Playground Superheroes team keeps optimism alive in Questa

Front row, from left to right: Stefanie Salazar, Audrea Romero,  Alfredo Mondragon, Brianna Ortega, Britney Cisneros and Deanna Aragon. Back row from, left to right: Robert Gomez and Joe Cintas.

Eight Questa high school graduates have been working eight hours a day, five days a week for over a month to rehabilitate the Questa local park and playground.

The project, called Playground Superheroes, is carried out in conjunction with Chevron Questa Mine, Community Build and the Questa Economic Development Foundation.

“Every year Chevron hires a group of interns as employees for the work-study program that the school offers to high school seniors,” said Audrea Romero, the team leader. “These interns choose a project that allows them to give something back to their community. We decided that our project for the 2013-2014 internship would be to renovate the part and the playground, which were outdated and in frantic need of restoration.”

Their final goal is to give the youth in the Questa community a safe environment to play behind the Questa Library and the Questa Youth Center.

“In doing so, we will also be creating more opportunities for everyone,” said Romero.

For those who want to pitch in, the team is having a build day, Wednesday (July 9) starting 8 a.m. to assemble the basketball and volleyball courts and the horseshoe pits. Volunteers are welcome.

The teens began working in January, devoting from two to four hours every day to the project during the school year.

“First, we solicited volunteers and resources throughout our community and the surrounding areas,” said Romero. “It is important that we get the community involved with our project. We also want to give business to our local contractors.”

Their current budget is set for $60,000. The team has received in-kind donations from local businesses and individuals, and they plan to implement more fundraising tactics in order to complete their task.

The overall plan includes the creation of a basketball court, a volleyball court, a skate park, playgrounds for various age groups, and a horseshoe pit. They have also designed a central area for the children, youth and entire families.

“We want to have essentials for our recreation area such as walkways, restrooms, benches, improved parking, gazebos, picnic tables, and new landscaping,” said Romero. “This project is expected to be finished by August.”

Questa and Taos mayors Mark Gallegos and Dan Barrone, respectively, will donate two gazebos. The plants will come from Rio Grande Ace Hardware in Taos. Lowe’s donated $1,200 grant to buy concrete and tools.

The team members agree that, as high school interns, they have set high expectations for themselves.

“But we are sure that we can accomplish everything,” said Romero. “Giving the younger people and the families here something that we never had as children is a great incentive to carry out our work.”

They also hope to increase physical fitness awareness among the Questa neighbors.

The team prepared a PowerPoint presentation about their project and shared it with the community, including elementary school kids.

“They were delighted when we showed them how the park is going to look like,” said Romero. “And they are waiting for it!”

The interns have already removed all the existing wildlife from the park.

“It was infested with prairie dogs and we removed them in a timely manner,” said Romero. “During this process, we used the USDA license of Max Martinez to do the job proficiently and effectively. We are very grateful for the help of Taos County staff and Commissioner Larry Sánchez, who volunteered their time and resources.”

They have also removed the outdated play equipment and leveled off the park.

“They are doing a great job,” said Margaret Lejuste, Public Affairs Managers at Questa mine. “These young men and women are working really hard.”

The Playground Superheroes team is formed by Stefanie Salazar, Audrea Romero, Alfredo Mondragon, Brianna Ortega, Britney Cisneros, Deanna Aragon, Robert Gomez and Joe Cintas.

They meet every week in an office provided by the Chevron mine, where they all work in different capacities. They discuss their upcoming plans and strategies to find volunteers and resources.

“It’s nice to have a park to go to here, so people don’t need to travel to Red River or Taos,” said Ortega.

“We are all leaving for college this fall and we are happy to leave behind something useful for the community,” said Salazar. “We will be coming back to enjoy it too.”

“It feels good to do something positive for our Questa community now that the mine is closing,” said Gomez. “It offers hope to people.”

“I’d like to take my son to the park, knowing that I helped build it,” said Aragon.

One month ago, Chevron announced the shutdown of the Questa mine.

“The layoff of 300 people has had a negative effect on the community of Questa and its population of 1700,” said Romero. “Our economy is facing great challenges and as high school interns, we want to make a difference. We’d like to promote positive assets in our town and building a new park is a way to do so.”

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