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Coming together in celebration

SIERRA VISTA — Some danced through the service, some came with signs bearing the joyful news of Jesus Christ’s resurrection, while others joined in songs of praise and solemn prayer.

The 10th annual Sierra Vista Comm-Unity Easter Sunrise Service filled Veterans Memorial Park with music and celebration Sunday morning as Christians from different denominations gathered together to worship in a “Resurrection” themed Easter morning.

“I’m here to celebrate the good news of Jesus Christ as our holy savior,” exclaimed Helyn Williams, while carrying a sign scrawled with, “An Empty Grave Proves My Savior Lives!” in bold letters.

Williams was among a group of worshipers with signs bearing similar messages about “the good news of Jesus Christ’s resurrection.”

With the focus on “Children, Youth and Young Adults,” Richard Rivera, a young minister who is going through his seminary studies in Chicago, was asked to deliver the service’s message. Raised in Sierra Vista, Rivera served as the youth minister at St. Andrew the Apostle Catholic Church for 15 years. He continues to work with youth in Chicago as part of his seminary studies and hopes to be ordained as a Catholic priest in 2022.

Rivera’s message touched on life’s trials by comparing them to a “black hole,” or a star closed in on itself that no longer shines. He called on the people to take a hard look at the black holes in their own lives and urged them to choose to radiate.

“We all have our own black holes in our lives, don’t we?” he asked, while pointing to “dying relationships” and challenges that cause separation from others.

“Today, on Easter, Jesus reminds us that’s not the case for us,” Rivera said. “We’re not dying in our sins. We’re not dying in our hurt. We’re not dying in a path. We’re living for today and for tomorrow. Jesus is radiating on us so we can radiate on others.”

Rivera ended his message by urging each and every person to shine like a star.

“I believe that everything that is created says something about God and our life within,” he said. “Today, right now this moment, let the star shine in on you...

“Easter is a global reset — everything that closes in on itself in the power of Jesus gets reversed — and we can radiate.”

The Easter service is sponsored by the Discovery Forum Alliance, a group of pastors and clergy representing different Christian denominations that work together in organizing the event. The group also decides on a faith-based nonprofit organization to receive the “good will” offering collected during the service.

This year, local homeless shelter Good Neighbor Alliance was designated as the recipient, with local businessman Bill Goethe asked to speak on behalf of the shelter.

In 2006, Goethe was a client at the shelter while going through a difficult time in his life. He credits the support he received through Good Neighbor Alliance for being able to turn his life around and start Mr. Fix It, a contracting business which he recently sold.

“Today, at Easter, we celebrate the resurrection of Christ,” Goethe said. “We share the hope his resurrection brings to all of us as Christians. But how can we share that hope with others? Today’s offering will benefit Good Neighbor Alliance.”

The shelter, Goethe said, brings hope to those who are in the most hopeless situations of all, the experience of being homeless.

“I spent several months in Good Neighbor Alliance 15 years ago,” he said. “During that time, God made changes in my life and helped me overcome serious challenges that I was facing.”

Good Neighbor Alliance, Goethe said, gave him hope while going through the worst time in his life.

“I am asking you to share your hope today. The next time you see someone who is homeless, who is on the street, remember that Jesus died for them, too. Remember that the smallest words and a smile could give them the hope they desperately need,” he said.”Pray for those who are homeless, that they have the hope they need to get through each day. Of course, I am asking you today to help Good Neighbor Alliance. ... You never know who might end up homeless and who you are helping today and tomorrow.”

Music for the event was provided by Move City Church, with singers and volunteers from other churches joining in.

Several local pastors and youth stepped up to the podium at different times throughout the service, with the Rev. Shawn Buckhanan of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church introducing the speakers.

“I was deeply moved and inspired by this beautiful service,” said Amanda Monser, one of the sign carriers. “The speakers are amazing, the messages are inspiring and the music is wonderful. This is a beautiful way to celebrate Christ’s resurrection.”

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ALWT works for land, water conservation in county

SIERRA VISTA — If you have not heard of the Arizona Land and Water Trust (ALWT), you are not alone.

For the past 40 years, the nonprofit trust has been at work in the background helping ranchers and farmers shift historic, familial agricultural lands in Arizona into conservation easements. Conservation easements protect the land from intense development while preserving an important way of life.

Liz Petterson, ALWT director, explained a conservation easement is a legal agreement a property owner makes to restrict the type and extent of development on the property. Easements limit real estate development while allowing farmers and ranchers to continue the lands’ agricultural uses.

“We believe development is inevitable. But, through conservation easements, we can establish how much development can occur,” she said.

Here in Cochise County, ALWT has successfully brought 4,405 acres into conservation easements on lands that include the 47 Ranch, Rain Valley Ranch, Mustang Ranch, Sandhill Ranch and others and is working on another 5,000 acres.

The Sandhill Ranch in McNeal, owned at the time by Blanton and Betty Belk, was a good example of the important work the trust does to protect history and wildlife. Now, 1,000 acres of land near Whitewater Draw, a favorite birding spot where upwards of 20,000 lesser and greater Sandhill cranes and thousands of other water fowl and birds spend the winter, is protected from development, a result of ALWT’s effort to secure a conservation easement.

By utilizing funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s North American Wetlands Conservation Act, Sandhill Ranch is permanently protected, Petterson said. The project expanded the 1,500–acre Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area to the south owned by the Arizona Game and Fish Department, and protected the working landscape and cattle grazing on the farm.

“We’re doing more work in the Whitewater Draw area to protect and preserve the land,” she added.

Within the Fort Huachuca Sentinel Landscape, the historic Rain Valley Ranch was a priority conservation area for the U.S. Army’s Fort Huachuca. Military Installation Funds from the Arizona Department of Emergency Military Affairs allowed for the acquisition of the important easement through ALWT, she continued.

“The easement allows continued agricultural use of the property and adds to protected lands that keep development from encroaching into the Fort’s vital R–2303 Military Airspace and Buffalo Soldier Electronic Testing Range,” Petterson said.

Through the Desert Rivers Program, the trust is working with a landowner on the San Pedro River to save 700 acre-feet of water which would have been pumped from the aquifer.

“He’ll grow lower water-use native grasses (for cattle grazing), rather than high water-use crops like alfalfa. This partnership helps to reduce groundwater pumping, which negatively affects our surface water flows in rivers, while also compensating the landowner to make these adjustments through a voluntary, short-term water lease agreement with the Trust. This agreement helps to sustain the agricultural operation as it creates another source of income,” added Petterson.

ALWT also works with Cochise County, The Nature Conservancy and others in projects with landowners.

“We partner with landowners and local, state and federal agencies and foundations,” she continued. “We’re like matchmakers. We bring money to implement the easements.”

Petterson grew up in rural Tucson, before the population boom, and came to love the wide-open spaces and diverse wildlife.

“We hiked and biked as kids and I remember that experience of being in the desert,” she grinned. “I’m just a western girl at heart and I appreciate the bio-diversity of southern Arizona. It’s such a unique area.”

It was just second nature to become involved with an organization that promoted preserving the wildscapes she loved. She began working for the trust in 2007 and became director in 2011.

For decades, the ALWT worked by word of mouth in the background excelling at the mission with a small staff to protect southern Arizona’s farms, ranches and wildlife, scrimping along financially. Now, it is necessary to come out of the shadows and let people know of its mission and dedication to preserving Arizona’s western heritage and seek donations to cover ever-increasing expenses, she explained.

“It’s important to talk more about our nonprofit now,” she said.

Since 1987, ALWR has protected nearly 50,000 acres in southern Arizona through conservation easements, donations and fee acquisition. In 1985 the Trust was instrumental in establishing legislation in Arizona enabling conservation easements.

More than 50,000 acres has been protected and over 3,000 acre-feet of water secured for the environment since the trust’s inception. It has raised over $12 million through supporters and foundation partners, while leveraging more than $15.7 million in federal grant funding to protect working landscapes, wildlife habitat, riparian areas and corridors for wildlife movement.

ALWT has won four state awards for its work, and in 2016, the organization received the National Land Trust Excellence Award from the national Land Trust Alliance, representing more than 1,100 land trusts nationwide. ALWT is the only trust in the lower western states to receive this award in its 10-year history.