Students getting fix by helping people

By Ryn Gargulinski: Quay County Sun

Mesalands Community College diesel instructor Jerry Welch said it’s not odd to fix a car or two even though his class is geared for big trucks.

Nor is it odd, he said, for students to bring in their own cars once in a while when they need something tinkered with.

“I leave an open door policy for these students,” Welch said. “I know they’re broke, going to school, don’t have the latest vehicle. It’s just a benefit I give to the students.”

What he said was a tad unusual, however, was for one of his students, 22-year-old Chris Bell, to ask if the class could help fix a car of a woman Bell didn’t even know that well. He only knew her first name is Mary, she is 54, she has little money and she has cancer.

“She drives to Albuquerque all the time for her chemo check ups,” Bell said, adding one day she lamented her car went kaput.

“Me and dad thought it would be helpful to see if the class could fix it,” he said.

And fix it they did. Not only did Welch give his permission, he joined Bell’s classmates in staying extra hours to work on it.

Neither classmate Wesley Payton nor Sean Chavez said they minded going out of their way for a woman they didn’t know.

“I looked at it as a learning experience,” Payton said. “It was my first (Ford) Escort and chance to do a timing belt.” Bell said Payton and Chavez diagnosed the problem in about two seconds.

Chavez just shrugged when asked about donating his time and skills. “Our class is pretty helpful like that,” he said.

All three classmates agreed that Tucumcari – and the entire Southwest – is pretty helpful like that.

Bell said Mary had tears in her eyes upon the return of her now-running car.

“We brought it over, had it fixed, and she was joyful,” Bell said.

Not that Bell is living himself in the lap of luxury, Welch said.

“I remember how happy he was when he had enough money to buy a $20 pair of pants,” Welch said. “He even painted a guy’s shop in exchange for having the car towed to class. With such a background, he has such a good heart.”

The background to which Welch referred is verified by Bell. Bell grew up in Dayton, Ohio, where he dropped out of school in 10th grade. He ended up in Detroit, living in a ghetto and trying to get his life back on track.

This led him to job training in Michigan, more training, certification in transportation and administrative experience in another location and eventually a move to Tucumcari to help care for his dad. He said to add even more options to his once-bleak future he enrolled in Mesalands to learn yet another skill.

In addition to the car help, Bell said he does community service by helping a housebound woman across the street who had heart surgery and picks up trash when it blows all over neighborhood yards.

“Just treat people the way you want to be treated,” Bell said, adding it’s a lesson he learned from his father.

“When you’ve grown up and seen the violence I have, seen the outcome, it makes you appreciate the kindness you can do for others,” said dad James Bell. “I’m very proud of him.”