Building Trades students give back to community

Photo courtesy Build Pagosa
Graduating seniors from Pagosa Springs High School’s Vocational Trades Program turned down a generous gift from Build Pagosa, opting to give those resources back to the community. Pictured, left to right, are Ethan Hart, Timothy Hittle, Tad Hittle, Mason Blakemore, Tor Hessman, Allan Mendoza, Case Harris, Trey Wilson and William Villalobos at the Sled the Rez event held earlier this year.

By Kim Elzinga
Special to The SUN

When graduating seniors from Pagosa Springs High School’s Vocational Trades Program turned down a generous gift from Build Pagosa, everyone cheered.

Why? Because instead of receiving the well-deserved gift for themselves, they, as a group, opted to give those resources back to this community.

“Build Pagosa had been kicking around different ideas for a gift or care package for our seniors — something like a gift certificate or tools donated from the local trades businesses,” said board member and PSHS Vocational Trades program instructor Tor Hessman. “Having a tool belt with a starter set of quality tools is an essential initial investment in a building trades career. Each of our 11 graduating seniors has earned that gift.” 

Board members had agreed to spend around $200 on each student. But when Hessman approached the students to get their input, they collectively agreed that the resources should go back to their own community, which has been struggling with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In an email string, the seniors remarked: “I believe that in these difficult times, any gift from Build Pagosa intended for us graduating seniors should be donated to a food bank or something similar.” … “I totally agree.” … “I believe there is a real need in our community, and I appreciate the gesture but also agree. I would like the money to be given to a local food bank or small business in need.” Other seniors from the program were on board.

Inspired by the example set by these students, Build Pagosa has decided to donate 100 percent of the funds raised in the past year that would have been used to benefit students in the program to support the community instead. 

The amount donated is substantial — $2,200 from the gifts to seniors plus an additional $3,578 raised from Sledz on the Rez, which was earmarked to cover the expenses of those students who qualified for the national SkillsUSA competition, which canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions. 

Plus, Build Pagosa is upping the ante. The nonprofit is announcing a challenge to all members of this community — individuals, businesses and organizations alike — to match these funds in support of their local community during these trying times.

“How these kids responded completely blew me out of the water,” Hessman said. “This is exactly what we were trying to achieve when we started the program — not only to teach young people valuable vocational skills, but also to give them character-building opportunities. They have exceeded all expectations and set awesome examples for the students following them and for all of us as well.”

For more information on the matching-funds challenge, contact Hessman at or Traci Bishop at Head to to donate online.