Jill Cline

Ad­vo­cate, youth pas­tor, mom Jill Cline

Tradiciones Heroes - - Contents - By rick ro­mancito

We cher­ish the lives of our an­ces­tors for their per­se­ver­ance, Through their valor we, as a peo­ple, have a place in this world.

Alot of folks rec­og­nize there are Taos kids in need, but do lit­tle or noth­ing to re­ally help. Not so with Jill Cline, and it’s for her ef­forts on be­half of Taos youth that a fo­cus group hosted by The Taos News chose her as one of this year’s Un­sung He­roes.

Af­ter re­ceiv­ing an email in­form­ing her of the honor, she said, “I had to read it sev­eral times. I did. And, then I got all teary-eyed. I was on my way to Santa Fe and was driv­ing with blurry eyes. I re­ally am stunned. I look at the qual­ity of peo­ple who have been named over the years for this kind of stuff and I’m like, ‘ You peo­ple are crazy.’ ” We’re not, just for the record.

Cline has made a name for her­self as a tire­less ad­vo­cate for youth and fam­i­lies in Taos.

The roots of this ser­vice to com­mu­nity go back to her youth in Oklahoma. Hav­ing worked with kids in sum­mer camps, she went on to col­lege and then went to work in St. Louis, Mis­souri for the Six Flags amuse­ment park, af­ter which she was trans­ferred with the Six Flags data cen­ter to Fort Worth, Texas in 1995. In 1997, she and her hus­band Ron were mar­ried and by the turn of the cen­tury she was work­ing for Tom Wor­rell’s Dharma Prop­er­ties, which sent her to Taos, ar­riv­ing here on April Fool’s Day.

Much of her life in Taos has been cen­tered on rais­ing her kids: Dylan, age 19, who has a third de­gree black belt in karate and is a stu­dent at the Univer­sity of New Mex­ico-taos; Aaron, 17, who plans to get his pi­lot’s li­cense be­fore he turns 18; and Sid­ney, 15, who is a stu­dent at Taos Academy.

One thing she has be­come aware of in Taos is the pre­vail­ing no­tion that there is noth­ing here for youth to keep them en­gaged af­ter grad­u­at­ing from high school. Cline said she has ob­served cer­tain chal­lenges in small-town life as op­posed to large ur­ban set­tings.

“A small town is hard be­cause there’s not al­ways ac­cess to re­sources like you find in the larger ci­ties. And, at the same time, a small town gives you the op­por­tu­nity to get to know peo­ple bet­ter. So, you can cre­ate your safety net of re­sources if you need to. My kids and Ron and I have ben­e­fited from that safety net and cre­at­ing re­la­tion­ships that al­low for re­sources to be found when needed,” she said.

As for the “noth­ing to do” idea, Cline said she be­lieves there are plenty of things for youth here, but if you aren’t will­ing to think out­side that box, it’s easy to fall into think­ing neg­a­tively.


“I think the peo­ple that stay in Taos, re­gard­less of whether they come from the out­side to live here or are raised here and choose to stay, I think the per­son has to re­ally want to be here. It’s not about how there’s a lot to of­fer or not,” she said.

That’s where one of the roots of her com­mu­nity ad­vo­cacy be­came cen­tered. “In 2016,” she said, “when we had the fourth teenage sui­cide, at the end of that sum­mer any­body who has teens or works with teens or any­body who has a con­science or a heart ended that sum­mer won­der­ing what the hell was go­ing on. I knew we had to do some­thing.”

Spurred into ac­tion, she said, “Sev­eral in the com­mu­nity — me, Ted Wiard, Sue Mul­vaney, Risa Lehrer, Florence Miera and Stephanie Waters — started work­ing on build­ing a safety net­work to de­velop a pro­gram to re­duce sui­cides in the Taos area. We cre­ated Help Outreach Taos (HOT). It is a sui­cide risk re­duc­tion project run as a spe­cial project of the Taos Com­mu­nity Foun­da­tion. I have writ­ten and we have re­ceived grants from Taos Com­mu­nity Foun­da­tion, Con Alma and United Way of North­ern New Mex­ico to cre­ate a for­mal com­mu­nity-based net­work.”

Work­ing with St. James Epis­co­pal Church in Taos, she also start­ing hav­ing “lock-ins,” de­scribed as a kind of sleep­over where groups of youth could hang out at the church, watch movies un­til late and then have break­fast the next morn­ing. Of course, dur­ing that time, Cline and other adult lead­ers had a chance to par­tic­i­pate in con­ver­sa­tions with the kids about what is im­por­tant to them. The idea has con­tin­ued and grown to in­clude lock-ins for New Year’s Eve, the Fourth of July and other oc­ca­sions, dur­ing which they’ve in­cluded as many as 35 kids.

Out of these con­ver­sa­tions, Cline said Com­mon Ground was born. “Com­mon Ground Coun­sel­ing is ded­i­cated to fos­ter­ing re­la­tion­ship with self, com­mu­nity and the nat­u­ral world through non­tra­di­tional coun­sel­ing and re-wild­ing prac­tices with an em­pha­sis on mark­ing tran­si­tions in one’s life. Our pro­grams aim to bring peo­ple to­gether to find “com­mon ground,” ac­cord­ing to a de­scrip­tion on the web­site at com­mon­ground­taos.com.

While Com­mon Ground was be­ing de­vel­oped, a group of these kids ex­pressed their con­cern for the per­va­sive­ness of gun vi­o­lence in the na­tion, sparked espe­cially by the shoot­ings in Park­land, Florida. At one point, she said a group talk took place in which youth sat in the cen­ter and adults sat in a cir­cle out­side and just lis­tened. This cul­mi­nated in a demon­stra­tion in sol­i­dar­ity with Park­land stu­dents that took place ear­lier this year (see youtube.com/ watch?v=grp­p­w­pd­k­tlm). Some of the teens who spoke at the demon­stra­tion were present when an ac­tive shooter in­ci­dent oc­curred at a lo­cal high school, one that brought home the sense that school safety is an is­sue as present in Taos, New Mex­ico as it is any­where. Cline’s ad­vo­cacy also was part of what mo­ti­vated her to stand up to a Taos Mu­nic­i­pal School Board vice pres­i­dent. Af­ter a state Supreme Court bat­tle, she won. The opin­ion is­sued May 22, 2017 re­in­forced the First Amend­ment rights of New Mex­ico cit­i­zens to pe­ti­tion their govern­ment with­out fear of re­tal­i­a­tion in the form of civil lit­i­ga­tion.

The is­sue was sparked af­ter a re­call ef­fort was ini­ti­ated for school board mem­ber Arse­nio Cór­dova. Although the re­call ef­fort even­tu­ally fell apart, Cór­dova sued Cline and the Cit­i­zens for Qual­ity Ed­u­ca­tion for dam­ages, say­ing they used the re­call process sim­ply to ha­rass him and lacked any le­git­i­mate com­plaints.

The high court found that the group’s re­call ef­fort was pro­tected by a state statute on what is known as SLAPP lit­i­ga­tion, an acro­nym for strate­gic law­suit against pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion.

Asked if she felt vin­di­cated af­ter the rul­ing, Cline said, “I don’t think vin­di­ca­tion was part of it.”

She said the in­ci­dent, though, did have the ef­fect of shin­ing a light on still preva­lent is­sues.

“We have so many won­der­ful ed­u­ca­tors in this town, and we have a hor­ri­bly dys­func­tional ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem,” she said. “And its not dys­func­tional be­cause of ed­u­ca­tors, ad­min­is­tra­tors and not be­cause of school board mem­bers. It’s dys­func­tional be­cause of what we cre­ated as a so­ci­ety … we have an ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem that was built when we were in the in­dus­trial age and we’re not that now.”

To­day, Cline is a youth min­is­ter at St. James and is work­ing to­ward be­ing a spir­i­tual ser­vant rather than a po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist. About her call­ing, she said, “I don’t know, when you hear God call­ing you, I don’t know if it’s a mo­ti­va­tion. It’s a sense of know­ing. You’re just sup­posed to go and fol­low … My call­ing is to be a ser­vant of the com­mu­nity in a spir­i­tual ca­pac­ity and to be a thorn in the side of those who need to hear from me … My mis­sion in life, I think, is to find places where we can de­velop re­la­tion­ship with each other to make a bet­ter world for all of us, and do what Christ taught us, which is to ‘walk in love,’ prob­a­bly why I’m study­ing to be a priest now, huh?”

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