JUNTOS teens revel in food, fun and field trips

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By Carol A. Clark

Good-natured chatter flowed amongst a gathering of Los Alamos and Española teenagers as they discussed spending a long weekend together.

The seventh- through 12th- grade students are members of JUNTOS and met at Española Valley High School Jan. 5 to plan a student exchange activity in which students from Los Alamos will spend the weekend and a Monday morning with students and their families in Española.

“I think it’s important that whichever community you visit - that you are able to experience all the things in that community,” JUNTOS concept creator Lori Heimdhal Gibson told the teens.

The student exchange is being set up to allow the youth an opportunity to experience life with the Española Valley students, enjoy special foods and observe family customs. The teens will also attend class with their counterparts on Monday morning.

This event is planned for April. A second outing will follow for Española youth to shadow Los Alamos students.

New Coordinator Jen Bartram attended the meeting as did Los Alamos High School counselor Diane Toups and County Councilor Sharon Stover in her capacity as a youth advocate.  Gibson credited Stover with being instrumental in the creation of JUNTOS.

Heimdhal Gibson also praised a JUNTOS member named Jackie, who following a bowling activity with the group, invited all the teens to her home where she, her sister and her mother prepared red and green enchiladas, rice, beans and cake for everyone.

“That was a JUNTOS bull’s eye,” Heimdhal Gibson said. “It hit the mark.”

The meeting was held in teacher Michael Lapcevic’s classroom. He serves on the JUNTOS Steering Committee.

The student exchange is just one of many activities offered to teens who join the program.

JUNTOS, an acronym for Joining & Understanding Now, Teens Overcome Separation, is an Española Valley/Los Alamos youth leadership initiative. The program was developed to address the issues that keep young people from Española and Los Alamos separate.

Nearly two years ago, Heimdhal  Gibson met with other interested adults who shared the idea to promote a joint youth leadership program linking the Española Valley and Los Alamos. These adults agreed to support youth-led activities, including meetings at the high schools, a workshop on racism, a team-building workshop, and a youth summit at Northern New Mexico College’s El Rito campus last May.

Teen and adult leaders from both communities have been meeting regularly since April 16, 2007, to promote authentic dialog aimed at eliminating the divide that has persisted for decades between these two geographically close communities.

The young people are providing the ideas for bridging the gaps with activities, education, history, art, music and dance, while the adults are finding funding sources and providing guidance and coaching.

The program is sponsored by the Los Alamos Juvenile Justice Advisory Board.

In Spanish, JUNTOS means together, a union or relationship. The organization is actively seeking young people and adults to join the program. To learn more, call Toups at 663-2510.