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  • Andreanna Haritopoulos

A place to call HOmE: Staff find family beyond borders at Philmont

July 27, 2022 — Scouting is a global organization that impacts millions of people across the world every day. We may not think about it often from Philmont’s small corner of New Mexico, but BSA programs provide opportunities to those far beyond the borders of the contiguous 48 states.

The International Camp Staff Program is on hold due to COVID-19. Those who are U.S. citizens and living in U.S. territories are still permitted to work at high-adventure bases, including Philmont. The job possibilities are endless, just as for those from the mainland, ranging from leading crews as a ranger to delivering backcountry interpretive program and beyond.

Ricardo Montalvo tends to burros at Abreu on June 11, 2022, in Cimarron N.M. Photo by Emily Schmidt.

One staff member who took advantage of the opportunity this summer is Ricardo Montalvo, a Puerto Rican native and program counselor at Abreu. Montalvo plays the role of Ramón Abreu, in charge of his own homestead and the Abreu Brick Company. A large part of this role is working with a variety of farm animals, including burros, goats and chickens, but Montalvo found himself more than comfortable in this type of environment.

“In Puerto Rico, you have ranches; you have farms. I have worked with burros before, so it kind of feels like seeing the burros and seeing the goats feels like a little piece of home,” Montalvo said.

That small piece of home Montalvo refers to is not only ingrained in the work he does every day but also in some of the other staff members he meets across the Ranch.

One of those is Igneri Rodríguez Carrillo, who knew other people worked on staff from outside of the U.S. mainland. Rodríguez’s ranger inspired her during her trek to apply and return to Philmont this season as a staff member.

Featured as the crew leader in the 2021 video “Leading the way: First Puerto Rican all-female crew hits the trails,” Rodríguez made history this season as the first female ranger from Puerto Rico.

Ranger Ingeri Rodríguez assists her crew, 630-D, with orienting themselves with the Philmont map after a visit to outfitting on June 30, 2022, at Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, N.M. Photo by Andreanna Haritopoulos.

“This is like my dream job that I would like to do at some point because I’m studying environmental science, and I love to teach,” Rodríguez said.

One of the biggest challenges for staff members growing up outside U.S. borders is the language barrier between native and non-native English speakers. Being a U.S. territory, many Puerto Ricans grow up learning some English but seldom speak it as much as they are expected to at Philmont.

Many aspects of the English language in the U.S. are different than in other countries, and the transition from speaking a non-native language occasionally at home to 24/7 in an unfamiliar place brings some reservations.

“Here because of my accent and other things I was kind of shy,” Rodríguez said. “Honestly, my English is not perfect, so I was really shy about that. And, in being from another country, so my first crew was also really tough because of those things.”

Despite the challenges, both Rodríguez and Montalvo have had positive experiences at Philmont, from the satisfaction of seeing a crew safely return from their trek to high-fiving Scouts who have been mixing up dirt and water to build adobe bricks.

A Puerto Rican Flag flies on the flag pole at interpretive homesteading camp Abreu at Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, N.M., on July 22, 2022. Photo by Andreanna Haritopoulos.

Even more than working with crews that come on trek, Rodríguez and Montalvo said what makes their time on the Ranch memorable are the connections they build with those around them. Whether it be on a training trek or after-work activities, the ties that bind people wearing the Philmont greens are far stronger than any language barrier or distance.

“The people here, the other staff, make it feel like a big family, so what more can you ask for? You feel right at home and you fit in,” Montalvo said.

Rodríguez echoed this sentiment by saying you build your own family here over time with the new faces you meet, the memories you create and the people around you. Those make you forget how much you miss your family.

Montalvo is currently set to return to Philmont later this year for a winter trek with his home troop, and Rodríguez plans to return next summer again as a ranger, with the hopes of bringing more Puerto Rican rangers to Philmont in the future.

So, while departing from home for the summer is no easy feat for those who remain in the same time zone, for those who have traveled more than 2,000 miles and across an ocean to get here, the destination was well worth the journey.

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