VEGUITA — It started as a dream. Then there was a master plan. There was money found and lost and found again.

Now, finally, after 18 years of planning and waiting, the Veguita Health Care Clinic is a reality.

Last Thursday, community members and an array of former and current dignitaries gathered at the nearby senior center to celebrate the pending opening of the clinic.

The small clinic sits between two other manifestations of dreams and promises — the Veguita Senior Center and La Promesa Elementary. Just to the south, on the same 40-acre piece of land, is the local fire station.

The ribbon cutting for the clinic marks it as the penultimate project for that piece of property donated to the community by the New Mexico Boys Ranch, Inc. nearly 40 years ago.

The fifth and final part of that long-standing master plan is a playground for local children.

“The whole thing took about 18 years. I’m real happy for the community, to help with the needs for our area,” said Leo Mendoza, Veguita native and one of the driving forces behind the clinic and the other facilities.

For more than four decades, Mendoza has served on the board of directors of what is now known as The Ranches, formerly New Mexico Boys Ranch.

“I have been working with Mike Kull (director of The Ranches) for 44 years, working together for kids to make things better for the community,” Mendoza said.

When Mendoza and others in the community began asking what was needed, the No. 1 priority was a school. Students had to get up at 5 a.m. to travel north to the nearest elementary in the Belen Consolidated Schools district.

Development of a master plan took about a year and a half, and a key part was a health clinic.

During the intervening years, Mendoza said there were times when he wanted to throw in the towel, but support from people like the late Alice King, former New Mexico first lady, Sen. Ben Altimorano, from Silver City, now deceased, former state representative Don Tripp and deceased state senator Joe Fidel kept him going.

“I wanted to be sure to do this the right way. This was not for me. It was for the community,” Mendoza said. “It was rough sometimes but it had the backing of the community. It was a lot of work but I don’t regret it.”

At the ribbon cutting ceremony, Socorro County Commissioner Martha Salas noted that everyone needs a doctor sooner rather than later.

“When I was teaching at La Promesa, I remember when a child needed to go to the doctor, if they had siblings, they would all be taken out of school because it was so far away, no one would be home to meet the bus,” Salas said.

Former La Promesa principal Diane Vallejos, interim superintendent for Belen Consolidated Schools, which takes in northern Socorro County and La Promesa Elementary, said it was an honor and privilege to be at the event.

“I started at La Promesa in 2005 when the conversation was just starting. It was just a dream,” Vallejos said. “I’m very proud of the community that’s been built here.”

Raising her granddaughters about 10 miles north of the school, Annette Sedillo-Ulibarri said taking one girl to the doctor in Albuquerque resulted in both of them being taken out of class.

“It’s a good convenience to be able to make an appointment locally,” Sedillo-Ulibarri said. “And we have a lot of seniors here, who might not want to or be able to drive to Albuquerque or Belen, but they can make it to the senior center. With this right next door, it’s a benefit to them.”

While the clinic won’t be open around the clock or provide emergency care, Tara Zamora said having “a little bit of a safety net” for her three children, especially her daughter with asthma, gives her peace of mind.

Robert Chavez’ business, Advanced Environmental Solutions, may be based in Belen but he was born and raised in Veguita, and continues to live there.

“It gives the community some sense of identity and shows that the community is growing,” Chavez said. “We’re n need of all these services out here, and this is a big one.”

AES was the contractor that built the clinic, and Chavez said he is proud to be a part of the project.

“As a small business, you always want to build roots and keep business in the area,” he said. “I live in this community and so do a lot of my employees. When we bid the project, that was one of the driving forces. This is something that is lasting for the community.”

Former state representative Don Tripp said the community was the driving force behind the clinic, along with Mendoza, who he called “a special person who kept this going. To make something like this happen you need the support of the county commission, state legislators, the community, everybody,” Tripp said. “There’s a real passion in this community to drive forward with hope.”

The $705,000 facility was built using $500,000 from a Community Development Block Grant from the Department of Finance Authority and $205,000 from Socorro County.

Genevieve Robran, regional director for PMS, said the clinic will have a medication room for prescriptions written at the clinic.

“It makes no sense to see a provider here and then still have to drive miles and miles to fill a prescription,” Robran said. “So we made it part of our mission to be able to fill them on site.”

The clinic is about 1,500 square feet, and has an exam room, a treatment room, a nurse station, medication room, reception room, office space and a waiting room.

The facility is scheduled to be open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays, starting Tuesday, May 7.

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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.