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Woman defeats addiction with the help of some 'Cool Town Rocks'
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COOLIDGE — Lorrie Moon, 54, was struggling with alcoholism a few years ago when an unusual find helped inspire her to quit.

“I was waiting for my mother outside the Safeway,” Moon said, “and there was this little painted rock with three little birds on it and it just spoke to me. It was at the beginning of my recovery, and I felt it represented freedom.”

Moon discovered that the rock was part of a community project of sorts, “Cool Town Rocks,” where people would place painted rocks around town, or even places they visited outside Coolidge, and then post online when they discovered one, like a scavenger hunt.

Shortly after finding the rock with the painted birds, Moon began painting rocks herself and found she could displace some tension and transfer her energy somewhere besides drinking.

Moon, who is originally from Oklahoma, believes her problem with alcohol began once she quit working. Moon went on disability with a bad back and leg issues, became depressed and started looking for ways to fill the time. She also believes a prior relationship with an emotionally abusive husband, whom she describes as an “angry drunk,” helped contribute to the problem.

“I developed a mentality along the way that if you can’t beat them, join them,” Moon said. “I would drink to escape my feelings or my fears.”

Aaron Dorman / Courtesy of Lorrie Moon  

Coolidge resident Lorrie Moon has overcome past problems with alcohol with the help of family and crafts, including painted rocks.

Moon describes her nightly binge drinking as a descent into being more upset and combative, getting into fights with friends and family over the phone, until eventually she got too tired and fell asleep.

“I felt like I was on a wheel of some kind,” Moon said. “I knew that drinking would make me feel bad the next day, make me say and do things I didn’t want to. But the next day I would feel mentally I needed it.”

Moon was aware that alcoholism ran in her family, and that it could lead to significant health problems down the road, but she continued drinking as a way to put those thoughts out of her mind.

According to Moon, at the height of her addiction, she was drinking every day, switching from straight hard liquor to vodka and Sprite and then to wine. She gained 50 pounds and in 2017, her husband confronted her about getting help with the issue.

Moon also credits the Pinal Hispanic Council's counseling service with helping her overcome her addiction. Support groups at PHC also allowed her to talk about drug abuse issues with others in the community, which she said helped alleviate the pressure and stigma. She also says she has become more spiritual and prays throughout the day.

“Family is a big part of recovery,” Moon said. “They are very supportive. My mom was willing to not drink in front of me. I think people should know that there’s more support out there than they realize.”

Now Moon says she cannot recall the last time she had a drink, and that while she wants to enjoy the taste of wine with dinner, even that temptation is going away. Even with the pandemic limiting options and increasing depression within the community, Moon says she’s been more motivated to work on her crafts, and eat, more than return to drinking.

Meanwhile, Moon’s rock painting hobby has really taken off. She participates in local craft fairs and sells jewelry and painted rocks at Nana’s Coffee Shoppe on Coolidge Avenue.

Moon’s art focuses on “wordy” things and has moved to wood, canvas, jewelry and even wreathes. Moon enjoys the “three dimensional canvas” rocks provide and says her rock paintings take about three to four hours to complete with acrylic paint. She’s beginning to attempt pet portraits but those will take a bit longer.

Moon also recalls a custom order to paint the Coolidge water tower for City Manager Rick Miller, who “is apparently a rockhound too,” and that she learned he was thrilled to receive her work.

Moon says her husband now sometimes joins in her in craft-making and recently hid a rock painted with “a little yellow guy” at the police station for someone to find.

“You might say I’ve gotten addicted to crafts instead of alcohol,” Moon says. “But I would consider that a good addiction.”

Second Landmark Ranch parcel in Coolidge is set for development
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COOLIDGE — More than a decade ago, Coolidge mapped out a large housing plan, Landmark Ranch, in the west portion of the city between Ninth Street and Kenworthy Road.

Although 200 homes were built before the Great Recession, it has taken until now for developers to begin building out homes in the second parcel.

During the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting on Feb. 10, the commission approved a “re-subdivision” of the second parcel, incorporating newer housing designs into the planning documents.

Some of the requested adjustments included an extended lot depth and a change to the rear yard setback to accommodate larger housing models than what was originally designed in 2005.

“We’re pretty excited about starting to see some of the plats we had before pick back up,” Development Services Director Gilbert Lopez said. Lopez said that was in part because the city had the inventory of lots ready to be built upon already. A similar revival of “zombie” subdivisions has taken place in Casa Grande.

Regional Manager Price Nosky, who represented developer Walton Global at the meeting, said the company was in discussions with Arizona Water Company on what the next steps could be for the property.

“We are excited about the opportunity to get back into Coolidge and bring some development,” Nosky said. “These lots just got a lot more valuable, and a lot more interesting, so we want to make sure we hit the market at the right time so builders can keep coming out to Coolidge.”

The plan still calls for 195 new homes, and the roads are expected to be in the same place. Outside of Landmark Ranch, Lopez said that the city had processed 120 housing permits in January and a masterplan for 51 plots across from Carter Ranch that would fill out a vacant area.

Lopez said he expected to see construction in the Landmark parcel sometime in March, after the City Council approves the zoning commission’s adjustments.

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CUSD to return to hybrid learning model Feb. 22
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COOLIDGE — After almost two months on a remote learning program, the Coolidge Unified School District is ready to transition back to hybrid learning.

During a meeting last Wednesday, the Governing Board approved the switch for all district schools starting on Feb. 22.

The board weighed a variety of factors in making the decision, including recent teacher and staff vaccinations, county COVID-19 benchmarks and the ongoing needs of students and their families.

“I believe that we are at a point with vaccinated staff that our schools should reopen if social distancing and mask wearing can be maintained,” said board President Michael Flores. “We can keep in-person learning safe through the hybrid model.”

The board agreed that extracurricular activities, beyond sports, remained unlikely. While Superintendent Charie Wallace and others voiced their support for ending the year with full-time classroom learning and an eventual graduation ceremony, the board agreed to postpone those decisions until their next meeting in March.

“Americans want life to be normal,” Wallace said. “We want school to be open and all the activities we want: the birthday parties, weddings, we want go out to eat. But we can’t do it all.”

Most on the board acknowledge the inherent contradictions community leaders faced in juggling decisions around the pandemic, such as allowing sports, but that going forward their primary concern, in addition to health, would be making sure students graduate.

“What are our priorities? To get kids back in school,” said Coolidge High School Principal Ben Armstrong. “We know those other functions are important but if we decide we will have those functions, we may not have the most important function, which is high school graduation.”

Flores reiterated that the district was aware and concerned for the toll the pandemic was taking on students and their families, in terms of learning and emotional needs.

“I am worried about the lack of social interaction students are not able to have with one another while out of school,” Flores said. “Just like adults, our students are capable of feeling the negative mental health effects of solitary life in quarantine.”

Wallace said that the school doesn’t have the facility space or staffing to do social distancing at the recommended level for full-time classroom learning. The districts will continue with cleaning the facilities every night such as door knobs and light switches. Protocols such as wearing masks and sanitizing will be enforced during hybrid learning.

The district will also be making emergency funds available to pay for staff who test positive for COVID-19 or are exposed to the virus on campus once hybrid learning commences. The district will support them for up to eight days or 40 hours. During the first semester of the school year, 72 individuals were absent for possible exposure or positive tests.

According to the Pinal County Health Department, as of Feb. 4 the district had 348 cases per 100,000 residents and a 19% positivity rate. According to Wallace, over 60% of CUSD staff had gotten at least the first vaccination dose and all those who wanted one have had the opportunity.

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CUSD tackles West Elementary drop-off 'slot car race'
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COOLIDGE — West Elementary School’s drop-off lane has been known to cause havoc and long lines for anxious parents.

At a meeting on Feb. 10, the Coolidge Unified School District Governing Board approved plans for a redesign that would eliminate the street congestion, create more queuing space for vehicles and create better accessibility to the front of the school.

“Having taught at West Elementary for many years, this was always a real challenge,” said board member Linda Heath. “When we first put it in, it’s almost like a slot car race.”

The new plan calls for an entrance to the drop-off lane at West Wilson Avenue, exiting on Seventh Street. Despite the plan calling for a single lane, the report by Director of Business Services Alyssa Garrett indicated that the West Elementary administration was confident that with practice and planning, parents and students would learn the new routine.

The cost to redesign the lot is estimated to be $300,000. Once approved, preconstruction was expected to begin immediately, with the goal of having the new lot ready by summer.

The bond projects were authorized in November 2019. The school has sold $5 million out of a $21 million authorization that runs until 2023.

So far the completed bond items include renovated high school track and tennis courts, curtains and lighting for the performing arts center, school marquees, and safety barriers due to the pandemic. According to Garrett, the district is currently working on parking lot repairs and purchasing school buses.

Other future bond projects include replacing district alarm systems, renovating the high school weight room and upgrading outdoor seating at the arts center. Two oft-discussed renovations that are not currently planned were an upgrade to the high school cafeteria and landscaping improvements.

“I’m huge on the landscaping,” Garrett said. “They have to pull me back a little bit because it’s just more upkeep for our staff in terms of maintenance.”

During the board meeting, the district also recognized Outstanding Character and Service awards for students and staff. This month’s student recipients were: high school senior Kyrah Carrola, seventh grader Marrion Sanchez, sixth grader Angel Perez and third grader Logan Ozment.

Staff members honored were: Christi Jones, who has helped implement social and emotional learning programs at CUSD; kindergarten teacher Marcela Whipple, who brought diplomas to students at their homes last year when graduation was canceled; and the fifth grade team of Josephine Baker, Cynthia Cardenas and Rayman Zhen, who parent Amy Gonzalez said “have gone above and beyond to ensure students have what they need to be successful.”