Original article published on Pueblo Community College website on August 8, 2023. Written by Amy Matthew.
Three inches of water may not sound like a lot. When it comes in the form of a slow-moving rainstorm, however, it can become a soggy nightmare.
That was the scenario for the staff and animals at Mission: Wolf one year ago. A July storm stalled directly over the wolf sanctuary near Westcliffe and the rain just kept coming. No one was injured but the downpour damaged dozens of fences and gates on the large property.
Gates are crucial at Mission: Wolf. They help the staff move more than two dozen resident wolves among enclosures, safely introduce animals to each other, and keep visitors on the proper paths as they walk through the sanctuary.
“We’ve been wanting to replace the gates, but it was going to be a five- to 10-year project,” said executive director Mike Gaarde. “Then Mother Nature said, ‘No, you’re going to do it in a year.’”
Maybe Mother Nature knew Vincent Siffring was nearby. Siffring, a graduate of Pueblo Community College’s (PCC) welding program who’s now an instructor, is a frequent visitor to the animal sanctuary. He already knew Gaarde and Kent Weber, the organization’s director and co-founder.
Siffring and faculty member James Jones are advisors for PCC’s SkillsUSA Welding Club. The club members happened to be looking for a new community service project so Siffring asked Weber, who also is a welder, if there was anything the students could do to help.
“Kent’s eyes got real big,” said Siffring. “He said they really needed help with gates.”
“Oh, it was an immediate yes,” said Gaarde. “We always tell people be careful what you offer. We fix everything ourselves and make everything ourselves because we’re off the grid. All the infrastructure you see (at the refuge) has been built by volunteers – some by kids who’ve never raised a hammer. We pretty much couldn’t operate without that help.”
With Weber supplying the materials, Siffring and his students got to work. Over the summer they’ve spent their free time creating dozens of frames and gates.
“People you’d normally not see hanging out together are all working and talking,” said Siffring. “Throw in welding and suddenly you’ve got this common interest. They’re a lot more excited. They love that they’re doing something that’s going to be used, that has meaning.”
“It’s an opportunity to work in a group and do more welding and fabricating, to understand what we’re really doing,” said Joshua Davis, 42, a first-year student. “That’s the whole point of coming to school – to learn something new.”
The welding club has about 20 members; roughly half of them are high school students taking concurrent enrollment classes through PCC. Club president Rylan Ciruli graduated from Pueblo County High School in May and has two more semesters left in the program. The 19-year-old already has a welding job but when not working, he’s usually found in the PCC shop.
“Seeing this project go from idea to prints to gates, it’s great,” he said. “We’re building something that’s going to be here for a very long time. It’s one of the cooler projects we’ve come across.”
In addition to Ciruli and Davis, students Aurelio Barajas, Ryan Kent, Isabella Kilfoy-Saccomanno, Isaiah Marquez, Liz Martin, Jake Mayes, Emiliano Quintana, Brady Unger, Gabriel Vigil and Terrance Washington participated in the project.
Weber invited Siffring and the students to Mission: Wolf to see the impact of their work. In mid-July, the group got to visit and meet some of the resident wolves up close.
“It was incredible,” said Davis. “This project just keeps expanding with more learning.”
Gaarde and Weber also offered the students an opportunity to help install the gates when the time comes. Weber suggested the students create an enduring testament to their contribution by adding their initials to each gate they helped create.
“We owe a huge thank you to Vinny and the whole class,” said Gaarde. “It’s been an amazing opportunity, I hope, on both ends.”