In the second of our two-part series featuring Santa Fe volunteers, we celebrate a firefighter, a raptor handler, a homeless provider, a GED instructor, a Santa Fe River steward and a grief counselor. We’re grateful here at Local Flavor for the time these folks generously give, not just during the holiday season, but from one New Year to the next.
I experienced a lot of death as a young person. Both my parents died when I was a teenager and I didn’t have a place to go to like Gerard’s House. Then I met one of the founding board members of Gerard’s House—retired District Court Judge Michael E. Vigil, whose jurisdiction included Santa Fe, Rio Arriba and Los Alamos counties and who was very aware of the impact that grief has on the community itself. Unresolved grief—that spoke to me in two ways. I wanted to be contributing to the community in healing, on the cause side. If grief was leading to violence, substance abuse and other negative behaviors, then I wanted to work with our community members to help them process their grief. So that’s why I got involved. I saw that the impact would be the right way to contribute and to help people process their grief. In the short term, you’re able to help people who are in pain today. In the long term, you’re hopeful that by supporting their grief process, they’ll have a life that isn’t full of or avoiding that pain. By working with these individuals, the hope is there are concentric circles of impact. So if the child is able to process the grief, then maybe he or she will heal. And peer support is a really powerful part of the process. You can share and they can support each other. Just being in the room, you feel that support.
I grew up in Chimayó, and when I was younger, I really liked building and designing. After I graduated from high school, I decided I wanted to get my degree in some type of engineering. I went to the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology and I got my degree in engineering, and I was working as a student at Los Alamos National Lab. I still work in Los Alamos as a material scientist at LANL, and I’m a full-time volunteer firefighter. I always knew I wanted to contribute to my community in some type of way. So I decided what better way to help out my community than when people are in a dire emergency? Our work as firefighters impacts them in a positive way. They know that when they’re in a dire situation, somebody who is qualified and trained is going to be there for them. We know how to diagnose their crisis and can get them the right treatment. Also, people who are handicapped and disabled have called upon us to help them move furniture and do yard work. So we’ve been a very positive influence to the community of Chimayó. Being chief of the Chimayó Fire Department has enriched my life by giving me a sense of purpose. I know that being a volunteer is not an easy path whatsoever. Volunteer firefighters are volunteering hundreds and hundreds of hours every year, training and responding to emergencies. When people see us, they appreciate what we do. It’s very rewarding that I am able to help out the community of Chimayó.
Rev. Betsy Bueschel
My volunteer work on the board of the Interfaith Community Shelter and on its Resource Days helps to provide a safe and welcoming space for people. As a retired minister and a member of the United Church [of Christ] of Santa Fe, this work gives me a way of not only living out, but loving out my faith. It is a practice of hospitality that embraces those who have been disenfranchised, those living on the margins. At the shelter, we welcome and serve the guests with compassion and respect. The goal is to help people make the transition from homelessness to stable housing. On Resource Days, the guests are offered various services including lunch, showers and appointments with Healthcare for the Homeless. Currently, we are serving meals for 130 people. One hundred people spend the night. That’s where many of Santa Fe’s faith communities and other community organizations come in. They provide, prepare and serve the meals each night. Our guests sit at tables and eat together, joined by these volunteers. There is a strong sense of community, not just among the people serving but a special community that forms when sharing food and stories around those tables. The staff and volunteers recognize the desire for such a community in these times. The more chaotic things become out in the world, the more important it is to have a place that is safe and welcoming.
I am a member of the Santa Fe Garden Club, and within the club, I am on the Conservation Committee. Besides dispersing money to worthwhile organizations within the community and state, this committee is also dedicated to an area of river to clean on a regular basis. Originally, I would sign up and occasionally clean the area, and [I] eventually just started handling the whole operation. It takes some coordination, including arranging two volunteers twice per month, making sure they have the necessary tools and training. Then there are reports to write! Sometimes, when no one volunteers, I’ll just go down and clean it myself. Occasionally, my husband Dan will stand on the Delgado Street Bridge and watch over me! I want to see the river be a beautiful, safe place that all of our citizens and visitors can enjoy.
For most of my professional career, I was a high school teacher. I have always loved working with teenagers and, for some reason, have gotten along very well with them. When I stopped working, I decided that I wanted to continue working with teenagers. I truly believe that to be a happy and a whole person, you have to give of yourself to those in need. Most of our students at Santa Fe Youthworks are students who did not fit well in a standard high school setting, for a wide variety of reasons. Nearly every one of our students is trying to get a GED in order to be able to find a better job and to make his or her way in life. I suppose the real objective of my volunteering at Santa Fe Youthworks is to help the students get their GED degrees and to increase the knowledge that they have so they can do that. Many of the students have immigration issues, which vary from being deported to simply not having a state ID. You have to have formal ID in order to take the GED and many do not have access to their birth certificates. We have to attempt to help them find the documents that they need. I have worked a great deal, a tremendous amount of time, with a boy who was severely abused as a child and was extremely withdrawn. He is now in his early 20s and he is about to get his GED. It’s amazing. Something like this happens every day at Youthworks.
I love everything having to do with wildlife, especially birds, so when I retired, I knew I wanted to volunteer at the New Mexico Wildlife Center. I had seen volunteers holding raptors at events around town and I wanted to handle raptors, too. I started out doing other chores and worked my way up to becoming a raptor handler. I’ve been volunteering for six years now. I bring raptors to schools and sometimes the kids come to the wildlife center. We teach them about wildlife conservation. Through that, I’m hoping to have a positive impact on the environment by inspiring the kids to care about wildlife. They get an opportunity to see these wild creatures up close and they see the need to protect these animals and their habitats. I think it’s really touching to see the looks on their faces when we bring out these birds. I remember going to a science fair at a school and I had a screech owl on the glove and a third-grader came up to the owl and bombarded me with questions. His mom finally came up 30 minutes later and said, “C’mon, we’ve got to go.” And he said, “But just look mom, look! Look at his eyes…” It sounds cliché, but I really hope to make a difference, even a small one. If some of the kids we talk to got a look at a red-tail hawk up close, and made a connection with that animal, then I would feel like I accomplished something.
Story by Lynn Cline