Pueblo grads bring Human Resource services to their communities

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On the morning of the Spring Commencement Ceremony, Tanya Devon Torres, 46, was up before dawn, praying and getting dressed in her traditional Cochiti Pueblo attire – including tall ochre red moccasins and a traditional manta. 

That same morning, Delilah Crespin, 36, of Santo Domingo Pueblo was admiring her graduation cap and gown, which a co-worker at the Santa Fe Indian School had decorated with fluorescent-colored designs. 

“These two graduates are perfect examples of the perseverance and dedication of students who complete a degree while facing challenges on their educational journey.”
Carlos Balladares, Lead Faculty for Human Services 

Tanya Devon and Delilah were among the 25 students who identify themselves as Native or Indigenous to graduate from Santa Fe Community College on May 14. Both earned associate degrees in Human Services,  and although they have never met, they have in common inspiring personal journeys that combine perseverance, facing challenges and an unwavering dedication to their communities. Their life experiences have made them stronger in assisting others. 

“Graduation was so meaningful to me since I’ve come so far. I once was homeless and now I have graduated and have a career serving others” Tanya Devon said.

“It all hit me on graduation day…,” said Delilah, “that my success didn’t need to be a secret and that I needed to embrace and enjoy the moment.” 

While pursuing their educations, both found support from Carlos Balladares, Lead Faculty for Human Services, who was their instructor and advocate. They also noted that access to online classes allowed them to keep working, while pursuing their degrees.

“These two graduates are perfect examples of the perseverance and dedication of students who complete a degree while facing challenges on their educational journeys.” Balladares said. 

“Both Tanya Devon and Delilah are dedicated to serving others and having a positive impact on their communities. It was beautiful to witness their graduations.”

Here are their stories:

Tanya Devon Torres was always determined and grew through life experiences

Tanya Devon, lives in Cochiti Pueblo, where she works with individuals and families as Director of Family Services.

Tanya Devon was drawn to the Human Services Program because she wants to help others. Throughout her life she persisted through serious traumas and eventually recognized the need to seek help. Now, she helps tribal members navigate through social services and mental health support systems.

After losing her mother from a car accident at age 7, Tanya Devon felt lost amidst a custody battle and being shuttled between family in Pennsylvania and Arizona. When she was 17, she attempted college at Arizona State University but felt isolated in the big environment. At age 23, she enrolled at Phoenix College while her son was an infant. She attended classes for two years but then had to leave, citing a lack of support and overwhelming personal challenges.

Throughout her twenties, she endured a series of personal setbacks as well as physical and emotional traumas. “I’ve learned to grow from my trauma, not be defined by it,” she said.

Tanya Devon came back to live in New Mexico in 2013 after her grandmother died in Arizona. She began studying Human Services at SFCC in 2016 but had to leave while dealing with intense work demands. In 2017, she moved to Cochiti Pueblo while separating from an emotionally abusive relationship. The Pueblo community offered Tanya Devon the support and stability she needed to successfully pursue her education and career. 

Balladares encouraged her to return to SFCC and stay on course. She enjoyed her studies, although she admits it was challenging to keep up. She’s proud of her accomplishments – even finishing an art class that was difficult for her at first. She gets emotional when she expresses her gratitude to Balladares. “He immediately came to congratulate me and say you did it! He knows how hard it was for me to complete my degree.”

On graduation day, Tanya Devon said she felt very supported by Cochiti Pueblo Governor Phillip Quintana (above), as well as her son Keenan, other family members and friends who came to witness her graduation and celebrate her accomplishment.

Tanya Devon plans to continue to study this fall at SFCC to obtain her credentials to become a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor.

Delilah Crespin’s education has helped her assist teens at SFIS

Delilah, who is from Santo Domingo Pueblo, works as the High School Student Living Supervisor at the Santa Fe Indian School. Over the years, she has worked closely with Native teens who face challenges just like many other young people.

In May, Delilah became the first in her family to graduate from college. But she’s sure she won’t be the last. She’s encouraging her daughters as well as her mother, who is now studying early childhood education at Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute.

As a single mother, she balanced studying at SFCC and working full time at the Santa Fe Indian School, while raising a teen and her 5-year-old. 

When she started working at the Santa Fe Indian School in 2008, Delilah was 22 — just slightly older than the teen students who she was working with. She found that she could create the strongest bonds with the students by practicing the art of listening. “They shared with me, as if I were their older sister. They told me about their struggles with depression and other issues as Native youth.”

Delilah had not yet considered counseling as a form of holistic healing. She said, “I only knew about our traditional ways of healing. Counseling was something I only heard about when a person was struggling with substance use.”

In 2016, Delilah started studying at SFCC but had to take a break to take care of family. Balladares encouraged her to come back and by 2019 she became determined to become a counselor. 

“I decided I could do this if I took just one or two classes a semester. As I took care of my students, I would go for walks and exercise with them to let go of stress and worries. The youth taught me how to listen without judgment. All of this kept me inspired.”

Delilah shared, “I often thought I was too old for college. I kept my studying a secret.” It was hard attending college while working full-time and raising a family. “I learned how to balance work, home and school as best I could.” She stressed that value with her SFIS students and took her own advice to heart. 

A week before Delilah’s graduation, one of her co-workers spotted her turquoise graduation gown hanging in her office.  “I finally shared my achievement with her. She decided to decorate my cap and gown with beautiful colorful designs replicating the work we were doing for our SFIS graduates and their graduation stage. This was special as I would be graduating with some of our own students who take courses at SFCC.”

She was touched by the words of keynote speaker Monica Leyba, Chief Nursing Executive of Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, who talked about taking a break to raise her child and how long it took her to become successful. It was then she knew she didn’t need to keep her success a secret.

Delilah continues to forge her path forward.  She wants to continue her education at New Mexico Highlands University.  “I have seen how crucial it is for our Native students to have Native counselors to bring full circle what healing can be if we just learn to balance our worlds,” she said. “I want to be able to become that person who can help others as some of my colleagues have [through further education.]”

Balladares emphasized, “Tanya Devon and Delilah are making valuable contributions in their communities. I learned so much from them and my other students.”

“Most of the students I serve in the Human Services Program face challenges. I always say challenges come in different flavors. For some students, it might be language barriers. For others the challenges can be financial, physical, spiritual, and emotional. They want to change in a positive way. They want to give back and be able to serve so others don’t have to struggle the way they have.”

Balladares understands and conveys his passion for helping others. He overcame personal challenges to earn his associate degree at SFCC. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in Social Work and earned double master’s degrees in Social Work and Business at NMHU.  He’s happy to guide others on their educational journeys. 

Photos by Chris Corrie.