La Casa de Amor Para Niños in Palomas welcomes
the young women who are its new mission.
by Morgan Smith
It has been an intense time for La Casa de Amor Para Niños, the orphanage in Palomas, Mexico, that I wrote about in June 2013 ("House of Love"). Managed by a dedicated corps of volunteers from a coalition of churches in Silver City, Deming, Santa Fe, Los Alamos and Durango, Colo., as well as Palomas, it is now in the midst of a new initiative that can change the lives of young women throughout the state of Chihuahua.
Jim Noble doing a waltz with Victoria on his right and Perla on his left at the quinceañera in November. (Photos by Morgan Smith)
When I first visited in May 2010, the orphanage was caring for 32 children ranging in age from the newly born to 12 years old but mostly very young. Many were not actually orphans. Instead they had been abandoned, sometimes only temporarily, by local families who were going through some sort of crisis. For example, the father might have crossed the border to find work, hadn't returned and the mother, struggling to survive, had become involved with drugs.
During that first visit, a volunteer named Martina Ontiveros showed me around. She was a Mexican national who had lived in Santa Fe for many years but was then living in the orphanage and working as a volunteer. I remember asking her if she was afraid, because Palomas was very dangerous at that time. "I'm a soldier of salvation," she answered in Spanish. "I walk with faith." She had a mission to accomplish and being afraid was simply not an issue.
On that same visit, I met other volunteers and realized that this was largely a New Mexico project that they had been dedicated to for more than a decade. This was also my introduction to a world of courageous volunteers, both American and Mexican, who operate orphanages, distribute food, run rehab centers and mental asylums, build houses and perform other kinds of social services that we Americans expect our government to provide for the needy but that aren't available in Mexico. It was a pivotal moment for me personally because I've spent the subsequent four years making repeated trips to the border to document and write about this important work, an aspect of border life that gets too little recognition.
On the second weekend of every month, a group of volunteers drives down to La Casa to bring food and supplies, which are shared with the whole town. The leaders are Jim Noble, an immigration attorney in Santa Fe, his wife, Pat, and a young woman named Eunice Herrera who was an intern in Noble's office and is now getting her law degree at the Thurgood Marshall School of Law in Houston. The persistence of all these volunteers is extraordinary. For example, Margie Acuña from Santa Fe told me that she had missed only six weekends in the last 12 years.
One ongoing issue has been the support of the Palomas city government. Former Mayor Estanislao "Tanys" Garcia had been on the board of this coalition until his murder in 2009. His successor, Maria López, was also a strong supporter, but after she left office, relationships with the local DIF (Desarrollo Integral de la Familia) soured. Fewer and fewer children were referred and in 2012 the orphanage closed down.
Instead of throwing in the towel, however, La Casa's supporters shifted gears and began sponsoring kids to go to school. The combined cost for instructional fees, new shoes, a backpack and school supplies is about $150 a year for an elementary student, $250 for junior high and $500 for high school. They've now secured sponsorships for 134 children. (I'm sponsoring two and met one of them at the Christmas party in December.) In addition, they're helping one girl who is in a community college in El Paso and a boy who is going to college in Juárez.
In February 2013, there was a major breakthrough. Jim Noble met with the director of the DIF for the state of Chihuahua, who said she needed a shelter for children ages 11 and older who aren't easily adoptable because of their age. Noble and other volunteers decided they could provide a "family atmosphere" for these children, help them in school and prepare them for trade schools or college. They then began a major renovation project of their facility to create a more home-like atmosphere.
I was there on June 22 and saw a beehive of activity — painting, moving furniture, electrical and plumbing work, tile work, a sewer line, upgrading bathrooms to provide better privacy, setting up a computer wi-fi secured area and obtaining computers with software in Spanish, rebuilding the entry gate to provide better security. Some of the volunteers were newcomers like Rosalee and Dick Gillette from Deming. They had been frequent travelers to Palomas for dental care and learned of La Casa through their church, First Methodist Church of Deming. It was Dick who installed the security system on the gate. Others, like Hoss and Kitty McDonald of Silver City, who got their church to donate eight computers, had been there many times.
Finally in mid-October, the young women arrived. Their first big project was on Saturday, Nov. 9 — a "quinceañera" or 15th birthday celebration for two of the young women, Perla from the small town of San Juanito and Victoria from Chihuahua City. This was a huge community event. Margie Acuña not only made both dresses but did extensive work on the dresses worn by the 12 "damas" or escorts who accompanied Perla and Victoria. Other volunteers brought shoes and "dispensas" and decorated a huge meeting hall off Palomas' main street that had been loaned to them by Talaco Sanchez, who is now the mayor. There was a band, small gifts or "recuerdos" for everyone, songs by Eunice Herrera with her guitar, a prayer in which the local pastor referred to Perla and Victoria as "dos florecitas" ("two flowers"). Jim Noble, as the "padrino," did a waltz with the two of them. More than 200 people attended, creating a family atmosphere unlike anything that Perla, Victoria and their damas had ever experienced.
The next event was a Christmas party on Dec. 14 in the same auditorium. It was open to the public and between 850 and 1,000 people attended. Eunice was the master of ceremonies. A band from Chihuahua City, Pedro Ochoa & Lazo Doble, played. Some 15 booths had games for the kids. A donor from Deming gave tablets to the two best students and Victoria, who was the most improved. Led by Margie Acuña and her friend, Orlando, a huge meal was served.
One surprise. I had tried to interview the two quinceañera girls, Perla and Victoria, but they are shy and it was very difficult. Then a man from Santa Fe, Randy Murray, who has been the Santa Claus at these fiestas for the past 10 years, said that he had seen Perla taking pictures with her cell phone. She showed them to us and it was obvious that this shy young woman had a very good eye and was fascinated by photography.
On Jan. 5, I took her an old digital point-and-shoot camera and soon everyone was posing for photos — the young women in the program, Lucy the program director, and Betty Jurado, her sister who is in charge of the scholarship program. It was a moment of happiness and togetherness that most of these young women had probably never experienced before coming to La Casa. It told me that the gamble Jim Noble and the others took in agreeing to this challenge was paying off. Their hard work, persistence and unwillingness to be deterred is changing lives.
To send donations or for more information, write: Casa de Amor Para Niños (House of Love for Children), The Light at Mission Viejo, c/o Jim Noble, 4601 Mission Bend, Santa Fe, NM 87507, or contact (505) 466-0237, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.casadeamorparaninos.org.
Morgan Smith is a freelance writer living in Santa Fe who travels to the border
at least monthly to write about border issues. He can
be reached at Morganemail@example.com.
The Tumbleweeds Top 10
Who and what's been making news from New Mexico this past month, as measured by mentions in Google News (news.google.com). Trends noted are vs. last month's total hits; * indicates new to the list. Number in parenthesis indicates last month's Top 10 rank. Virgin Galactic continues to make news, with three top execs jumping ship and a new bio of Richard Branson claiming, "It's clear that he launched Virgin Galactic without remotely understanding the complexity of the technical challenges involved and, probably, still doesn't." Steve Pearce makes news writing about "submissive" wives in his memoir. Plus here comes the drought again…
- (2) Virgin Galactic — 323 hits (▲)
- (5) New Mexico drought — 289 hits (▲)
- (1) New Mexico + immigration — 285 hits (▲)
- (3) Gov. Susana Martinez — 272 hits (▲)
- (7) Sen. Tom Udall — 135 hits (▲)
- (8) Sen. Martin Heinrich — 123 hits (▲)
- (6) New Mexico gay marriage — 116 hits (▲)
- (-) New Mexico spaceport — 89 hits (▲)
- (4) Ex-Gov. Bill Richardson — 74 hits (▼)
- (-) Rep. Steve Pearce — 69 hits (▲)
Life in a State of Nature
More reader photos of creatures big and small.
Readers near and far continue to share their photos of wildlife in our corner of the world. With spring bringing the critters out, we hope even more of you will have your lenses trained on our Southwest "zoo."
This Texas horned lizard, photographed in Luna County, is the first of a batch of pictures sent by Andy Dimler of Denver, who writes, "I am a frequent visitor to Southwest New Mexico. I always enjoy reading your newspaper when I am in the area. I have a small piece of property in Luna County near the Tres Hermanas mountains that I stay on for a couple of weeks each year. I am an amateur wildlife photographer and I wanted to submit some of the photos I have shot in this area."
Vicki Decker of Glenwood shared this photo of a grumpy-looking javelina.
This feasting cardinal is another backyard visitor photographed by Debbie Morris of Las Cruces.
We're still catching up with the wonderful submissions from Joel Chinkes of Hidden River Ranch near Columbus. Here's a Gambel's Quail "attacking a serpent which was hoping to dine on bird chicks."
Michael Schulte sent this long-distance view, with a note: "It seems that those Florida Mountains ibex might represent the theme of Desert Exposure pretty well, especially when understood in the climber's sense of the word 'exposure' — how far the fall would be." His Flickr page for more is www.flickr.com/photos/eyeforbeauty.
Erin Evans snapped this handsome deer near her Grant County ranch.