Unemployed for months, this job found her
Valley Campus / August 17, 2018 / Written by Margaret Sanderson
Public Works in Antonito was in for a big change and it was all by chance, or was it? Rossi Duran, Director of Public Works, was driving along a town street when he saw Tanya Olivas walking. He had seen her out on walks before. But, this time, on impulse, he stopped, pulled over to the sidewalk and asked if she needed a job. “I felt like something told me to talk to her,” he said. “I had a gut feeling she was a good person.” He told her about some painting he needed done in the mansion, the well-known Antonito landmark built by a sheep baron in the 1800s, which the town had purchased to use for administrative offices. In its prime the mansion was a monstrous home which featured furniture and art from around the world. Even after housing the police department, public works, solid waste, municipal court, the town clerk and more, there will still be extra office space upstairs.
Olivas, who needed a job, wasn’t afraid to tackle just about anything. Duran told her to stop by his office and get an application. Two hours later she was back with a packet thicker than the one he had given her. He was impressed with her unusual qualifications. Not only did she earn certificates in both auto and diesel mechanics but a two-year Associate of Applied Science degree in the diesel program. Add to that her Class A CDL permit and this woman was primed to fill the spot another employee was leaving – an employee who had been with Antonito Public Works for 22 years. “With all of his experience, and the same qualifications Tanya has, they were big shoes to fill,” said Duran.
While Olivas painted at the mansion, Duran went to the town mayor and told him, “We need her at public works!” The mayor reviewed her qualifications and agreed. Meanwhile, Olivas put in long hours and finished the painting at the mansion two weeks ahead of schedule. Impressed with her motivation, Duran, who works closely with the police and knew from them she did not frequent liquor stores or party houses, hired her at Public Works. “She was really motivated. It’s hard to find reliable help,” said Duran. “She is doing great! She was the perfect person we had been looking for to fill the vacancy,” said Duran.
Scholarships had paved the way for Olivas, a 2009 Sierra Grande graduate, to attend Trinidad State in Alamosa. She had known since 10th grade that she wanted to be a mechanic. She had spent countless hours with her dad and grandpa tinkering with vehicles and doing everything from oil changes to alternators to brakes and more.
Although naturally pretty, Olivas is not a girly girl. She’s a tomboy at heart. She doesn’t mind getting dirty. She loves to work and then she loves going home to be a mom to her seven-year-old daughter. She vowed never to be like her mom who was not a good influence in her life. Olivas, who knows what it is to be homeless, is thrilled to be renting her first house ever. “I currently live in a three-bedroom home,” said 28-year-old Olivas, “and I plan to purchase a home in Antonito.” Her dad, who is disabled, lives with her. She is his caretaker. Considering her mom’s poor example, Olivas is very proud of reaching her goals. “Eric (O’Brien – diesel instructor at Trinidad State) was a good teacher,” she said. “I think Trinidad State Junior College is a very good school.”
Even though she has only been working for public works since April 9, her work ethic, dependability and curiosity have helped her move up the ladder rather quickly. “Since day one, she has shown interest in the water system,” said Duran. “Olivas is now in training to manage the water plant (which features a high-tech Tonka filtering system). With a value of over three million dollars, it’s the most advanced and expensive water system in Conejos County. I need a competent person to run it,” said Duran. “Few women are certified water plant operators. She will be trained to run the panel controls for the system.”
With the departure of another employee, timing was perfect for Olivas. She will serve as co-interim public works supervisor. She will oversee the water department, street department and will be head of the mechanic department where a CDL certification is required. She will be taking the driving portion of her CDL soon. She will need to keep daily logs and monitor inventories for the three departments she will be overseeing. She has been doing mechanic work on the town’s vehicles. “Her education at Trinidad is really paying off,” said Duran. “I just showed her one time how to operate the excavator and she caught on,” said Duran. “I’m really impressed.” Olivas has also operated a front-end loader, a back hoe, a skid steer, a solid waste truck, and a dump truck.
Pulling herself up by her boot straps and moving ahead did not come easy. Her childhood was rough, very rough, and with her reading and writing limitations, it took her eight attempts to finally pass the written part of her CDL certification. She appreciates Trinidad State’s efforts to accommodate her academic needs. “I keep moving forward and I don’t go back,” she said. “I never give up. I may be a woman in a man’s department, but I can do anything a man can do if I put my mind to it.” Olivas is grateful for this opportunity to prove herself. “The guys respect me and don’t put me down,” she said.
Duran’s hunch about pulling over to talk to Olivas paid off – for Olivas and for the town of Antonito.