With the end of the year upon us, many of us find ourselves reflecting on the year gone by. Specifically, this year I find myself wondering what is it that motivates individuals to answer the call of public service?
As district director of the Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District, I thought about this after realizing that I spend about 15 hours a week working with our district’s leadership, working on operations, planning, meeting with partners and community members, and how each and every minute spent by the board is volunteer time.
Our chairman, Abel Camarena, shared his reasons for volunteering:
“After completing a combined 37 years in natural resource management for federal and tribal entities, volunteering on the board allows me to give something back, sharing the knowledge, skills, and experience I gained toward accomplishing the mission of the district.”
Our treasurer, Joseph Moya, answered similarly:
“After a career as a vocational agriculture teacher at Belen High School, the district’s work is a fulfilling way to continue serving my community. Our projects — from farming and gardening to floods and erosion — interest me.”
Our vice chairwoman, Teresa Smith de Cherif, told me about her life of service:
“At age 10, I placed a poster on my bedroom wall with President Kennedy’s challenge, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.’ Soon after, my brother and I organized a carnival to raise money for our local hospital, bringing in all of $11! Years later, President George H.W. Bush spoke of ‘a thousand points of light … The old ideas … are timeless: duty, sacrifice, commitment, and a patriotism that finds its expression in taking part and pitching in.’
“I immediately volunteered to be a medical translator, and later returned to school to become a doctor. On my vacations, volunteering as a physician in the arid lands of Africa’s great Sahara Desert, I learned how vital it is to conserve our water and soil. Here, our increasing temperatures, drought and monsoon floods, and loss of snowpack are making New Mexico more arid than ever. I am inspired to continue volunteering, because I want to work toward sustainable solutions to these climate challenges.”
After calculating that our officers have given a total of 45 years of service to the district, I asked each about accomplishments they treasure.
Chairman Camarena noted, “I have served on the board for 12 years, and have worked to increase the operational and administrative capacity to provide financial and technical services to our communities, agricultural producers, schools, partners and organizations.”
“I am delighted that our East Valencia community gardens have helped backyard and small farmers grow food sustainably, providing 30 plus jobs to youth and young adults who have grown the garden produce to over 2,500 pounds of vegetables yearly!” Smith de Cherif said.
“I am proud to have volunteered for over 20 years as a board supervisor, serving five years as chairman, and currently doing my second term as treasurer,” Moya said. “I’m also proud to have participated in the ground-breaking ceremonies for the Whitfield Visitor Center in 2009 and the maintenance building in 2007.”
I then asked what our officers find to be their most fulfilling work for this district.
“I can’t help but smile as I remember that in 2003, I planted the very first tree at the Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area, along with Charlie Sanchez Jr. and a few others,” Moya said. “It was also very fulfilling to me to have taught the district board proper parliamentarian procedure.”
“I find sharing leadership with the other board members in helping communities understand and accomplish land stewardship goals at the grassroots level personally rewarding,” Camarena said. “I also appreciate that we work together as peers on a non-partisan basis.”
“I’m not registered in the same political party as our chairman, but I enjoy serving as his vice chairwoman, and have learned from him to be a mission-focused consensus builder,” Smith de Cherif said. “Being true to our mission — the conservation of land and water, environmental education, and community well-being — we are local government that works! My heart really smiles when I think about our District providing hands-on outdoor science learning for Valencia children, in their own environment at our Whitfield conservation area, even during this pandemic!”
Finally, with an eye towards the New Year, please know that on Jan. 29, 2022, the district and many partners are hosting a Magical Mulching demonstration and networking event at the East Valencia community gardens. The event will start at 10 a.m. at the El Cerro Mission Community Center, and at noon, we will run up to the Meadow Lake Community Center, where lunch will be provided while folk help improve the gardens, and build community with each other. Visit ValenciaSWCD.org for more details.
(Andrew Hautzinger is the district director of the Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District.)