As many of you know, I've been building meaningful relationships in this sacred valley for well over a year now. I've come to love the people, the culture and the wisdom in these parts beyond words.
Last month, my dear friends Junita and Jose asked me and Goshen (of GoshenImagery.com, whom you've also supported) if we might consider bringing some of the young men that are apart of Street Fraternity (see StreetFraternity.com) down to the Culebra basin to (A) support their annual limpieza (cleaning of the acequias) before the growing season and (B) share their stories and connect with their youth. We were excited about the possibility.
Two weeks ago I began reaching out to some of the youth and the leadership connected to Street Fraternity. We had no idea who would show up. The day before, we rallied and reminded the guys. We had 7 confirmations the day before. I received two text cancellations later that night and wasn't sure who would take the plunge towards such an unknown invitation going to South-central Colorado for the first time. The time came and all five guys showed up.
For most of them, this was the first major trip outside of the urban core of Denver and Aurora. Three of them are resettled refugees from Ethiopia, Senegal and Tanzania, one is from Mexico and the other is from the projects in Cincinnati.
My father Dave (co-founder of Street Fraternity) joined me as well to connect with the community and help shuttle guys. The trip started with 3 + hours in a car full of uncertainty, headphones, doubt and even a little frustration that they would be expected to do a little 'work' on the acequias/fields.
As they entered the heart of the country you could feel stress fall away. The stars and night sky were big and welcoming and the home of Junita and Jose in San Francisco (just outside of San Luis) made them feel accepted, comfortable and free.
They all stayed in a small camper in the neighbor's yard. We had a great breakfast the next morning and soon made our way, with the help of Roy (a friend and one of the County Commissioners), to one of the acequias to begin cleaning and clearing. We had no idea what we were getting into and as we started to work. As we started, the guys slowly sprung up and took ownership over the project.
Towards the end, the group was in full control of their section of the acequia ~ cleaning, clearing, diving into the mud, pulling out roots, and making a healthy path for the rushing water. They loved it and the community loved them. They did amazing work and everyone was grateful and in awe that we came all the way down to help.
We finished and made our way back to Junita and Jose's place for a one-of-a-kind meal prepared by neighbors and another dear friend, Armida. We had a rich and meaningful sage-blessing circle guided by a profound community leader, Shirley. We finished around a fire connecting and sharing stories with local youth from the Move Mountain Project in San Luis.
After lunch, we hiked up a local mountain. We were guided by Leon (14 yrs old) who grew up on these hills. His wisdom and confidence was inspiring to everyone.
We woke up on Sunday morning to another beautiful breakfast and we said our goodbyes. It was so beautiful watch how deeply the local community connected to the young men. It was even more beautiful to see how these young urban guys, who face some of the hardest of barriers, were able to build connection and relationship with the families, young people and the land. Tears were constantly being shed as I observed how much stress and tension found its way out by taking this group out of their environment and into the beautiful nature-soaked landscapes, but into the threads of rooted community.
We finished with an epic day stopping at the famous stations of the cross trail in San Luis, to the Great Sand Dunes National Park, to my small tiny home in Chaffee County and eventually back to the city.
I'm so grateful for the trust and risk these guys took to give themselves to the unknown... to open up their hearts... to be in community with those who are different... and to slow it all down and let nature in.
I'm also grateful to each of you for supporting this Patreon account. It allows me the flexibility to invest in experiences just like this one. I hope you feel apart of it in a meaningful way.
Please visit the websites and social media feeds for Move Mountains Project San Luis, Street Fraternity and Goshen Imagery to learn more about these amazing young people and initiatives.