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Region Stories

These stories illustrate how early childhood programs and services funded by First Things First make a difference for young children and families in communities across Arizona.

Audrey Opitz is the 2021 Gila Champion for Young Children

baby photo of Audrey Optiz reading to her baby brother.

Audrey Opitz has been selected as the 2021 First Things First Gila Champion for Young Children.

The award is given to local champions who actively volunteer their time to raise public awareness of the importance of early childhood development and health. Champions spend a significant amount of time volunteering with FTF and building public awareness about the importance of early childhood issues.

In the FTF Gila Region, the regional partnership council decided to honor longtime early childhood champion Audrey Opitz, who passed away in February 2021 at the age of 90.

headshot of Audrey OpitzOpitz was an extremely active member of the Globe-Miami community for more than 40 years. She was an original member of the FTF Gila Regional Council, serving more than 10 years, until 2019, on the all-volunteer council.

In years past, Opitz was a recipient of the Globe Citizen of the Year and Golden Service awards. She also served as the Gila Community Food Bank director for 27 years, the Globe Lions Club treasurer and a board member for Community Action Program and Head Start. It was all part of her life’s work to improve the lives and education of young children everywhere.

At 18, Opitz began her work as a school teacher and taught the children of the San Carlos Apache and White Mountain Apache tribes.

Opitz was passionate about starting children with a strong education at an early age. She became known as a community advocate in the Globe, Miami and San Carlos communities.

FTF Gila Regional Director Carolyn Haro called Opitz a community connector.

“She was the kind of person who would stop by the FTF office, take the parent information cards and keep them in her purse,” Haro said. “If she saw a parent with a young child in the grocery store, she would stop them, starting chatting and tell them about the importance of early childhood and tell them they needed to go to the FTF website. She was a connector and had no problem spreading the word at any second.”

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