INSPIRED BY: Unity in Tragedy

Kindness, compassion and a connection to those in need help us to rise from the ashes.

The prophet Jeremiah writes: “In this place of which you say it is a wasteland…. there will be heard again the sounds of joy and gladness…. the voices of those who sing.” 

Guadalupe, Arizona, a town of 5,000 on the east side of Phoenix, was the scene of a tragedy 21 years ago.  A father of 6 children shot their mother and then turned the gun on himself, leaving the 6 children to live with their grandparents.

The tragedy began long before the murder-suicide, however. Alex abused his wife, Rose, and children for years. Rose tried many times to escape and this time was deadly. Three of the children witnessed the massacre and three saw their mother and father lying dead when they came home from school. 

The local news carried the story as I was cooking dinner. This horrifying act happened 3 miles down the road from my house. The reporter was interviewing the grandmother who was in shock. It hit me that this woman needed help with her 6 grandchildren. At the time, as the director of a youth ministry program at my church, I was able to call on the youth and people of our parish to lend a hand. My friend Flo and I knocked on doors until we found the house that was the scene of the tragedy. We found that 18 children lived in the house with 5 adults. There was a great need for food, clothes, and hygiene supplies.

Our youth program raised money within 2 weeks and delivered needed items. I made regular trips to drop items off the house donated by our generous parish and each time the grandmother would greet me in tears.  She would barely raise her head. Finally, after 6 months she looked at me and asked my name. From that moment we forged a friendship and she trusted that we would help the children. 
Flight 33 is an after school program that began tutoring 12 children in the family affected by the tragedy. In our 21 years the program grew to 250 children meeting at the local Tribal center.

Over the years, we have had great successes with students graduating that might never have reached that goal. At the same time, we have seen more tragedies in the lives of the children. And even though we know many of the children’s stories, we are just scratching the surface. Many of these children are survivors. They go to school day after day and never complain. They come to the after school program with a smile and are greeted the same way. 

Kindness and compassion are hallmarks of Flight 33. The kindness of our volunteers who spend hours tutoring, playing learning games, or just talking with the kids. The kindness of strangers who donate money, food, clothes, school supplies, snacks, hygiene items, and blankets. The kindness of the parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, who are grateful and want to help. All go above and beyond to make life better for our students. Being kind takes inner strength and fortitude but carries a huge reward.  Caring about others and showing them that they are valuable, helps us to care about and value ourselves.

Covid-19 has limited Flight 33’s contact with our students. The town was hit hard, and families lost loved ones. The hard-working people in the community have risen to serve their fellow towns people. 
Flight 33 has been blessed to work alongside the people to help furnish needed supplies and provide learning activities for the children. There is no limit to what we can do when we work together to help others in need. The trauma continues and is forever present in the lives affected by devastating acts.

But, in the end… kindness has the power to transform these lives, giving hope and a reason to look to the future.

About the author:
Christine Puzauskas, a former teacher and youth minister, is the Founder/Director of Flight 33, Inc. a nonprofit that serves children in Guadalupe, AZ through education and basic needs assistance. Chris has a background in Education and began a youth ministry program in 1999, Flight, Freedom to Live the Truth. Flight 33 came out of that program. This nonprofit foundation is led by volunteers and has managed an after-school program for 21 years. Flight 33 currently collaborates with the Pascua Yaqui Tribe to hold the program in the local community center. Chris is married to John Puzauskas, a civil engineer. They have two daughters, Katie and Maggie, and 4 grandchildren with one more due any day.