Pay It Forward: Woman helps theater founder after fire, burglary - News, Weather & Sports

Pay It Forward: Woman helps theater founder after fire, burglary

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Tragedy can strike anyone at anytime, but while a Valley family was still struggling to pick up the pieces from a devastating house fire, they were victimized again.

Mary Jo Okawa has been performing in some form or fashion for most of her life.

On top of her job as a Chandler teacher, she founded and for the last four years has directed the Copperstar Repertory Company, a community theater group. But the drama that recently played out in her personal life would give any of her productions a run for their money.

"She's shown such strength and perseverance. She really is unbelievable," theater mom Katy Henthorne said.

Okawa's garage doubles as the workshop to build the sets for the shows.

They are elaborate productions that take months to put together. Her husband helps build the sets.

"He heard a really big bang. He thought it was a car accident and he went out in front of the house to see what happened and the garage exploded out," Okawa said.

The fire burned for four hours and when it was over, there was nothing left.

"All the letters from and to my husband from when we were kids, you know, we wrote each other all the time because we were high school sweethearts. Those are all gone," Okawa said.

While living in a hotel, waiting for an insurance adjustment, thieves ransacked the charred remains of their lives.

"They took my wedding ring, my heirloom jewelry, my grandmother's jewelry," Okawa said. "I called the office and said, 'Can someone take my class because I can't stop crying.' So you just become overwhelmed."

"I want her to be able to keep this going and if this pay it forward helps in any little bit to help her just know that people care and are trying to help, that's all," Henthorne said.

"It's a beautiful thing to feel so loved and appreciated in your community," Okawa said. "I just didn't expect that."

With three weeks before opening night for The Wizard of Oz, Copperstar is still searching for a location to build their sets.

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