal snowpack, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Jan. 1, 2021 Arizona Basin Outlook Report. The normally snowy Mogollon Rim country had just 5% of its normal snowpack.

Overall, Arizona’s high country has just 27% of the normal snow pack (snow-water equivalent), according to the snow pack report.

That includes 18% in the Little Colorado River Basin fed by the White Mountains, 14% on the Verde River, 13% on the Salt River watershed and 19% on the Gila River watershed.

The situation contrasts with last year, when most of those same watersheds had perhaps 150% of the normal snowpack in January, before the winter storms dried up, the spring came in bone dry and the monsoon all but failed.

This year, the only mountain range with even close to a normal snowpack was Mt Humphrey’s, overlooking Flagstaff, with 44% of its long-term average.

Ironically, the Chuska Mountains had 36% of its normal snowpack — much better than the White Mountains or Rim Country — even though the Navajo Reservation has been afflicted by extreme drought for several years.

The whole region remains in the grip of extreme or exceptional drought, with virtually every reservoir well below normal — especially on the Colorado River.

The U.S. Weather Service predicts a dry, hot spring and another desperate fire season.

“Once again, many state drought teams noted that in areas where rain and snow fell, it wasn’t enough to increase moisture availability,” said the forecast. “In areas where it didn’t, such as the Southwest, the conditions either didn’t yet warrant additional degradations or, because they were already in exceptional drought, could not be degraded further. Snowpack and snow-water equivalent are well below normal and soils are dry. Ranchers have noted that natural forage is insufficient or depleted.”

On average, the forecasts predict stream flows this spring will reach only about 24% of normal. That ranges from 51% of normal on the Verde River to 24% of normal in the Little Colorado River watershed. The Salt River forecast falls in between at 32% of normal.

The forecast looks especially grim for the normally productive watershed of the Blue Ridge Reservoir, which forecasters predict will get just 18% of its normal runoff. The Salt River project emptied the reservoir this fall to provide drinking water for Payson and the Valley. The near-failure of the spring runoff may leave the reservoir mostly empty in the spring, preventing SRP from firing up the pumps, nearly drying up the East Verde River and perhaps forcing Payson to skip a year of its 3,000 acre-foot allotment from the reservoir.

Climate experts say the whole planet set a heat record in 2020, thanks to the steady buildup of heat-trapping greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere. Measurements show that 2020 edged out 2016 as the hottest year on record, despite a 10% decline in carbon emissions in the U.S. due to the pandemic.

The 2020 measurements make the past seven years the hottest stretch since the start of modern record-keeping 150 years ago, according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.

The planet has warmed an average of about 2 degrees since the late 1800s, when industrialization started pumping more carbon into the atmosphere. Since 1980, the pace of warming has accelerated – rising about a third of a degree per decade. The levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have risen 50% since the start of the industrial revolution, when carbon dioxide measured 278 parts per million. This spring, projections suggest the level will exceed 417 million, before springtime plant growth in the northern hemisphere reduces levels for the summer.

It took 200 years to produce the first 25% increase in carbon dioxide, but only 30 years to boost levels another 25%.

The rise in average temperatures has pumped more energy into the atmosphere, triggering a cascade of changes according to climate scientists — including things like an increase in drought, heat waves, storms and extreme weather.

Last year’s heat waves brought record fires in Australia and California. Arizona was largely spared the worst of last year’s fire season, which burned 7 million acres in the California, Oregon and Washington — consuming 10,000 homes and killing dozens of people. The Australian fires burned 46 million acres, lofting smoke more than 18 miles high into the atmosphere.

One study published in the peer-reviewed journal Science concluded that global warming has been turning moderate droughts into extreme droughts in North America, with the past 20 years marked by an intermittent drought and a doubling of acres burned.

The extremely dry winter and predicted warm dry spring in the Southwest has been linked to the “La Nina” sea surface cooling in the Eastern Pacific, normally associated with dry winters in Arizona.

The federal National Interagency Fire Center predicts another dangerous fire season throughout the West — including Arizona — due to the drought, record high temperatures and far below normal snow pack. The forecast calls for significant wildland fire potential.

The forecast states, “Over the past two months the dry trend has continued across the Southwest, while temperatures have moderated and become more variable. Temperatures have ranged from a few degrees above average across the western half of the area to a few degrees below average across the eastern portions of the area. Precipitation was generally 50-70% of average or less except for notable areas of above average precipitation largely the result of a single storm in mid-December.

“A moderate La Niña continues, and this usually results in normal to above normal temperatures and drier than normal conditions through winter for the Southwest. Long range outlooks are persisting La Niña into the spring, and temperature and precipitation outlooks are likewise extending the forecast for overwinter warm and dry conditions into March and April.”

The forecast noted that a few major storms could soften the forecast, but few major storms are expected.

“Normal significant fire potential is expected through January… Progressing further into March and April, a continuation of warmer and drier than normal conditions in combination with spring winds will cause significant fire potential concerns to expand across all the lower elevations of southern Arizona, southern and eastern New Mexico, and west Texas.”


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Founder of prestigious Northland Pioneer College scholarship passes away at 94

Louis L. Smith, who established the prestigious Martia A. Smith Memorial Art Scholarship with NPC Friends and Family, has died. Smith created the endowment fund in memory of his late wife, who was a popular and talented adjunct art faculty member at NPC. Martia was a gifted and award-winning ceramicist who also created beautiful works in stained glass. The scholarship provides up to $3,000 each year to a full-time NPC student who is academically and artistically talented.

In an affirmation of Louis and Martia’s resolve that art is a vitally important part of culture and can take many forms, applicants to the scholarship need not be art majors. Past recipients have included Ariel Shirley, a photographer who went on to graduate from the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health after completing an internship focused on community education at the UA Sarver Heart Center. She is continuing her education, seeking a Master’s of Public Health degree followed by a medical degree. Ariel’s dream is to work to improve health in her Navajo community and address disparities in the health-care system. Another Smith Scholar, Amber Shepard, draws and paints. She was an All-Arizona Academic Team member in 2017, and graduated Summa Cum Laude in 2019 from Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. She is now pursuing her Juris Doctor degree from the University of Arizona’s James E. Rogers College of Law. A freelance journalist, Shepard’s stories have often been featured in the White Mountain Independent.

Through his efforts to establish the memorial scholarship, Louis became acquainted with former NPC Art Chair Lee Sweetman. The two became inseparable, and they shared many happy times and adventures together, traveling the world, visiting with family, relaxing at their Pinetop cabin, and rooting for the AZ Diamondbacks and Cardinals. Lee was at Louis’s side when he passed away peacefully in the early morning of Dec. 12 at their home in Peoria.

Born in 1926, the third of twelve children, Smith’s family homesteaded in the Williams area early in the last century. He grew up a child of the Great Depression, and served in the U.S. Navy in both World War II and the Korean War. These experiences formed in him a profound love of country, an unimpeachable work ethic, a strong sense of personal responsibility and a passion for the power of education. He helped to establish Glendale Community College, and served for many years as chair of its Reading Department; he also taught Adult Basic Education in both reading and mathematics. He was a true raconteur, so his stories about his personal history and that of his family, conveyed a wonderful sense of time and place and the perspectives of one of America’s Greatest Generation.

Through his endowment, Louis Smith will continue to help the students of NPC in perpetuity. At Lee’s request, the scholarship will be renamed the Martia and Louis Smith Memorial Art Scholarship. The application window is open for the Martia and Louis Smith Memorial Art Scholarship for funding for the 2021-22 academic year. For complete details visit www.npc.edu/scholarships/martia-smith-memorial-art-scholarship. The deadline is Friday, Feb. 26 at 12:00 noon, MST. Please honor Louis, Martia and Lee by sharing this scholarship opportunity with potential applicants. Students must be enrolled in 12 or more credits in Fall 2021-Spring 2022, have a cumulative GPA of 3.5 or better, and have an interest in developing visual art, including drawing, painting, ceramics, sculpture, photography, textiles, etc. The two-part application includes an essay and a digital portfolio of the applicant’s artwork.

In lieu of flowers, Lee Sweetman asks that donations be made to the scholarship fund in Louis’ memory. You can become a patron of the Arts in our White Mountain communities, and a patron of Northland Pioneer College, by making a donation to the Martia and Louis Smith Memorial Scholarship. Your tax-deductible contribution will promote the perpetuity of Mr. Smith’s generous gift, as well as the spirit of the artist, philosopher, and educator, Martia Smith. In these times, when art is the first thing to be cut from school and municipal budgets, Martia Smith reminds us of its importance through her words: “A culture is known by the art it has.” You can give by check made payable to NPC Friends and Family, 1611 S. Main Street, Snowflake, 85937, or online at www.npcfriendsfamily.org, using the DONATE button. To learn more about applying for the scholarship, or donating to the endowment, please contact Betsyann Wilson, Executive Director of NPC Friends and Family, at 928-536-6245 or betsy.wilson@npc.edu. Your gift can transform a student’s life!


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