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Healing through nature, animals, art planned at historic Nogales ranch

Healing through nature, animals, art planned at historic Nogales ranch

Strolling around the 100-year-old Nogales ranch where Nisa Stover Talavera lives makes it easy to understand the vision she shares with Heidi Pottinger.

The pair are linked not only by their shared passion for helping children learn healthy ways of dealing with trauma and sorrow, but by their families’ ties to Talavera’s 40 acres.

The property, now a thriving bed and breakfast, was once part of the Guevavi Ranch, a 2,000-acre cattle operation run by Pottinger’s grandfather, Ralph Wingfield.

It’s where Pottinger lived as a newborn. It’s also where one of her brothers and her mother died, her mom from breast cancer when Pottinger was barely a toddler.

Their deaths were the first of several loved ones Pottinger would lose to accidents or illness.

The losses have shaped Pottinger’s life in ways that are still unfolding, and that now includes a new nonprofit she’s started with Talavera to benefit children who need extra support. It’s something that the areas they’re targeting — first Santa Cruz County and then the rest of Southern Arizona — certainly need.

America’s Health Rankings places Arizona as the state with the greatest challenges when it comes to children who have faced two or more adverse experiences.

These experiences could include the death or incarceration of a parent or close family member, substance abuse or untreated mental-health challenges in the home, or childhood abuse or neglect.

A growing body of research shows that, if unaddressed, these traumas can lead to difficult adult lives, often marked by poor health, substance abuse or mental-health problems.

The 2018 Health Rankings report found 30.6 percent of Arizona’s children are coping with at least two significant challenges, while the national average is 22.6 percent.

These are the children Pottinger and Talavera wish to help with their new group CHARM, which stands for Child Health and Resilience Mastery.

The acronym also is a word that means a group of hummingbirds, birds that are found, sometimes in abundance, on the ranch.

Act three

Pottinger, 34, grew up within a few miles of what’s now Talavera’s bed-and-breakfast business and says she spent every free moment she had there, swimming in the pool and exploring the expansive property in the Santa Cruz River Valley.

Her grandfather lived there until he became ill, and then the property was kept up by a longtime housekeeper until 2002, when Talavera’s parents bought it.

Her parents, Wendy Smith Stover and Philip Julius Stover, soon opened the Hacienda Corona de Guevavi Bed & Breakfast, the business Talavera still runs today.

Her mother, retired from a longtime career in the film industry, sank her time into her artwork and fixing up the property while Talavera’s father, an accomplished equestrian, taught riding and equine therapy.

“It was their act three, it was their dream,” Talavera, 44, says of her parents. “Every single corner of this place, the blood, sweat and tears of their dream.”

Tragically, their time there did not last. Both were diagnosed with cancer within a few years of each other and they died a couple of years apart, both at 66.

Her father succumbed to skin cancer that spread to his brain, while her mother, who was originally told she would only live a few months, died more than eight years after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

Talavera traveled back and forth from her home in San Diego to help them, sometimes for months at a time, before moving to the property for good in 2014.

She became close with Pottinger shortly after her parents died.

That’s the final thing that bonds these two friends: Not just the grief they carry, but the ways they have learned to rely on nature and friendship to cope, the ways they have found to rediscover joy.

“A lot of time, when people are experiencing grief, they are allowed to do it in the immediate aftermath. But then, after the funeral and over time, people move on with their lives and they don’t want to look at it anymore,” Pottinger said. “Meanwhile, you’re left navigating it for the rest of your life.”

That burden, especially for children, can be overwhelming.

And that’s why Talavera readily agreed when Pottinger, during an Easter visit last year, asked her about starting this nonprofit to help children.

Camp Druzy

The women, while both busy with their own jobs and families, have started immersing themselves in learning ways to help.

They plan to start offering services to families and children in Santa Cruz County and eventually expand to all of Southern Arizona.

This will include ranch retreats and activities, as well as providing social-emotional curriculum to Santa Cruz County schools and, eventually, other Arizona districts.

CHARM will also include Camp Druzy, with mini-camps to help children improve resiliency through activities like art, yoga, photography, writing and working with horses and other animals.

The nonprofit will focus on evidence-based approaches for improving children’s health outcomes, such as the “seven C’s for resilience” by Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg: coping, confidence, connection, character, contribution, control and competence.

Camp Druzy is named after Pottinger’s brother Andrew, who died in a car accident in 2014. His nickname was Drewsy, she said, but she decided on “druzy” because it refers to the glittering effect tiny crystals have on rocks and minerals.

Pottinger, who has a Ph.D. in public health, has already shaped her life around helping children.

She helps lead clinical trials to improve motor function in young children with cerebral palsy and is chair of the research and evaluation committee for the Tucson-based nonprofit Integrative Touch for Kids. She also researches ways to help families who have children with developmental disabilities or who are hospitalized.

Talavera, who helped her youngest daughter cope with the deaths of two beloved grandparents, has reached out to a former classmate back in Connecticut, Scarlett Lewis, who lost a son in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

Lewis, who was traveling and could not be reached for this story, started the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Enrichment Program, a free curriculum to help children learn healthy social skills and emotional intelligence in memory of her son, Jesse.

At the request of Talavera and Pottinger, Lewis will be visiting Santa Cruz County schools Aug. 5-7 to launch her program there.

The friends are also teaming with a Flagstaff-based nonprofit called the Healing Lands Project, which helps children who have experienced trauma by letting them experience time in wilderness.

“Their beautiful facility is ideal for allowing children to connect with nature but also to have some infrastructure and meeting rooms where we can hold therapy sessions,” said author and journalist Annette McGivney, who runs the project in collaboration with the Family Violence Institute of Northern Arizona University and Grand Canyon Youth.

The group is planning a San Juan River trip in June for children who have experienced family violence.

“I hope that in the coming year,” McGivney said, “the Healing Lands Project will have a retreat there that supports our mission of helping children transcend trauma through connections to the outdoors and a supportive community.”

First stone

Talavera’s bed and breakfast, which sleeps 15 to 17 people, will not change its offerings with the start of CHARM.

Instead, the CHARM office will be set up behind the B&B hacienda in a beautiful art workshop Talavera’s father built for her mother.

The space, still full of half-finished paintings and other artwork Talavera’s mother created, will eventually share a courtyard with an outdoor classroom.

There are chicken coops there, and easy passage for a horse or two to pay a visit through a large gateway. Dogs are constantly running about.

From there, visiting children can also pass through a smaller gate and walk down a short pathway to a labyrinth that’s just getting started.

The labyrinth was an idea, one of many, started by Talavera’s mother.

Together, last week, the women added the first stone.

Contact reporter Patty Machelor at pmachelor@tucson.com or 806-7754. On Twitter: @pattymachstar

Reporter

Patty covers issues pertaining to children and families as well as people living with disabilities. She previously reported on court cases, with an emphasis on juvenile court. She has worked for the Arizona Daily Star since 2001.

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