President’s Leadership Program re-engages a 15-year tradition in Chimayo, New Mexico

PLP members in Chimayo

Story by Emily Ambrose

For 15 years (with the exception of the last two), the President’s Leadership Program visited the community of Chimayo, New Mexico, annually to engage in service, learn about community and connect with Colorado State University’s neighbors to the south.

Keith Lopez, a former instructor in PLP, initiated the experience, knowing the powerful community activism and leadership demonstrated in this small and meaningful town. This month, 14 years later, 15 students and two instructors took the seven-hour drive to engage in two days of labor and, maybe more importantly, a multitude of life-shifting intercultural conversations.

PLP members in ChimayoGrounded in the theory of experiential learning, students learn all year about the tenets they see demonstrated in the four-day trip. The experience acts as a capstone opportunity to enact and practice many of the skills acquired throughout the year.

The first day of service was dedicated to Lupe Salazar, who leads the nonprofit Barrios Unidos, “an interdisciplinary, inter-generational and intercultural community investigating cultural and psychological issues related to addiction and cultural trauma in the Española Valley.” Its mission statement does not begin to describe the breadth of connection, humanity and exceptional care generated through this small property and embodied by Salazar. The nonprofit is near the Santuario de Chimayó, which welcomes thousands of pilgrims during Easter weekend.

The second day of service included the annual tradition of acequia cleaning, which has been in effect since 1695. This time-honored tradition, led in part by Mike Lamb, the Acequia Potrero’s mayordomo, connected students with the physical labor needed to keep the water flowing smoothly, a hands-on example of the importance of water in the West. Some of the portions of the acequia they targeted had not been cleaned in the two years that PLP was not able to travel due to the pandemic.

The students and instructors were honored to be welcomed back in to the community. A critique of service trips can be their “drop-in/drop-out” nature – leaving the community with no connection to future relationships or endeavors. The CSU group was assured that the long-standing relationship among CSU, PLP and Chimayo is reciprocal, appreciated and, some might say, necessary. Program Director Stephanie Moreira has continued to advocate for the experience to ensure that the values of CSU continue to manifest in action for many years to come.

Questions about the President’s Leadership Program or the trip to New Mexico can be directed to

PLP members in Chimayo