Christmas comes early for drug court participants’ children

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Santa Claus (L. Scott Bennett) waves as he hands out presents to children. The event was a special reward for adult drug court participants and their families.

By Jon Johnson

SAFFORD – The adult drug court received a special visitor Monday when Santa Claus made an appearance to reward participants with Christmas presents for their children.

The event was made possible through toy donations from Greg St. Hillaire with Toys for Tots and was a collaborative effort with the Graham County Superior Court, Graham County Attorney’s Office, Graham County Probation, the Law Office of Rebecca R. Johnson, and the Gila Herald.

“I know a lot of them have a really tough road and the road that they’re on is hard,” Bennett said as Santa Claus. “And I think it’s a lot harder than most people understand. I’m very, very glad that I could come down from the North Pole to congratulate them and also help their kids out some.

The program will come into its fourth year in 2021 and helps probationers addicted to substances stay off drugs and become productive members of society. Participants are often given rewards for milestones, and for a couple of years have gotten a bonus reward of Christmas toys for their children, courtesy of the Toys for Tots program. To date, 13 people have graduated from the intense, drug court program.

Jon Johnson Video/Gila Herald

Each child received three gifts from the event that were individually selected and age-appropriate. Judge Peterson praised the organizers of the event and thanked all those who made it possible. He said the event showcases the various organizations’ determination to the program.

“It’s an opportunity for us to be able to show them how much we care about them and to reward them for their successful participation in our drug court,” Judge Peterson said.

Members of the Law Office of Rebecca R. Johnson separated the toys for the children and then wrapped and delivered them to the courthouse lawn. Then, Graham County Attorney-elect L. Scott Bennett performed as Santa Claus and handed out the gifts to the children.

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: From left, Graham County Superior Court Judge Michael D. Peterson, Santa Claus (Graham County Attorney-elect L. Scott Bennett), and attorney Rebecca Johnson pose for a picture after the event.

While they were expected to simply take the gifts with them and unwrap them later, one child unwrapped his while still at the event and began gleefully playing with a toy. On their way out, he thanked the group for the gifts and said how much he liked his new toys.

“This is a wonderful event,” Bennett said as Santa Claus. “There’s been a lot of parents who have done some really, really good things and they’re making improvements in their lives.”

“This is a great thing, and I’m really appreciative of what Judge Peterson and Rebecca Johnson and Probation and what everyone has done to move this program along. It’s a wonderful program and they’ve helped a lot of people.”

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