Oftentimes parents wish their baby or toddler could tell them what they want or need but there is a language barrier — the baby or toddler cannot talk, not yet.

Cindy Wilmer discovered a solution and teaches American Sign Language to parents and their small child, or children, at the Sedona Public Library.

singandsign“I read about it when I was pregnant and started teaching Skyrah when she was four months old. At six months I could see she understood. By eight months she started signing back,” Wilmer said. Skyrah is Wilmer’s daughter.The first sign Wilmer began with was milk, which is a partially opened hand to a closed hand. Every time Wilmer nursed Skyrah, she made the sign and spoke the word. It is one of the three Golden Signs. The other two are for “more” and “eat.”

“By the time she was one year old, Skyrah could sign more than 150 words and phrases,” Wilmer said, then laughed. “At 11 months old my daughter signed that she was angry with me for leaving her for one hour. It was amazing.”

The key to teaching sign language to a very small child who does not have a hearing impairment is to speak the words along with the sign. For example, if they come in with a scraped knee, ask the child if they have a “hurt” as well as make the sign, which is opposed index fingers at the location of the injury.

“In this way they get the idea and can tell you they have a tummy ache or a headache by doing the sign where they have the hurt,” Wilmer said as she demonstrated. “How often have parents been so frustrated when their child cries and they cannot figure out the problem?”

Wilmer said children naturally sign, such as raising his or her arms to be picked up or pointing to what they want. For example, they point to a glass but it is surrounded by other objects. A parent usually picks up the objects, tries to give them to the child and they refuse each one until they get the one they want.

“With signing they still point, but then can give the sign for water or drink,” Wilmer said.

While learning and teaching a baby or toddler to sign it is important for the parent to not manipulate their child’s hands if they do not get the sign correct. Acknowledge what they are asking for and make the correct sign and repeat the word, Wilmer said.

“Signing is a great bonding tool because you’re engaged with your child because you are looking at each other while you’re communicating. Secondly, they are learning a second language as they grow. ASL is recognized as a language,” Wilmer said.

A fear of some parents is that signing may hinder their child’s verbal skills. Wilmer said research has shown that learning to sign may boost verbal skills.

“In studies I’ve read the children actually learn more quickly once they start to speak,” Wilmer said.

Celine Daher brought her son, Emile, because she has a hearing aid and wants to communicate with him more easily.

“I want to understand my son. He’s learned ‘kiss,’ ‘hug’, ‘eat’ and ‘sleepy,’ so far. He’s learning very fast,” Daher said and signed “hug” to which her son responded quickly by jumping into his mother’s arms.

Stephanie Sandvall-Young brought two young girls she takes care of while their parents work.

“When I had my son nine years ago I got hooked on an ad I saw for baby sign, so when I got here I hooked up with Cindy [Wilmer],” Young said.

As the class commenced, Wilmer had everyone sit on the floor in a circle, and they sang and signed the song, “The Wheels on the Bus.” Little arms made circles from front to back to indicate the wheels moving.

Sing , Say and Sign

  • When: Second and fourth Thursday of the month, 10:30 to 11 a.m.
  • Where: Sedona Public Library, 3250 White Bear Road, West Sedona

Gardens for Humanity has six gardens in Sedona, Verde Valley

It used to be the cook of the house just went out to the garden to get the needed ingredients for a meal.

Today, for most Americans, the food comes from the grocery store from the produce department, in cans or plastic bags from the freezer section. It is harvested, prepared and packaged sometimes more than 1,500 miles away.

gardensforhumanityGardens for Humanity is trying to turn the trend around and have people grow their vegetables, fruit and other food items close to home — in the back yard or a community garden.

“The way to stay healthy is through eating healthy food grown in a healthy way. A person whose had a tomato off the vine compared to the store knows the difference. There’s no comparison to the smell and the taste,” Gardens for Humanity Board Member Ruth Hartung said.

The greater Sedona area has six Gardens for Humanity: Kachina Point, Sedona Schnebly Community Garden on Brewer Road, Three sisters at St. John Vianney, Crescent Moon Ranch, Hopi Garden Project in Cornville and the Karmapa Garden, which is a project between Sedona Creative Life Center and Gardens for Humanity.

“We’ve had projects with West Sedona School creating gardens there, and this year is the second annual Sedona Verde Valley Spring Planting Festival. People come together and learn about gardening hands-on,” Hartung said. The festival started Sunday, March 14, and will continue until Sunday, March 21.

People from the gardens also recently participated in the Sedona International Film Festival with a Locavore event to bring local chefs together with local growers.

“They both fall into one of the missions for Gardens for Humanity about educating the community about the different aspects of plants and gardening,” Hartung said.

Crescent Moon and Three Sisters are specifically for growing food and involving local gardeners and those who would like to learn about gardening.

Teri Bays, who helped get the garden started at St. John Vianney said the idea came about after she attended the 2009 Sedona International Film Festival and watched movies about preserving the earth.

“I thought it would be a good idea. We had the property and Father JC [Ortiz] is a gardener so it seemed like a good fit,” Bays said. “It’s good to bring the community together and get us all in touch with the earth, plus it’s good education for everyone.”

The Hopi Garden received an education grant. They will bring children from the Hopi Reservation and from local schools to learn and work in the garden.

They will teach them traditional Hopi gardening and the traditional way of tending the garden such as removing pests like gophers. Hartung said she heard about a man who talked to the gophers and told them the garden was not for them, then used a food trail to lead them out and away. They never returned, according to the story.

“Part of our job is to bridge the gap between traditional and the new green methods. There’s a need for both,” Hartung said.

The Sedona Schnebly Community Garden started as a rescue operation. The city was about to bulldoze the remains of the homestead to make room for a needed parking lot. Many townspeople objected. Gardens for Humanity took the lead, along with the Sedona Historical Society and the Sedona Main Street Program, and saved some of the land, and her irises, in her memory. Volunteers, businesses and organizations made the garden a reality.

The mission of Gardens for Humanity is to honor local farmers and build upon the crop raising legacies, inspire and strengthen community participation, connect diverse people, increase environmental awareness and make gardens welcoming places for the arts and celebration.

“We’re also trying to restore this area to agriculture, like it used to be. It’s been about 70 years since we’ve been away from that,” Hartung said. “There is a move to restore that culture and Gardens [for Humanity] wants to be a part of that.”

Hartung said Gardens for Humanity has focussed on the Sedona and Verde Valley region because of it’s agricultural past and hope something drastic could happen through the gardens. The goal is to grow enough food to feed 125,000 people.

“If we can do it here we can do it elsewhere. A community that doesn’t grow it’s own food is vulnerable to what happens, like shipping problems, weather and growing conditions,” Hartung said. “The quality of the food lessens the further away it is from the source.”

Saving good seeds is another goal of local gardening, especially preserving native seeds that do well in the area.

Gardening can be done is Arizona — even in the desert regions, Hartung said. With some knowledge and preparation, a garden can be grown in the ground, a pot on the window sill or outside under the eaves.

“You do have to amend the soil here. One of the things we focus on is building the soil. If it has lots of nitrogen and minerals, things will grow,” Hartung said.

Water is another consideration, but people can harvest rain water and use it for the plants.

Many of the skills for growing food and how to preserve it once it is harvested have been lost to the latest generations, Hartung said, but with some education everyone can reconnect with the earth and the plants.

“Something magical happens, and people get hooked,” Hartung said.

Of the 6,778 registered Sedona voters who received mail in ballots for the March 9 election, slightly more than half returned them.

Lynn Constabile, Yavapai County elections director, said 3,639 voters, or 53.6 percent, cast ballots in the city’s primary election in which nine people ran for five seats on the Sedona City Council. A question of whether the mayor should be elected by the people or appointed by council also appeared on the ballot.

Constabile said a 53.6 percent turnout is high for an off-time election where no state or federal offices were on the ballot.

As an example, she pointed to the 85 percent voter turnout in Yavapai County in the 2008 presidential election and added voters were required to visit the polls for this election.

Constabile said a 53.6 percent turnout is also great when there are no heated ballot questions or highly contested races.

She added this is not the first time registered voters in Yavapai County were mailed ballots for them to send back through the U.S. Postal Service.

Constabile said this year’s election numbers in Sedona, while high, were lower than two years ago when the mayor’s race between Mayor Rob Adams and Councilwoman Pud Colquitt was decided by just a few votes in the general election.

The 2008 primary election received a 57.4 percent  voter turn out, and 62.2 percent of registered voters returned ballots for the 2008 general election.

Constabile also said Yavapai County decided to enact mail-in elections to save resources after Arizona voters in 2006 rejected this measure for state and federal elections.

She asked the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors to amend the contract it offered outside firms to allow elections to be done by mail.

She said the recent Sedona election is just one example of how successful this has been, mentioning the turnout would have been much less if voters had to visit the polls on election day.

“If it was a polling place, you would only get 10 percent,” she said.

Constabile added voters like the opportunity to research candidates and issues before voting, and mail-in ballots allow them to take their time and not be rushed.

She mentioned Sedona’s turnout of 54 percent was 12 percentage points higher than what Clarkdale received in its city election on the same day.

“Usually about one half is normal,” she said.

The Sedona Fire District Governing Board by a 3-2 vote Wednesday, May 10, approved looking into reducing overtime by 25 percent for the 2010-11 fiscal year.

Board member Bert Berkshire brought this item up two weeks ago and it failed by a 3-2 vote, but it passed Wednesday after board member Charles Christensen changed his vote.

Resident Carolyn Fisher said she had concerns with the board looking into the overtime issue.

sedonafire“I think we are approaching the issue of micromanaging,” Fisher said, mentioning this item should be left up to Fire Chief Nazih Hazime.

Fisher said overtime in the private sector is different from this type of work and pay in the public arena.

Berkshire said all he is proposing is a goal for the fire district to attempt to reach.

“I did not want to put a hard and fast percentage on it,” he said. “I hope this not looked as micromanagement.”

Christensen said the overtime issue has been a contentious one for quite some time and disagreed with Fisher with it being micromanaging.

“This is setting policy that the board carries out,” he said, adding it is their job to look at areas like overtime.

Christensen said overtime pay for supervisory employees, especially battalion chiefs is wrong and needs to stop.

Hazime said the district takes overtime very seriously and has already reduced it by 15 to 16 percent.

He said it had not reached 25 percent, but was a goal it wanted to reach.

Board member Don Harr said the news was encouraging and told Hazime the district was two-third of the way toward 25 percent.

Christensen said he thinks there need to be some guidelines to decide who is eligible for overtime.

Board member Liza Vernet agreed with Fisher on how overtime in the public and private sector cannot be compared.

She also said she does not think the district needs a mandate.

“I think it’s being handled,” she said.

Hazime said, while it is true the fire district is a different type of organization than most companies, he realizes it is accountable.

Christensen wanted to know why battalion chiefs were receiving so much overtime when they should not get any extra pay.

Business Director Karen Daines said battalion chiefs are part of the staffing and the position needs to be covered.

“We can’t expect them to work additional hours and not be compensated,” she said.

Christensen said supervisors should be exempt from receiving overtime and added when taking a management position, it means the individual will take on more work.

Graves said he wants the chief to continue with what he is doing since overtime has already been decreased.

Berkshire said he has never known an organization that wishes not to have a clear goal.

When Hazime was asked if the district could decrease overtime another 10 percent to reach the 25 percent, he said it would depend on disasters and injuries.

A lot of energy is just sitting up in the sky every day, ready to power just about anything on earth.

Well, Sedona Red Rock High School is going to take advantage of the sun’s energy by creating a solar panel farm to power nearly half of what the school uses. The school will install enough panels this spring to supply more than 800,000 watts of power. They will be at two locations, the largest on the west end of the campus at State Route 89A and Upper Red Rock Loop Road.

solarfarm“The system will provide between one-third and one-half of what the school uses, depending on the amount of sun we get and the school’s energy use,” the school’s representative for the project, Dave Young, said. “That’s a significant amount.”

The remainder of the power needed will come from APS, as it does now but the bill will less.

Young said the system will bring a big benefit to the school beyond the power it supplies. The cost of utilities is part of the maintenance and operations budget, which also provides teacher salaries and school supplies. So any amount of reduction can make a significant impact on the budget, he said.

The solar system will be completely paid for by money from the $73.5 million bond Sedona voters approved in 2007. It is the same fund that is paying for all of the renovations on the campus. The total cost for the project is a little more than $5 million, but APS is offering an incentive of $1.8 million.

“So our net cost is around $3.5 million, and we will own the system outright,” Young said. “There’ve been a lot of projects done, including making the buildings more energy efficient, and the panels are the next step in that process.”

About 1,000 panels will be placed on the south side of the campus behind the classroom buildings. The energy produced will power the needs of the new performing arts building. The panels will also provide the opportunity for science classes to study solar energy and how the system is working, according to Young.

“We’re also going for LEED Gold Status on the performing arts building. We get points for having on-site renewable energy. The more points you get, the higher the certification,” Young said. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It is connected with the U.S. Green Building Council.

What the gold status means to the school is that it will be recognized as being built to environment and design standards to perform at optimal efficiency, and the school receives a plaque from the USGBC to that effect.

“It will give the building a good reputation in the performing arts industry, and will attract more people to the venue,” Young said.

With the system, the school cannot produce more energy than it can use, and must work with APS. With the number of panels producing 826Kw, Young said they are at the maximum.

Construction is expected to begin the end of May. The plans will be sent to APS and the city of Sedona the end of March. The panels are guaranteed for 20 years, but Young said they will probably last longer.

The total project will be comprised of 3,500 ground-mounted, non-tracking photovoltaic solar panels, grid tied in coordination with APS. Kenney Construction Services Inc. expects to complete the project by winter this year.

“This is the second solar project for the Sedona-Oak Creek Unified School District. The first was at Big Park Community School, and the third will be at the district office,” Young said. “If it’s possible, we may have a fourth. We’d like to do some work at the West Sedona pool.”

For more information, call 204-6830 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

One Sedona Fire District Governing Board member wants the district to look at cost-cutting measures as it continues to prepare its budget for fiscal year 2010-2011.

charles_christensenBoard member Charles Christensen made an independent proposal to look at strategies for reducing expenditures at the district.

He wants the proposals to be included in the upcoming budget, and added he stands by his proposals compiled with the help of past and present fire district employees, accountants, attorneys, concerned citizens of the district and his experience as a board member.

At the Feb. 23 SFD budget workshop, Christensen voted against looking into reducing overtime in the district by 25 percent.

He said his no vote was made because he does not think there should be a cap. He said if given a set amount, the percentage would never be exceeded.

In his proposal, he is asking for overtime in the district to be eliminated, not reduced, pointing out $1.3 million in overtime was paid last year.

Calls to the fire district seeking comment on the proposal were not returned.

Christensen said salaried personnel should be exempt from receiving overtime, which is not what is currently practiced.

He also wondered why battalion chiefs are paid so highly, which he thinks may be overtime abuse. The three battalion chiefs in 2009 made between $135,000 and $157,000.

He said some employees are receiving an additional 30 percent above annual based salaries for overtime.

Two employees with the highest overtime earnings are battalion chiefs with one of them making more than $30,000 and the other one having a little more than $29,000 added on to his salary. One fire captain made an additional $36,000 in overtime pay in 2009.

Some reasons for overtime in the district, Christensen said, includes poor work assignment/scheduling, approval of too many simultaneous days off for personnel, supervisory issues, shift trades and poor scheduling for training and meetings.

Christensen said it definitely is a failure to supervise correctly.

“Not only must the battalion chief or captain ensure that staffing is sufficient to meet the mission, it must also be determined whether it is being done without overtime being accrued,” Christensen wrote in his study.

He said vacations and trade shifts must be carefully monitored to ensure overtime is not included.

Christensen said past history proves this can be accomplished because the district provided the same service for years, but overtime the last few years increased dramatically.

Christensen said he cannot speak for other board members, but mentioned if the concerns in his study are not addressed, he will oppose the 2010-2011 budget when voting.

“I will not sign off on the budget without these [recommendations],” he said.

A concerned resident foresees cuts coming to the Sedona Fire District since property taxes in the district have gone down dramatically.

Business Director Karen Daines said a few months ago she expected the assessed valuations of properties to decrease and was waiting on February numbers, which came in 30 percent lower than last year, SFD Board member Charles Christensen said.

The 30 percent decrease in assessed values will not affect the current budget cycle, but will impact the Sedona Fire District in 2011.

Sedona_FireResident Dick Fishel told the SFD Governing Board the 2011 assessed valuations, which residents recently received, are like a double-edged sword.

On one hand, Fishel said, he likes paying lower property taxes, but he realizes how much this could hurt the fire district since most of its funding comes from property taxes.

He said the 30 percent reduction in property taxes in 2011 means some unwelcome cuts no one will like must be implemented.

Fishel urged the board to look at cuts not impacting personnel or services residents currently receive.

Quick fixes of laying off people would likely result in losing them to other agencies, meaning SFD would not be able to hire them back in better times, he said.

Fishel added smart and successful companies understand the impact of layoffs, and they should only be used as a last resort.

Attempts to reach Daines were unsuccessful. She told other district employees she was too busy to comment.

According to a statement released by SFD, the 2011-2012 fiscal year budget and decreased property valuations are not items SFD is concerned with right now, and it is premature to talk about future impacts.

Property taxes also decreased for the current budget cycle the board is working on, though they did not compare to the 30 percent of 2010.

Daines earlier said there will be a reduction of 7.8 percent in the 2010-2011 fiscal year budget from the current 2009-2010 fiscal year. However, those figures did not take into account the recent salary freezes the board made to save $145,000.

The operations portion of the 2010-2011 budget is $12.86 million with another $51,000 being budgeted for capital projects.

The overall tentative budget Daines presented to the governing board is $13.99 million, but she added $600,000 of this figure is for contingency items in case an unexpected exspense occurs.

She told the board the intent is to stay extremely close to line item amounts, and when asked by the board how she created the budget, she said past years were indicators.

“We know what the costs are going to be,” she said. “We don’t know exactly what will happen.”

The next fire district budget workshop will be Wednesday, March 10, at 3 p.m. at Station No. 1 in West Sedona.


Michael Maresh can be reached at 282-7795, ext. 125, or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The Sedona City Council is looking into ways to either collect its own sales tax or hire a third party to complete the task.

On Tuesday, Feb. 23, council heard a presentation from Tom Belshe, deputy director of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, and Rob Heimbuch, of Revenue Discovery Systems.

Heimbuch said RDS does third-party collections for Bullhead City and a few states.

Belshe said the huge benefit is the city would get its sales tax funds back much sooner. Currently, it takes about eight weeks for the Arizona Department of Revenue to return the funds to Sedona.

Heimbuch said with his firm, the funds would be returned to the city within 24 hours of posting.

Belshe said the firm has an extremely good reputation.

“That is obviously a very local decision that has to be made very carefully,” Belshe said.

Heimbuch said his firm has 70 well-trained, experienced auditors on staff who know what they are doing.

He said there is no reason the city should have to wait to get its money back.

“You are not going to get your money when you deserve it,” he said, noting one added benefit is the firm will know who is and who is not paying sales taxes.

Heimbuch said the firm would call the business and ask if there is any type of an issue.

“We will work with the taxpayer, and get them where they need to be,” he said.

He said the software they provide is not a simple one to master, but Heimbuch said employees from his company would do the work.

He said it makes little sense to not give the city back its money in a timely fashion.

“This is the money you need to make decisions,” Heimbuch said. “We are trying to level the playing field.”

The program and service, however, is far from free.

If Sedona hired RDS, it would be a five-year contract, and the company would charge 1.2 percent of all sales tax it recovers the first year and 1.3 percent in years two to five.

jodie_filardoHowever, there is a bill in the Arizona House of Representatives that would not allow self collecting of sales tax.

House Bill 2512 is in the rules committee and has not yet been scheduled to be heard.

Belshe said the hope is for the bill to move forward so amendments can be added to it.

Jodie Filardo, economic planner for the city, said the city is going out for request for proposals for a sales tax auditor, and Heimbuch said his firm may send in a proposal.

Council directed staff to continue working to develop a self-collecting tax process.

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