Rural Action Project taking shape in San Luis

Photo by Diane Drekmann Soul Players of the Valley has organized a series of Rural Action Project meetings at the Costilla County Conservancy.

Meetings being held to gather ideas from the community

SAN LUIS — Community leaders and citizens of San Luis gathered for dinner to participate in the Rural Action Project — a collaboration with Colorado State University to seek solutions to create more vibrant communities in the San Luis Valley through conversation.

Soul Players of the Valley held three Rural Action Project meetings at the Costilla County Conservancy District. The Rural Action Project brings communities together to discuss things important to them and what they want in the community to see it thrive.

The first meeting focused on San Luis assets and needs. The second meeting focused on community stories and what makes the San Luis Valley special to them.

Members of the community, San Luis Town Manager Susan Sanderford, her assistant Teddy Leinbach, Dana Maestas, of Soul Players of the Valley, and members of the Costilla County Conservancy attended the meeting.

Leisl Carr Childers, associate professor of History at Colorado State University, presented the Zoom meeting. She mentioned common objectives. The purpose of discussion is to help people "have a sense of belonging, empowerment and ownership over their community. Conversation builds relations. We interconnect with people because we have common goals and dreams."

Several community members, like Maestas and Earl Valdez, treasurer for Costilla County Conservancy District mentioned their family farms were where they felt most at peace.

Valdez said, "I like working and improving my ranch. It makes me feel good."

Sanderford "loves looking at the stars over the prairie."

Leinbach mentioned feeling centered at the Stations of the Cross, where he opens the gates each morning.

All these experiences helped show what was important to the community, according to Childers. The Rural Action Project has a $5,000 grant to be used for a project that will benefit the entire community. The second meeting ideas were discussed.

With Founder's Day on April 1, many ideas centered on the "traditions and heritage we value." San Luis, the oldest town in Colorado, celebrates each April the town’s founding.

"It's where it all started," remarked Ronda Lobato, secretary of the Costilla County Conservancy District.

Some ideas discussed were building an horno  — a traditional oven — and holding chili cook-offs; having cooking classes of old family recipes handed down, like chicos.

Lobato described the process of making chicos, which takes months and is an important food to see people through the long, harsh winters.

Sanderford knows a filmmaker and suggested doing oral histories — youth connecting with their elders. The stories could be used for Founder's Day. Passing down stories is an excellent way to preserve tradition and bring "future to past," organizers said.

Many celebrations and events were disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Community members talked about bringing traditions back, such as “tubing in the Vega."

Valdez suggested rubber duckie races for the big Santana celebration in July, honoring the patron saints of San Luis — Santa Ana and Santiago.

The third meeting will focus on implementing the project chosen. The grant money must be used by June.