By: Stefany Olivas, Managing Editor | Photos By: Stefany Olivas, Managing Editor
Students from CNM’s SkillsUSA members were the team leaders in the Save Little Bear restoration project at Bonita Park, where more than 150 students from colleges and high schools around the state helped restore Bonita Park staff housing, said Construction Technology major and SkillsUSA member Cheryl Douglass.
The projects included putting up strip-pine fencing, re-wiring and skirting mobile homes, digging ditches and repairing vehicles — including two trucks and a backhoe damaged in the June Ruidoso fire, she said.
“We united and conquered the burn area here in Bonita Park. I think it was rather successful,” said Douglass.
Watching people from different schools come together to rebuild was an incredible experience, she said.
“Things are doable. I think it is way cool to work with other colleges and learn their trades. Even though we didn’t all work in our own trades, we kept an open mind to do whatever it was that needed to be done,” she said.
She said working with the high school students was good because they worked hard and were motivated.
“They did their part and more than their own share. They did real well,” said Douglass.
Hobbs High school freshman and SkillsUSA member Chris Williamson said he enjoyed helping the community while experiencing hands-on skills to rebuild and restore homes.
The most fun part for Williamson was demolishing the walls in the mobile homes and learning how to install and plaster drywall, he said.
He said he admired his team leader, Abran Salazar, who headed the drywall project, because of Salazar’s instructional style and how well he encouraged the other workers.
“I felt good about it. It was pretty fun overall. The leader of the drywall team helped me learn how to do a lot more things. I learned how to make it fun while also doing work,” said Williamson.
Automotive Instructor Barry Mills Jr. said restoring the staff housing and saving Bonita Park more than $90,000 in renovations was gratifying for him and the students.
Getting his students together for the trip was a great opportunity to learn about leadership, gain hands-on experience and build relationships within the community. He would absolutely do it again, he said.
“Opening the student’s eyes to the idea that it’s just a feel-good event to drop whatever you are doing to help somebody in need,” said Barry.
Over a three-day period, along with restoring homes, the students participated in team-building and leadership activities to strengthen their skills while leading the teams of other college and high school students, he said.
“We exposed the students to the ideas of what happens in upper management: meetings and learning how to deal with conflict resolution and conversations, and communities with higher powers,” said Mills. “Consequently, it gives them the confidence to talk to people that they otherwise wouldn’t.”
He and other automotive students repaired several of the service vehicles used on the grounds by Bonita Park staff.
They fixed non-functional doors, the starting system and four-wheel-drive on a diesel truck that had not been used for two months, as well as the ignition system on a backhoe tractor.
“We repaired two vehicles where the door would no longer shut and were unsafe in such a way that if you drove, and made a right hand turn, you would simply fall out of the truck. The backhoe tractor gave a real good fight all day long,” said Barry.
Human Resources Manager Brenda Garber and Activities Director Connor Bryan — along with the rest of the Bonita Park staff — lost their homes and belongings in the June Little Bear fire, Bryan said.
SkillsUSA helped begin restoration of both homes. Bryan, his wife, and four children will be moving into one of them, he said.
Bonita Park has had most of the mobile homes for almost two months, but the staff has not been able to work on them because they have been busy helping with other camp restorations, and have still been hosting events, he said.
“My home was right in this very site, and it burned through. We lost 138 of our 154 structures, on June 8 and 9, and we’ve been in temporary housing since then,” said Bryan. “Having SkillsUSA here doing so much to get us back in our homes is very exciting.”
Garber said that SkillsUSA has visited the camp for several years to participate in leadership programs, workshops, and small service projects but they have never done a project involving as much work as the Save Little Bear project.
The area has not experienced such a severe fire since the 1950s, which is also when Smokey the Bear, as a cub, became a national symbol for fire safety, she said. The recent Little Bear fire was estimated to have burned up to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
“The work is incredible. It gives such a hope because there’s been such devastation, and they haven’t had a place to call home. Every day I go home to a place that’s not my home,” said Garber, “so to get these homes for the staff is incredible.”