Volunteer Stories - Maria Palacios

“I’m with the Purple People.”

As I got off the plane, the first thing I noticed on the walls of the El Paso airport were pictures of folkloric dancers, Mexican food, bright colors and chihuahuas. Since my flight had arrived early, I was on the search for three ladies in white polos and purple skirts or as someone in Worcester called them, ―"the purple people."  Sister Chabela, Sister Evelyn, Sister Tere and Sister Diana greeted me with such a loving welcome and so much enthusiasm that I knew from that moment that I was in for a good time and good food. 

I knew that Chaparral was in the desert and I was preparing myself for the heat, but boy, I was not expecting the sun to love me so much; its rays would shine extra bright that day. But the heat was put to the side once I set my eyes on the magnificent mountains that surround El Paso and continue into Chaparral. Seeing such beauty everywhere made me appreciate God‘s love for us through his creation. As we drove through Chaparral and as the sisters joked about their ―downtown, I couldn't help but be reminded of my small pueblo in Mexico. I had not yet set foot on Chaparral soil but I already felt at home.  

Leaving my mom behind was one of the hardest things I had to do and I was very upset during orientation as it got closer to my departure. The first few days I missed my mom so much that I began questioning my decision but at my welcome celebration that changed. If I was in awe by the beauty of the mountains and this new environment, I was not ready for the abundance of appreciation I would feel towards the community of Chaparral. That Friday, the leaders of the community arrived to welcome Idalia and me as the new AMAs and they were just so pleased and grateful to have us there that my doubt of being in Chaparral started to slowly vanish. That night Idalia received her AMA cross and was blessed by her mom. Though I tried to hold back my tears, I was a mess at that moment. All I could think of was my mom and how much I appreciated her. As I was asked to say a few words about my mom, the tears became waterfalls, and Idalia's mom turned to me and said, "Your mom might be far but you will find many moms here in Chaparral who will take care of you." Those few words sum up the embrace I have felt here from everyone.  

From getting confused for a student at the Middle School where I help with ESL, to sneezing a thousand times from the allergies I suddenly developed here, to getting chased by chihuahuas on my run, to eating and chatting with the Sisters every lunch, to getting lost in Las Cruces, to volunteering at Catholic Charities, to getting outrun by elementary
school kids, to eating endless nachos, to having intense reflections, to sharing my faith with my confirmation class, to crying, laughing, reflecting, praying, learning and loving, I would not change a single thing from my first month here in Chaparral, New Mexico!