Value in Volunteering

Rosa Sisneros has a passion for her community, volunteering at El Corazon de Belen Garden Park, and helping her neighbors during the Belen flood this summer. Clara Garcia | News-Bulletin photo

Rosa Sisneros has a lot on her plate — she and her husband, Martin, have four children, she works a full-time job, goes to college part-time and she still has the energy to volunteer her time to help her community.

Sisneros isn’t alone in her dedication in making Belen better, but she has continued to do so for years. That’s why she was nominated and chosen as an Unsung Hero.

Belen City Councilor Danny Bernal Jr. nominated Sisneros for the honor, saying, “Rosa is a hard-working mom. She contributes to our community by volunteering her time at El Corazon de Belen (Garden Park). She’s hosted many clean-ups there and energizes everyone to take care of the pocket park.”

Bernal also took notice of Sisneros’ big heart during the July flooding event in Belen.

“During the recent flooding in Belen, Rosa stepped up to feed her neighbors, who were affected by the flood — inviting them all to come get food,” Bernal said. “She’s a kind soul and is very deserving to be a nominee for an Unsung Hero.”

Sisneros was a bit taken back when she learned about the honor, saying she doesn’t do what she does for recognition — simply to help the community.

Immigrating to New Mexico 13 years ago from Guadalajara, Mexico, Sisneros said she wanted a better life, and in exchange for the opportunities she’s received here, she has made it a point to help the community in any way she can.

For the past eight years, Sisneros has worked with the Belen WIC program as a breastfeeding peer counselor. She’s also a part-time student at The University of New Mexico-Valencia campus and is in pursuit of an associate degree in general science.

“My goal is to transfer to a four-year institution to get a degree in biochemistry or medical lab sciences,” Sisneros said. “I’m deciding between those two, but it will be a few years before I can get my degree.”

In between working, going to school and raising her four children, Maya, 11, Bartolome, 9, Ramon, 7, and Adrian, 3, Sisneros decided she wanted to set an example for not only her children, but for the community.

“I got involved about seven or eight years ago,” Sisneros remembers. “My family were riding our bikes around town — we only had two kids then — and we passed by the park. It caught our attention.”

Curious, Rosa and Martin stopped and inquired with the volunteers at the park what they were doing.

“We volunteered there for about a year, but we stopped because we had more kids and our lives just got very busy,” she said. “It was about three years ago that I thought to myself, ‘I really can’t complain about what’s going on in the community if we’re not working on trying to make a change.’”

It was then she decided to return to the small, colorful garden, located at the corner of Dalies Avenue and Sixth Street in Belen. While many of the volunteers she started with had left, she was pleased there were others who kept it up.

What she didn’t anticipate was the park needed a leader. Belen MainStreet Partnership Executive Director Rhona Baca Espinoza tapped Sisneros as the liaison for El Corazon de Belen Garden Park.

“It was about three years ago that I thought to myself, ‘I really can’t complain about what’s going on in the community if we’re not working on trying to make a change,’” Sisneros said. Clara Garcia | News-Bulletin photo

“So if we need funds for materials, I will go to the (BMSP) board and ask for money, and if I have any ideas for projects, I have to take it to them,” Sisneros said. “Most of the time, they’re so great and will give us what we need.”

One of her main goals has been to involve the youth of the community at the park, such as the students in the Belen Schools BEST program.

“They were the ones working really hard, cleaning,” she said. “To me, I feel it’s important to reward the people who volunteer for the garden. They’re doing something great for the community in making it beautiful.”

To reward the volunteers for their hard work and dedication to the garden, they decorated the space with Christmas decorations and had a party with hot chocolate and gave them snacks and gifts.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the volunteers were only able to have one community clean-up, but they would take turns to keep up the garden.

Earlier this year, when the mandates lifted, they were able to come together once again and revitalize the garden, with new boxes Martin made, fixed the tool shed and installed a new Little Free Library.

“My vision for the garden is to be a resource,” Sisneros said. “For the spring, I’ve put together some small science kits for the kids.”

Sisneros says there are many reasons she volunteers at the El Corazon de Belen Garden Park, such as showing the children of the community there is value in volunteering.

“When they get involved, they know it will eventually make a difference,” Sisneros said.

For Sisneros, giving back to the community isn’t something she takes lightly. As an immigrant, she wants people to know she didn’t come to the country to get anything for free.

“We come here, not always expecting something,” she said. “We come here for a better life, but we also want to make a better community for our future generations. I came here and I want to find ways to make things better. I want to make sure that people know that they can be the change to make things better.”

Sisneros not only helps in the garden. When the flood waters flowed through Belen in July, she stepped up to help where she could.

“We were lucky that we weren’t affected, but our street got hit really hard and our neighbors were,” she said. “All I could think of doing is offering our help.”

As she and Martin offered to help her neighbors on South Second Street clean up, they realized they were just getting in their way. That’s when Sisneros decided she could help in another way — with food.

“When you’re in crisis and all you can think about and do is clean up the mess, you don’t think about anything else,” she said. “So I decided I would cook food for them. That’s one of the ways I helped them.”

For the next three days, Sisneros made meals for about six neighbors.

“No one was expecting (the flood), and I just felt like when something unexpected like this happens to you, you might feel alone,” she said. “I wouldn’t feel comfortable knowing they were feeling that. I wanted to make sure they knew there are people willing to back them up.”

Sisneros made everything from breakfast burritos, enchiladas, nachos, barbecue sandwiches, hamburgers and hot dogs. She would even drive around the neighborhood with coolers filled with water and sodas, and when she saw someone outside working, she’d pull over and hand out the drinks.

“I just wanted to make sure they knew there was always going to be help,” she said. “People have to come together when something like this happens.

“I don’t do this for a reward, it’s just because I believe that kindness is very important,” she said. “The world would be so much better if people just decided to be kind.”

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Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.