‘Through Their Eyes’ highlights prevention efforts


MONTE VISTA— The Prevention Youth Councils of Rio Grande County, a subgroup of the Rio Grande Prevention Partners (RGPP), conducted an art gallery showing at the Information Center Friday evening, Aug. 4. The gallery featured the photography and art work of eight students from Monte Vista and Del Norte high schools, members of their respective school’s youth councils.
Displays included photos taken and selected by each student along with separate works of art indifferent handmade mediums that included the students’ names with designs they felt represented them. The gallery’s theme was “...how they [the youth] see our communities, both the pros and cons, through the eyes of prevention.” The window, tree and door displays which hung the photos were designed by RGPP Data Specialist Penny Plummer.
According to contributing youth council artist Max Garcia, the idea for a photography show came up during training between the youth councils. While making a vision board for the youth councils’ goals, the students all realized they shared a passion for photography and came up with the idea of an exhibit examining the youth perspective on substance use and its impact on their lives in the Valley. Garcia also thanked Plummer and RGPP Coordinator Nancy Molina and encouraged attendees to donate for more trainings and similar prevention projects for the youth council and thanked them for their attendance, “It means a lot to us. It took most of the summer to put this together. Some of the photos may stun you,” Garcia stated, encouraging attendees to ask questions of the artists, who stood near their individual stations ready, willing and often explaining the meaning, theme and inspiration behind their photos.
Artist Lesli Lopez’s exhibit surrounded a small tree and featured the most multi-media work. Her tree included pictures of her with her volleyball team beside the harsh contradiction of piles of cigarette butts as well as some of the natural beauty of the San Luis Valley. “I like to take pictures of happy things… because I like to see the good.” Lopez’s theme was reflected in her photo “Life has beautiful creations.” Lopez stated how looking at the potential of an individual and the brighter side of their lives is often more productive than focusing on the negative and the damage done and better than looking for a means of coping.
Gina Lujan had a display on the wall and focused on the natural beauty of the environment coupled with cultural inspiration. Lujan’s photos included scenes in Glenwood Springs, in the Valley and in New Mexico, including a picture of the podium at the Santario de Chimayo. Lujan blended these with photos of signs discouraging smoking and drinking as well as trash left in beautiful places as result of both, in photos like “Travel with Dignity” and “The beauty of the world lies in the diversity of people.” Lujan added prevention should be a goal for all residents of the Valley, “you can say no to drugs; you don’t need peer pressure. You can keep to yourself and focus on staying healthy.”
Dasiah Atencio took an ironic look at alcohol and tobacco use, weighing heavily on the latter. Atencio included a collage picture of liquor store signs to show how the influence of alcohol is always present, and included many references in her work to her grandmother’s struggles with COPD. She included photos of a sign at her grandmother’s door stating “no smoking, oxygen in use” and took pictures of the many empty cigarette packs and butts she finds in her yard. A photo of cigarette butts included the title “Starting my COPD journey,” and a littered Marlboro Slate box included the title “Let’s make a clean slate.” Atencio also included a photo of a dilapidated, abandoned building titled, “Old and forgotten, like today’s values.”
Isabella Arellano explored the motivations behind smoking and substance use in her photos, as well as looking at the alternative options for youth to consider. Her cousins were often models in her photos, including many pictures taken while her and her cousins were out on walks, looking at the natural beauty of the area. One photo’s title was a quote from the model that made the picture possible, a hand holding a cigarette, “You look at this and see cancer. I look at it and see an escape.” Arellano also included a picture of her cousins hiking, where the light was divided so some were standing in the sun and one was in the shadows. Arellano said of this photo, “You always have a choice. You can either stand alone in the darkness or be surrounded by many in the light.” Another of Arellano’s hobbies is looking at the art found on train cars, reflected in one of her photos, which stood as an interesting contrast to her photos of nature. “When all the things around you seem bad, stop and take a break. Listen to the sound of the water flow and not people pressuring you to do bad.”
Zane Palmgren’s exhibit focused on his idea of acknowledging the problems substance abuse causes by pointing out how obvious they are when one is willing to look, and then looking toward a better future. Palmgren included pictures of empty bottles littering landscapes, “you can’t hide the problem, and we need to embrace it to fix it.” He also included a picture of his brother, titled “Help me get out, I’m stuck here” to reflect how youth want to leave the Valley as quickly as possible after graduating from high school partially because of the substance use around them. Palmgren still remains hopeful, “when we work on where we live, youth will want to stay.” The rest of Palmgren’s photos were positive, symbolizing the brighter future he envisions including “Let the light throw out the dark.”
Garcia’s exhibit included pictures of sunrises and sunsets, a favorite subject for him, but which he stated was especially symbolic because of the effort required to get these photos. Garcia pointed out how the early mornings and late evenings spent getting the perfect shot wouldn’t be possible for someone focused on substance abuse. He also included a photo titled “Winter Wonderland” of newly fallen, undisturbed snow, adding “life is like a blank canvass, you make it what it is. You take and leave what you want.” Garcia also included photos of alcohol bottles littering public spaces, noting “once you find the first example you see it everywhere. It’s hard to avoid.” Garcia’s nature photography continued with “Look Past the Fog,” which Garcia explained “If you’re abusing substances…it’s hard to clear your mind if you’ve abused it for so long. That’s why it’s hard to get clean and stay clean.”
Chandler Mondragon’s work emphasized the concept of responsibility in overcoming substance abuse. Mondragon balanced examples of what she saw as potential bad influences in the community with “highlighting the good parts,” much like the Communities that Care program strives to decrease risk factors and build protective factors in their programs. Negative examples included dilapidated buildings where drug activity can occur as well as the Coors grain elevator encouraging drinking. Some of the positive pictures she included were a photo of her older brother’s 4-H pig as well as her younger brother playing baseball. Baseball served as an example of an alternative, positive activity and the pig is an example of taking responsibility, with the title of the photo as “Responsibility leads to greatness.” Through Mondragon stated there is a balance to be found in personal and community responsibility. In personal responsibility, “If you’re having a bad day you don’t have to turn to drugs and alcohol. You can look at the beauty around you” and find something else to do. The community needs to examine “What can we do to help kids not to experiment with drugs and alcohol and find alternatives.”
Mayah Dominguez also emphasized the multiple layers of life in the Valley, especially within Del Norte. Dominguez emphasized how discovering the prevalence of substance abuse in the community was originally a shock for her but it’s hard to ignore it. To emphasize this, she included a photo “From here everything looks perfect” taken from the top of D Mountain looking down on the town. Also included in her display was a Neighborhood Watch map of the town that showed areas of reported drug use and reported burglary sites as dots on the map, showing not everything is always idyllic. She also included a photo of an abandoned residence with several doors in front of it with the title “So many doors and we still can’t shut out the bad.” However, Dominguez’s display was far from bleak; she also highlighted families having positive interactions in the park through the Early Steps to School Success program as well as a sign at the Green Spot in Alamosa which read “Stop the Meth and Heroin.” Dominguez stated it was great to see individuals and organizations taking positive action to acknowledge and bring attention to the problems in the Valley communities.
The show was a unique perspective on how substance use and prevention efforts directly affect the lives of youth. It showed their deep understanding of the often complex, multiple layers within their communities, but most importantly, showed their dedication to reclaiming the natural beauty and culture around them.
Through metaphor and art, “Through Their Eyes” gave hope and encouragement to the local communities that youth are still ready and willing to stand up for prevention efforts.

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