Juntos 4-H preserving tradition in SLV through programs

COSTILLA COUNTY — Juntos 4-H is focusing on the families of Costilla County. Carol Gurule, the SLV Juntos 4-H Youth Development Specialist with the CSU San Luis Valley Extension office, is partnering with several other organizations for several events which preserve family traditions and strengthen family bonds.

On Sept. 12, students at Centennial school in San Luis will have the opportunity to help build a horno — an outdoor adobe oven used to cook traditional food like chicos — near one of the mission churches in the village of San Francisco.

"Dr. Devon Pena is the lead person on the project," Gurule explains. “Dr. Pena did a PowerPoint presentation on chicos" and various organizations became interested in continuing the culture by building a horno. "Students who volunteer to build the horno take a day trip."

Dr. Pena's family has been in the San Luis Valley since the Sangre de Christo land grant. The family farm near San Acacio is watered by two "acequias" — hand dug ditches from the 1800s when San Luis Valley was first settled. Pena is dedicated to preserving the water, ecology, and biodiversity of plants used in traditional dishes, now becoming rare, through his research and his family's non-profit, the Acequia Institute. 

The horno building event on Sept. 12 is also supported by Move Mountains — an organization through Shirley Otero Romero that has programs which empower the youth of Costilla County. Costilla County Human Services and the San Luis People's Market, a grocery store in San Luis that offers local food that is owned by Dr. Pena.

Cornellius Arellano is the head horno builder.

"(He) is also known for having the best green chili in the Valley," according to Gurule. It is a chance to instruct children about their heritage and learn the old recipes and the importance of biodiversity, using "heirloom" seeds and organic farming.

Juntos 4-H is also hosting a special seven-week program for the families of Sierra Grande and Centennial schools, designed to encourage better communication, bonding, and problem-solving strategies between family members. The program is called Strengthening Families.

Dinner is served at 5:30 p.m. Free childcare is also provided.

The first hour is spent learning skills, Gurule said. The parents and children separate, discussing similar problems and solutions. The second hour, families play games and do fun activities. The goal is to reach the family unit. Parents learn skills like how to set boundaries. Children learn strategies to cope with peer pressure, stress, and respect for parents.

The Strengthening Families program is open to 10–14-year-olds and their parents.

Sierra Grande will have the program Oct. 2-Nov. 13 from 5:30-8 p.m.

Centennial will offer the program Oct. 4-Nov. 14 at the same time.

To register for the Strengthening Families program, call Gurule at 970-491-5699 or Dee Kessler at 719-580-1413.