Tough times inspire Mauricio Sosa to pursue Basalt Peace Garden | AspenTimes.com

Tough times inspire Mauricio Sosa to pursue Basalt Peace Garden

Mauricio Sosa, left, a sophomore, has worked on plans since March to add a Peace Garden to the Basalt High School campus. He is being assisted by Kalissa Stump, a senior.

Basalt High School sophomore Mauricio Sosa is proving that bravery comes in many forms.

Sosa has a slight build, is soft-spoken and a bit shy. He said the shyness is a product of being picked on for so long. "Since I was in first grade, I've been made fun of or whatever," he said.

Many victims of bullying would disengage, retreat into a shell and become a loner. Instead, Sosa is channeling his struggles into something positive, not only for himself but for every other student at Basalt High School.

He launched plans last year for a Peace Garden in a large, empty courtyard outside the school's library. He first envisioned the garden as a place where he could go to take his mind off not fitting in. Now he sees it as a place where any student can go to relax and recharge.

"It would help me and other students to have a place," he said.

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Teachers and administrators at Basalt High School embraced the plan. Librarian Kate Bradley has been instrumental with shepherding Sosa through all the steps needed to turn it into reality. That includes enlisting support from other students, soliciting in-kind and financial support from businesses, working with the landscaping company on the physical plan and seeking grants.

The first big step came last year when Carbondale's 5Point Film awarded Sosa with a $1,500 grant for the Peace Garden as part of its Dream Project. The Schuss Foundation matched the grant and Snowmass Chapel added $500. Sosa is seeking funds from the Aspen Thrift Shop.

The narrow, rectangular courtyard will have crushed gravel walking paths, extensive, drought-tolerant landscaping, benches and rock gardens. The centerpiece will be a mature crabapple tree surrounding by stones bearing inspirational quotes. There will be spaces where a person can hang out alone or in a small group, Sosa said.

Kalissa Stump, a senior at the school, got excited about the project and brought it to the attention of Flower Club and Key Club. The Flower Club, which undertakes beautification projects and environmental causes, will enlist scores of members next spring to plant a bunch of flowers and other vegetation after Twisted Tree Landscaping does the heavy lifting.

"I am so excited for the Peace Garden," said Stump. "It's going to be the coolest part of Basalt High School. I guarantee it."

In addition to the cash grants, the project has in-kind service pledges of $28,000 for much of the work. Twisted Tree Landscaping is providing $20,000 of in-kind service. Other donors are Pitkin County Landfill, Heyl, Larson Trucking and Grand Junction Pipe. Sosa is trying to raise the final $10,000 for labor and plants. Donations can be made online at http://www.gofundme.com/54b36.

Sosa started working on the project in March 2015. By April, it will finally start taking shape and should be completed by the end of the school year.

"I never really thought it would be this much work," he said. It's been rewarding, he said, because he has learned business concepts and the project has forced him to work with people.

"The project has helped me get out of my shell," he said.

Bradley said the project will be great for Sosa and the school. "It's just been a wonderful thing to watch him grow," she said.

Sosa credits Basalt High School with trying to determine if kids are being bullied and offering them help. "Some schools try to cover it up," he said.

And for those inevitable times when kids need refuge for whatever reason, they will have the Peace Garden, thanks to Sosa.

scondon@aspentimes.com