Maria “Mari” Castillo-Quintana graduated from Questa High School in 2007. Her school journey was different than most, having given birth to her first son when she was a junior in high school. “I remember how hard it was to keep going to school, but I was determined to get my diploma.”
She and her husband Patrick went on living in Questa while he worked at the Molycorp Mine. At 19, she had a second son and was a stay-at-home mom. In 2009, Patrick was laid off and their small family decided to relocate to Carlsbad, where Patrick could continue pursuing his career in mining.
“We were all alone in Carlsbad, living in a two-bedroom apartment with no friends or family. That’s when I decided to start visiting the public library with my kids.”
Mari’s connection to books was a personal one, as she says books taught her to speak English. As her kids got older, she pursued a degree in Library Science. She continued to foster her connection to the local library, which ultimately turned into a major opportunity for her and her family. “I was hired in 2017 at the Southeast New Mexico College Library.”
Although her title has stayed the same for the most part, she has worn many hats due to vacancies within her respective departments. When COVID hit, she was laid off from her position at the college, where she was responsible for planning summer programs for kids.
She went back to being a full-time stay-at-home mom, but her heart and passion remained rooted in helping young kids engage with learning, grow their knowledge, and identify opportunities outside their small community.
She was recruited to return back to college and at that time, she was more than ready. “I remember getting called and started in July and my programs were planned and ready to go by August.” She is creative in how she engages students ages four through 16. “We’ve had themed events including a Royal Tea Party, Encanto Camp, Spanish classes, cooking classes. The goal is really to make kids excited about learning,” she says.
While she is passionate about working with kids in the community, Mari and her husband Patrick are also foster parents, taking in children who are in unhealthy situations at home. Currently, they parent four children and have two additional foster children. “We do it because we want to help kids who don’t have a safe place. It’s our passion to help these kids and we have really enjoyed it.”
Mari speaks about many of the challenges she’s experienced as an immigrant in America, who moved and grew up in a small community like Questa. Her goal is to build opportunities for local children. Her lived experiences are what drives her work.
Recently, she was awarded with the Carlsbad 40 Under 40 Award for the work she does with local youth. The nominations are anonymous, and she was honored to have been recognized for the education category for her work through her position. Her impact extends beyond her chosen career. She also serves on the Boys and Girls Club of Directors, helping with the program planning committee.
“Being a teen mom was difficult and scary at the time, I didn̕t get to do things the traditional way. I had to raise my kids first then go to college and start my career but with the support of my parents and husband I have accomplished so much. If you are in a difficult situation now, just know things will get better so don̕t quit and don̕t give up!”