Vida del Norte Coalition has been vital to providing education and events for northern Taos County teens but the coalition recently hit a huge bump in the road: “Unfortunately, we reapplied for our funding and there were some issues with the application, so we weren’t able to apply for our grant in time,” said Maria Gonzalez, coalition director. “We’re losing our funding this year with the hope to reapply next year.
“We’re hoping to do a GoFundMe. We’re basically just trying to keep the doors open until we can reapply, at least pay for the building and the utilities. I’ll lose my employment, and so will my media person.”
Despite the prospect of a year without pay, Vida del Norte’s work continues. On the evening of Aug. 22, they held a Town Hall meeting with representatives from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Field Office in El Paso, Scott Garland and Carlos Briano; legislative aid to Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernández, Rachel Montoya; along with Mayor John Ortega, Councilman Jason Gonzalez, Sheriff-elect Steve Miera, and Miles Bonny of Taos Alive.
Tentative plans were made for Carlos Briano, a former candidate for Texas Teacher of the Year, to return to Questa Independent School District to teach students the extreme dangers of today’s drugs, where even doses as low as 2 mg can be lethal.
In 2020, 801 New Mexicans died of narcotics overdoses. 963 people died of alcohol-related illnesses, and the state saw 134 DWI-related deaths. Those figures do not count all the other tragedies caused by substance abuse.
Vida del Norte’s Beginnings: Inspired by Tragedy
In 2014, when a Questa toddler ingested his father’s illicit buprenorphine tablets, possibly mistaking them for candy. The child suffered permanent brain damage and still requires constant care.
It was a wake-up call for Questa. At an initial meeting in June 2015, Community members chose the name Vida Del Norte, or “Life of the North” for a new coalition tasked with preventing substance misuse among northern Taos County youth.
“That’s when the community came together,” Gonzalez said. “They got the core group together and started applying for funding for the Drug Free Communities Grant, from the federal government. It’s a [prevention based] $500K grant that goes for five years.… [and] allows us to work with 6th grade through 12th graders.
“We do education and awareness, we do workshops… Our charge is to start changing the way the community interacts with substances so we can create long-term change… We did a focus group in May with about 14 students. Our main focus is vaping and alcohol, since those are the ones that show up in our area the most, and … they said, ‘‘They send us home.’ ‘What happens when you get home?’ ‘Well, we vape more.’
“So, we’re working with the school districts and with counselors to figure out the best way [to combat substance abuse.] We’re trying to provide more information about the effects of vaping, too.
“In 2021, [for the 9th and 10th grade health classes at Questa High School] I did a life-skill curriculum called “Botvin’s,” that’s proven to decrease substance use among youth.”
Vida formed a youth coalition called Active 8, which is now in its third year, Gonzalez noted. They’ve been an integral part of Vida del Norte. They come to our meetings, they give their input and tell us what the youth need, what the youth do – they’ve been key in spreading information for us.”
In January 2021, Active 8 had a meeting about creating a skate park in Questa, a project led by Questa’s youth, which has become a big focus for the entire community. “It got so much traction that the next morning when I came in, there were, like, 30 emails saying ‘we want to support this project.’ So, we developed a whole committee for the Skate Park Project.”
Other Active 8 programs include youth/police luncheons, music festivals, and substance-free parties at Vida del Norte’s one-acre property.
Reprinted with permission from the Enchanted Circle News