Country Elegant Paella Fundraiser

We are beyond humbled and grateful for the amazing fundraiser hosted by Sedona Village Partnership to benefit the preschool.

Joanna speaking at the event

Here was their message:

We celebrated the founding and successes of Sedona Village Learning Center, our new preschool in The Village.  The format was a “sit-down” dinner with masks and social distancing. Sedona Village Partnership and our gracious hosts, Camille & Phil Cox hosted at their home.

Shara & Joanna

Dinner and wine were served, as people bid for the silent auction. Appetizers, traditional & vegetarian paella were served by Master Chef John Ramagli. Our esteemed and entertaining sommelier, Steve Bailey, served three different Spanish wines.  Popular local guitarist, Eric Miller, provided musical ambience for us throughout the event with flamenco guitar music. 

In the comments shared by David Gill, Dr. Don Groves, Jan Groves and Bev Copen (see copy of their comments below), we acknowledged that “the preschool has exceeded all expectations in not only providing a high caliber academic program for our children, but has intrepidly done so in light of all the obstacles COVID-19 has thrown in its pathway.  We are very proud of Founder Joanna Horton McPherson and Director/Lead Teacher Shara Coughlin.  This dinner is also a way to celebrate their unparalleled professionalism and perseverance in establishing an exceptional preschool for the children in our community.”

The tremendous work was offered in every detail in planning the event. Live auction items were offered and lots of money was raised to go to the scholarship fund. Thank you to all who attended, offered support and donated to support the school’s impact!

Sedona Village Partnership with Founder & Director

Please enjoy the following comments at the dinner:

From David Gill of Sedona Village Partnership:

Good afternoon dear friends. Many of you are indeed that, and the others well you are dear to us because you support our commitment to education in the Village and most especially our pre-school. On behalf of the Sedona Village Partnership, and the Sedona Village Learning Center, I want to extend to each of you a very warm welcome.

Paella by Chef Ramagli

THANK YOUS The honor of thanking our hosts, Camille and Phil Fox, has fallen to me so I begin with a very heartfelt thanks to Phil and Camille for when we were stymied about a location for this event, offered their home and gardens.  All the while knowing they were beset with family over this weekend! And I continue my thanks to John and Nikki Ramagli for supporting our efforts with this wonderful event, and to our Village’s most entertaining sommelier, Steve Bailey, safely returning to us after multiple surgeries. And thanks also to Eric Miller who together with his father Robin have entertained us artistically for years.

CELEBRATIONS Last January, when Don and Jan Groves and Beverly Copen and I sat down to plan an event like this in support of the newly founded preschool, never did we imagine we would suffer a seven month delay due to a pandemic.  But from the very beginning we thought our event would be a celebratory one, …celebratory for so many reasons.  Celebratory because a very imaginative, creative and committed young lady had a vision of restoring education to our village.  A dream consistent with our Partnership’s vision, since losing our beloved Big Park Community School.  And so we began working together, and others will tell you about those activities in a few minutes.

RECOGNITIONS In preparation for this event, I of course was the one taking “reservations”, such as they are.  And one by one our list of attendants grew, inspiring me to now acknowledge this very special assembly of your dining companions.  In my humble opinion, you are surrounded by many of the very best members of our village, dedicated to ceaseless volunteerism in pursuit of a better quality of life for us all.   I begin with Camille, who in the face of extreme difficulty, offered herself to head up our Big Park Council.  I am proud to say she, together with Neil and Mary Pope, and others not present, have hit the Council’s reset button, ensuring broad representation and diligent listening to our community needs.  As an aside, I join with Camille and Dave Hanke and Omar Kenney and others to embark shortly on a process to create a new Community Plan for our Village. 

I pass now to four members of our Village Rotary Club.  Please raise your hands.  Rob Schaefer, who was instrumental in founding the club, became its President and as Chair of the Charitable Fund, also acted to support our preschool.  And Russ Snider, who has done so much for education in our Village over many, many years.  And lastly Damian Bruno and Danielle Gian, also directors of our Sedona Village Partnership and tireless community volunteers.  Damian was also past President of the Rotary Club and is now chair of the Charitable Fund.  They both together with Omar Kenney sponsor the annual Community BBQ for Village families,  and will be sponsoring the Ice Cream at our Halloween Pet Parade.

And Ken Rouse, past president of the Council and the business association. And Jeff and Suzie Dunn, our dining columnists and avid education supporters. And Norris and Carolyn Peterson, who have done so much for Keep Sedona Beautiful.  And caused the Sedona Fire District to build a less costly station at Chapel, thereby ensuring our taxes would not be adversely affected.  And Carolyn…….if any of you have worked with Carolyn, you have come away with an admiration for her organizational skills and quite possibly improvements in your own work product.   And Camilla and Jack Ross who have brought us high quality live theater, and now are in the process of inaugurating the Sedona Arts Academy and Community Center in the Collective in the space formerly occupied by Bearcloud Gallery. Dave Hanke, on the board of VOCA, the VV Sanctuary and a man of extraordinary kindness. Thomas McPherson, past owner of the Collective.  And his lovely wife, star of tonight’s show, Joanna Horton McPherson, accompanied by Joanna’s parents visiting all the way from Maine.

Again I celebrate the extraordinary culinary talents of John Ramagli and once again thank you for your frequent support (present Certificate of Appreciation),. In closing, I celebrate the young families (Omar and Heidi, Damian and Danielle, and Thomas and Joanna, and John and Nikki)  in our midst who remind us that an age diverse community will keep us all vital. 

FUNDRAISING After all, this afternoon’s event is both a community building event as well as a fundraiser for scholarships for families wanting to attend our preschool.  We celebrate that you all have exhibited special generosity in agreeing to attend our Country Elegant Paella Party, and some of you have already made generous donations in addition to your attendance here today.  We also celebrate that Village businesses have donated some 20 silent auction items, and three live auction items, the proceeds of which will fund additional scholarships.   I want to celebrate the donors who are not present, but who like you all, wanted to participate in our fundraising.  Thanks go to these ten persons who have made cash donations:

  • Jackie Harris and Donna Michaels, your Village candidate for County Supervisor
  • Lisa Snowden and Michael McGaughey
  • Eddie and Jim Gibson
  • Sara Crosby
  • Carolyn Fisher
  • Phil and Jan Billiam

Please continue to celebrate with us, and please be generous throughout our event.  

INTRODUCE DON Now, on to the rest of the program.  There is a saying that you are the average of the five  people you choose to spend most of your time with.   Here is one of my five: I am pleased to ask the very inspiring Don Groves to make a few comments about our Sedona Village Partnership.


The vision of Sedona Village Partnership is “Connecting the Community.” With  this as a foundation, I believe our community is stronger if we define it by what  unites us rather than by what divides us. It is time to work together to support  initiatives that sustain a vibrant community. Bill Joy, computer engineer and co founder of Sun Microsystems said, “We have to encourage our future.” Sedona  Village Partnership was founded in 2012 to serve as a catalyst to do just that. We  chose to support Sedona Village Learning Center because it is a unifying effort  which will encourage restoration of the heart and vibrancy of The Village. Thank  you for attending this dinner to unite behind Sedona Village Learning Center to encourage that it continues on the strong start it has made.  


  • Bev Copen and Ken Rous (Thank Ken for Auction and Raffle items) 
  • Joanna and Thomas McPherson  
  • Shara Coughlin  
  • Sedona Village Partnership Board of Directors (Bev, David, Omar, Danielle, Damian) Gwen and Dave weren’t able to attend this evening.  
  • Sedona Village Partnership “Partner Members”  
  • Sedona Village Learning Center Board of Directors  
  • Camille Cox, President, Big Park Regional Coordinating Council  
  • Neil Pope, Treasurer, Big Park Regional Coordinating Council  
  • Laurie Altringer, Founder and Director of the Science Vortex of the Verde Valley  Rob Schaefer, Past President, Rotary Club of Sedona Village  
  • Russ Snider, Former Principal at Big Park Community School, West, Red Rock  Camilla Ross, Director, Emerson Theatre Collaborative and the Sedona Arts  Academy  
  • Jason Folsom, Director of Sales, Element Hotel  

Spotlight on David  Although he will cringe when I say this, I want to shine the spotlight on David Gill  the creator and coordinator of this event. David is a person who does not beat his  own drum, so I will do it for him because he has and continues to quietly bring our  community together in numerous ways. His recent achievement is creating a  partnership with Arizona State University Watts College of Public Service and  Community Solutions to assist the Big Park Regional Coordinating Council in  developing a community plan for The Village. Another example of his unselfish  service is the financial guidance he has provided Joanna McPherson. Indeed this  has led to a healthier future for Sedona Village Learning Center and elevated  Joanna’s own abilities in financial planning. Please raise your glasses in a big  “thank you” to David!  

Closing  Everyone attending will remember President Kennedy’s now famous words in  1962, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do other things, not  because they are easy, but because they are hard.” More importantly, he  continued by saying “that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our  energies and skills.” Sedona Village Learning Center is not only a unifying force in  our community but serves to organize and measure the best of our energies and  skills. Joanna McPherson has repeatedly said, “The primary external benefit of  the school is attracting families and people with diverse skills to contribute to our  community and economy, to contribute to the fabric of the Village, and to enrich  one another’s lives.” With the opening of the school, and with the demonstration  of your generous support for it, marks the beginning of an initiative which will  unite us in encouraging our future: a future with young families choosing to live  here because of a high caliber neighborhood school, a future with children  actively engaged in the excitement of learning, a future with the promise of unity  and reinvigoration.  

Thank you to our gracious and generous hosts Camille and Philip Cox. Thank you  donors and attendees for your generous support. Look forward to upcoming  events, such as the Halloween Pet Parade, which will be sponsored by Sedona  Village Partnership as we continue ‘Connecting the Community.’ 




“It was a little over one year ago, when I heard Joanna say to family visitors, “Our Village needs a school.  Our Village must have a school.  And then, she said,  I heard my own voice saying, ‘WHY DON’T I START THE SCHOOL!!!And so she did.  The PreK school was set to open Monday, March 16, along with a celebration dinner sponsored by Sedona Village Partnership.  And then, the world shut down… but not amazing Joanna and equally amazing teacher, Shara.  They created, innovated and re-imagined what could be.  When you don’t have a path to follow, there is no RIGHT or WRONG.  You just DO IT.

It is my great pride (and Love) to introduce the Founder of the Sedona Village Learning Center, Joanna Horton McPherson.”

joanna McPherson OF SEDONA VILLAGE Learning center:


We are all here for the common purpose supporting education in this community. My husband Thomas and I often say this in planning our lives and work, and it is the reason we’re gathered here today:

Confucius quote: "If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed; if in terms of ten years, plant trees; if in terms of 100 years, teach people."

It would be no understatement to say we’re lucky to be here right now having survived coronavirus when we were supposed to launch. As of today we are meeting our mission of providing high-quality early childhood education to 14 families. Half of those are on a scholarship which many people have donated to support. To learn more, please read our new brochure, parent testimonials and a “peek inside,” which are on your tables. You will see how worthwhile a little donation will go to enable the education of a child.

SVP organized this dinner down to every last detail, but you should know they have hosted more than just this incredible event. We have an intricate and deep relationship – not quite sponsor and sponsor, not quite parents and child but somewhere in between. SVP believed in me:

  • provided a grant
  • offered experience, expertise and skill from their background
  • gave emotional and spiritual support as cheerleaders and ambassadors

The fact is they were the people advocating tirelessly for education in this community before I arrived on the scene. They have been guides and advisers all along the way. They are also the people who put 100% of the effort into planning this event, doing incredible work to put this together because I could not.

Before I name them I want to share some important thank yous. First to the chef and a sommelier John Ramagli and Steve Bailey. They both have donated a tremendous amount of time to create this and finding the talents to make this a wonderful evening. To the members of our board Jim Cunningham, and Nikki Ramagli and of course Jan Groves, how has been there by my side and supporting me all along the way. Thank you for your efforts and commitment to making the school reality. 

Thank you to the many donors and grantors who helped boost our scholarship fund to the $10,000 mark we raised to date. A special thank you to Ken Rouse for his fundraising efforts in gathering many, many gifts and certificates for the silent auction and raffle. He was on a one-man mission to get most of these donations today and I thank you so much for this tirelessly and honorable effort.

Finally I would like to present the following people with small tokens of appreciation in the form of engraved lucite star paperweights (Bev, Don, David, Jan). Last but not least – we would not be here with the talents of our incredible teacher/director, Shara Coughlin. It is somewhat tongue-in-cheek but also in total seriousness that I present her with the “teacher of the year” award.

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