In 2002 Dr. Rick Warren, pastor at Saddleback Church in California, wrote a book entitled A Purpose Driven Life. He implored readers to find meaning in their life by discovering a passion they believed in and applying that passion to their everyday life. This is a story about a woman who has done just that for nearly all of her adult life. For those readers who are new to town or have never figured out what exactly is the Golden Mustang program written about so often in this publication, it is technically an anti-bullying teaching tool. It has evolved into more of a character-building program, meant to teach children things about life that are not typically taught in public schools or in many of our homes nowadays. The main message is simply “Be kind.” The “Golden” in the title Golden Mustang stands for The Golden Rule: to treat others as you would want to be treated.
The originator of our local program is Mrs. Kathy Vosburgh, a retired school teacher with a lot of love and energy still left to give. According to Kathy, “I’m able to do this work because this is my passion and also because of my husband’s support.” He supports her by helping by whatever needs to be done, including many a dinner. He doesn’t seem to mind that there are bags of candy, pencils and you name it on the stairs ready to head out the door. He refers to her as a “Kid Magnet”. From the moment I walked into their home he asked if I’d ever read the “Purpose Driven Life” and stated that this phrase defines his wife.
A little bit about Kathy…Kathy grew up in the small Michigan town of Warren. “It was so different back then,” Kathy explained. “The kids would have parties at the homes of friends because there was really nowhere else to go, but the parents were always home. We’d listen to music, dance, eat and just have fun,” she continued. She and Wes met when he returned from college to watch his brother play in a basketball game. Kathy was a cheerleader and he invited her to a get together at his parents’ home after the game. And the rest, as they say, is history. 56 years of it to be exact. The couple have a son Scott, a daughter Kelly and four grandkids – two girls and two boys.
After stops in El Paso (Army) and Charlotte they moved, at the urging of a friend, to the Phoenix area. Wes went to work for Smitty’s grocery stores and Kathy taught pre-K for 18 years at a Methodist pre-school in Paradise Valley. She developed teaching tools to help the children learn better as well as taught seminars to share her programs. (See…it started so long ago…)
The couple retired to Overgaard and in 2004 became a big sister to a little brother in the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program. Her ‘little’ was going into junior high at Capps and was afraid the kids would be mean. Kathy went to the school principal, Ron Tenney, to discuss a few ideas she had to help the younger kids cope with the junior high transition. Mr. Tenney told her it sounded like a great idea to him and that he thought she should do it. “Well, it has just mushroomed from there,” Kathy explained.
In its 15th year, Golden Mustangs began at Capps for fourth through eighth grades and is the longest running program. It teaches kids to take notice of the kindnesses of others and write it down. They place their comments into gold boxes located around the school. They’re reviewed by a peer group, elected by their classmates, to determine which are compliments or could be “Wall Worthy”. Twice per month the acts of kindness are recognized and rewarded with a treat of their choosing. All the recommendations are returned to the participants and acknowledged for making good choices. Winners chosen have their pictures and certificates posted at each school.
A few years ago the Bucket Filler program was begun at Mountain Meadows Primary School. It’s based on the book, “Have You Filled a Bucket Today?” The primary grades turn in a picture; depicting a good deed they observed in another student. A star or heart is added to the class bucket. That bucket fills with kindnesses, represented by the hearts and stars, so twice each month everyone is rewarded with simple treats. Additionally, Kathy reads character-building books to each grade level and everyone receives an incentive to remember the moral of the story.
The high school program is all-volunteer on the part of the students; giving up their lunch period to meet and discuss how they can actively impact their campus. Each quarter a different character quality is emphasized. All high school students describe in writing what that quality means to them. Then, if they choose, they anonymously write what they have observed another doing or a personal experience demonstrating the quality. For kindness they receive a R.A.K. ATTACK (Random Acts of Kindness) wristband and candy of their choice. “Our goal is to make kindness the norm so it is accepted as an admirable life choice. Most kids are becoming more confident, but at times they don’t make the best choices when it comes to their peers. They make themselves seem better, at others’ expense. When it comes to cliques; the feeling is they need to change to be accepted; instead of being embraced for who they are. This is a process we continually work on,” Kathy said. The recent Alone Together Symposium with Collin Kartchner for parents and their children helped many kids to realize social media was damaging to their self-esteem.
The end of the year is a big deal for the kids; especially those who worked to make the program successful. Kathy requests the support of local merchants to purchase rewards. They are substantial prices such as bicycles, Kindles and Amazon gift cards to name a few.
Six days per month are spent on “character building” programs, but then there’s fund raising, purchasing the supplies, writing thank-you notes, and organizing for upcoming programs. Her invaluable helpers are Michael Ann Whitlow at Capps, JoAnn Brock at Mogollon Junior High and Vicki Pecha at Mogollon High School. The teaching staff does not go unnoticed. Kathy feels it’s important for them to feel appreciated. It doesn’t take much, just small monthly treats and note, acknowledging these teachers for making a difference.
One of Golden Mustang’s biggest supporters is Encore Thrift Emporium which she helped to found in 2008. “The best part of Encore, besides purchasing the musical instruments and such is the surprise that we all have become just like family,” Kathy remarked. Encore has donated the amazing sum of $161,500 plus to the community since 2010!
Kathy’s time is all-volunteer but she has ongoing costs for supplies. She has done some large projects such as the Friendship Benches placed on all three campuses as a visible reminder to “be kind”. Words engraved on each bench were chosen by the kids as qualities to live by. The most important thing is the time invested in children. As she told me, “Kids need advocates – an adult who believes in them. They are so capable of giving more than we think. I’m still amazed that kids want to talk. It’s rewarding to us to see their reactions when they realize we’re interested in them and ready to listen.”
Golden Mustangs is a 501(3) (c) nonprofit and monies donated are tax deductible. If you would like to help in some way call 928-814-9826, email firstname.lastname@example.org or mail to PO Box 2604, Overgaard, AZ 85933.
A Purpose Driven Life … is a life well lived.