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7:56 PM Wed, Nov. 14th

Student brings homeless ‘Santa’ into class project, finds him a home

James Zyla, Kingman’s homeless “Santa,” checks out his room at Ramada Inn where he will stay in exchange for playing piano at Canyon 66 Restaurant and Lounge on Thursdays. (COURTESY PHOTO)

James Zyla, Kingman’s homeless “Santa,” checks out his room at Ramada Inn where he will stay in exchange for playing piano at Canyon 66 Restaurant and Lounge on Thursdays. (COURTESY PHOTO)

KINGMAN – It’s too late for Kaylene Purcell to save witches from being burned in Salem, Massachusetts, but the junior at Lee Williams High School found a way to save James Zyla from living on the streets with winter approaching.

Purcell took teacher Vicki McLean’s English class project on the Salem witches above and beyond, tracking down Kingman’s homeless “Santa” and bringing him to the school for an interview about how people in the community look at him and their general views on the homeless.

“Witches were looked at different in that time period. Now in our society homeless people are looked at differently,” Purcell said. “It was a fun project to get him there and get a piano for him to play.”

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Kaylene Purcell, left, invited homeless “Santa” James Zyla to participate in her class project at Lee Williams High School, where he was interviewed about how the community looks at him. Also pictured are Gisselle Espinosa and Patrick Short. (COURTESY PHOTO)

Zyla, a talented musician originally from England, was featured in the Daily Miner for playing piano at The Gardens Rehab Center and for a crowdfunding effort to buy him a new keyboard, which was successful.

Purcell contacted Zyla on Facebook and asked if he would participate in her class project. It took a couple of days to arrange transportation by his friend, Pat Barry, who met him at the former Hastings book store.

“After interviewing him, he played the piano for my class,” Purcell said. “It was amazing. The look in everyone’s eyes was priceless. There was a tremendous amount of love in the classroom and it opened a lot of students’ eyes.”

Purcell went home and thought about what she could do to help Zyla make it through the winter. She talked to her boss at Canyon 66 Restaurant, who recognized her passion and struck a deal for Zyla to stay at the Ramada Inn in exchange for playing piano in the lounge every Thursday evening.

“I teared up and it took me a couple days to get ahold of him,” Purcell said. “We set up a time where we could all talk and James was so shocked … he was amazed. I couldn’t explain how happy James was. We gave him a tour of the room he would be staying in. He said, ‘Kaylene, I have been waiting for someone like you to come along and help me,’ and he couldn’t thank me enough.”