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For sewing team, face mask donations are a way of giving back

ELOY -- Before the coronavirus pandemic began causing shortages of face masks and other supplies, 15-year-old Ruby Brown and Aryana Salazar, 21, had never used a sewing machine.

In the few months since, they’ve sewn more than 3,000 cotton face coverings, many of which have been donated.

“We were sewing so many that we broke my grandmother’s sewing machine and had to buy a new one,” Salazar said.

And the pair are still sewing.

Earlier this week, the duo donated dozens of masks to the Court Appointed Special Advocates program so that children in foster care can safely visit with their advocate, said Donna McBride, Pinal County Juvenile Court Services program administrator.

“CASA needed masks for foster children and these young ladies came to the rescue,” McBride said.

Brown, a sophomore at Casa Grande Union High School, said that for her, the donation was personal. She was once in the foster care system and was later adopted by Norma and Tim Brown, Salazar’s grandparents.

“This was one way for me to give back,” Brown said. “When I was little, I was adopted. I had been in foster care. I’ve been through the same things some of these foster care kids are going through, so I wanted to help.”

In early March, Brown researched mask-making patterns and enlisted Salazar to help make as many face coverings as possible.

“It was the first week of quarantine in March and Ruby looked up YouTube videos on how to make the masks,” Salazar said. “There were shortages, and we wanted to help. We’d never sewn anything before.”

Brown and Salazar, a student at Northern Arizona University who hopes to become a speech pathologist, learned to sew while creating their first few masks.

Since then, they’ve been through hundreds of yards of fabric.

Each mask is made with 100% cotton fabric using a pattern that includes a nose piece and a pocket to insert a filter. Rather than elastic, the masks are made with nylon hose material to secure the face coverings behind the ear.

Each mask takes about 15 minutes to make and the two work as a team, taking turns cutting and sewing.

“We’re usually working three to four hours a day,” Salazar said.

While the two have donated many of the masks to various organizations, medical personnel and people in need, they’ve also made some money selling them for $5 each. Much of the proceeds go back into the project and is used to buy fabric and other supplies.

“Everyone in our family has some of the masks and they’ve given a lot away,” Norma Brown said. “They’re sewing all the time. I’m so proud of these girls.”

While they plan to continue making, donating and selling masks throughout the summer, the next goal for the two is to learn how to make surgical caps to donate to medical personnel.

“A nurse told us that there is a shortage of surgical caps so right now we’re researching how to make those,” Salazar said.

The two also hope to reach out to homeless advocates to donate masks to the homeless and others in need.

Those who would like to place an order for masks or request a donation may contact Norma Brown through private message on Facebook.

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Council concerned as audit dings CG Finance Department

CASA GRANDE — The City Council was not pleased with the results of the city’s annual financial audit.

In the city’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Audit, the city’s contract auditors, Henry & Horne, stated they had found nine incidents where the city Finance Department had failed to follow good accounting standards. However, Henry & Horne also found that no money from the city’s coffers was missing and that despite the discrepancies, no abuse of the financial system had been made.

City Manager Larry Rains told council members on Monday that the situation was highly unusual for the city. The city has always had good financial audits since he has served as city manager. He attributed the problems to a high turnover rate in the number of employees in the accounting section of the Finance Department.

The accounting section has three employees: the finance director, the accounting manager and a senior accountant. In the last year, two employees left and it took the city more than six months to hire new employees to fill the positions, Rains said. The finance director also left in October to pursue work in the private sector and an interim finance director was put in place. A new finance director has just been hired and started work on Monday.

In an email to PinalCentral, Rains said the lack of professional accounting staff meant the department could not complete its regular auditing and field work in a timely fashion.

Now that the positions have been filled, the “City and Finance department leadership have prioritized corrective action for staff to focus on as we finalize (Fiscal Year 2020) and prepare for the annual audit. Additional resources will be allocated as necessary to complete corrective action over the course of the next year.”

The first problem Henry & Horne listed was inadequate segregation of duties over the payroll system. Three people in the Finance Department had access to and could make changes to employees’ payroll without any oversight or review of the changes from another department, such as Human Resources, according to the audit. For a short time during 2019, the finance director and the HR director were the same person. Henry & Horne did not identify any abuse of the system and suggested that the city create a policy listing which positions should have access to the payroll system and have someone from the Human Resources Department regularly review changes to the system.

Several of the other problems identified by the auditors dealt with the finance staff not reconciling several smaller accounts on a monthly basis with the city’s bank records or with the city’s larger ledger, which led to staff and the auditors having a hard time reconciling the city’s accounts at the end of the fiscal year. Henry & Horne again did not find any abuse of the system and suggested that the city set up a policy that would require staff to reconcile the accounts on a regular monthly basis and create a month-end and year-end checklist to make sure all accounts had been reconciled properly.

Rains said he will update the council on the situation in a couple of months. However, he believed that the city would not find any money missing from its accounts.

“This is concerning,” said Councilwoman Donna McBride. “We do need an update on this.”

She wanted to know the “good and the bad” as well as any processes that were going to be put in place to prevent a recurrence of the problems and any future problems.

“Because this isn’t normal for us,” she said. “We know that, but we owe it to our citizens to know what’s going on.”

Councilman Matt Herman said he thought interim Finance Director Rob Sweeney had done a good job of trying to sort the problems out and find solutions. But Herman said he still had concerns about making sure that all of the accounts had been reconciled properly.

Mayor Pro Tem Lisa Navarro Fitzgibbons also encouraged the new finance director, Angele Ozoemelam, to be upfront with the council and the city manager about what she felt she needed to run her department.